Singing With Kids {Music Education In the Home}

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

This may seem like a silly post to write - I bet many of you are already singing a ton with your kids and encouraging healthy vocal development!

But when I was teaching choir, there were always so many parents I met who talked about how they couldn't sing, and they didn't understand how their kids could!

My response? You probably can sing, you just don't. 

You don't have to have a professionally trained voice to sing with your kids, at church, at a karaoke bar, anywhere! Singing is a profoundly personal thing these days, perhaps because of the glorification of solo singing that we've developed as a culture. "If I'm not the next American Idol, nobody could possibly want to hear me sing!" I say who cares? Sing! The best way to become a better singer is to sing, sing, and sing some more!

After all, why do you think babies spend so much time finding their voices?

My theory is that once middle school emotions hit and the voice change arrives, a lot of kids don't know how to navigate the change and lose so much confidence in their singing that they just stop. And then become these same adults who say they "can't" sing!

So what's a parent (or grandparent, or aunt/uncle/cousin/whatever) to do to encourage kids to sing?

1. Sing in an appropriate range.

Kids naturally have a higher singing range than most adults - what may seem a comfortable key to you is very likely far too low for a child to mimic in a healthy tone (we all naturally do this - it's just plain easier!). It takes more effort to support a healthy tone in a higher range for the average untrained singer, but it's easier for a child to echo back in their own range. Generally a range of about D to A is what research has shown to be the "average" range for a 5-year-old child.

Not your average 5-year-old. He's got a range to rival Mariah Carey.

2. Sing "call-and-response" songs.

Songs where you're the leader and your kids echo you back are great for building confidence and independence, and also training their listening skills. Then once they've learned them, they can practice being the leaders themselves!

Here are some of our favorites (you'll have to click through to see the videos if you're on feedly. They're not perfect, since the older kids refused to make a video and Mary Claire and Elizabeth are HILARIOUS when they sing together. And as ridiculous as they sound, they're actually pretty darned tuneful for 2.5-year-olds, so if your kids aren't singing like this, that's totally normal!)

"Oh My No More Pie"

"Down By the Bay"

"I Had a Dog"

3. Repetition is key!

If your kids like a song (and they probably like most of them, if they're like my kids), they'll ask you to sing it again. And again. And again.

Do it! They don't know how to read music yet, so they can't learn these things any way but by rote! Sing it, sing it again, sing it some more... Ask them to fill in words for you as you go along (that's the way we learn prayers, too!), and soon enough they'll have it memorized and they'll be ready to sing with you!

4. Make up songs!

We do a lot of silly singing around the house - conversational singing where you just sing instead of talking is a really great way to develop creative thinking and confidence in singing. This often occurs in an echo-singing sort of way, but can eventually develop into a more free-form model. I've found it's a really effective way to get my kids to have conversations with me, since they love singing and will just keep "talking" in order to continue the game! It's also a great tool for helping them clean up, because we sing about what toys in particular need to get picked up - whatever works!

As an added bonus, they'll get really good at making up their own songs too, which is hilarious!

5. Sing all the time!

I know I told you in #1 to sing in their range, but let's be honest: there are a LOT of songs that just won't fit their range!

Sing them anyway. Hymns, pop songs, hip hop, folk songs, opera, whatever! Your kids don't have to be singing along to be learning, and if you're singing what *you* like, they'll probably be exposed to a wider variety of music that way. The more your kids hear you singing, the more they'll naturally sing on their own. Even if you're "not a singer" - they love the sound of your voice!

What would you add? How to you encourage a culture of singing in your house?

Want to read more? Here's the introduction to this series!

Next time I'm hoping to give you some links to songbooks and cds that will give you some ideas for songs you can sing with your kids! Our country has a rich history of folk music that has been lost, for the most part, because it's not being passed down from generation to generation anymore, and we can change that!

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