Deborah Aloba - Singing Teacher

Deborah Aloba - Singing Teacher

Children and the Singing Voice

200213800-001Teaching children how to sing is a different process to teaching adults.  From newborn to adulthood  the infant vocal tract increases more than twofold in length.

In a child laryngeal dimensions increase slowly and steadily in size and firmness throughout  childhood.  The vocal folds also  increase their total length by about 6.5mm between the ages of 1 to 12. In the first few years of a child’s life, the vocal folds are made up primarily of mucosal tissue. Only around the age of 2/3 years old does the thyroarytenoid muscle—the vocal folds ligament—thyroidbegin to develop which gradually gives the vocal folds more stability and structure (as a child learns to speak) .   Only by the age of 10 are the vocal ligament and mucosal tissues considerably developed.    It is therefore imperative to take great care when teaching children and to ensure that you teach using their natural voice.

Recent studies show that  there is ongoing growth, in children’s vocal tracts between  birth and age 6 years 9 months and a period of accelerated growth or growth spurt  for most vocal tract structures between birth and approximately age 18 months.

The vocal tract – which extends from the true vocal folds to the exterior surfaces of the lips – is very short in early childhood.

Difference between a Child and adults vocal tract

Difference between a Child and adults vocal tract

Until the age of 2 years the tongue lies entirely in the oral cavity, and then its base begins the gradual descent into the pharynx, so that by the age of 4, the posterior one third of the tongue is located in the pharynx. Only by age 5 is the basic adult configuration of pharynxthe vocal tract present, but of course this does not mean it has reached its full size. Only by age 9 will the curved contour of the vocal tract be comparable with that of an adult, but even then it still remains shorter and smaller.

In each phase of childhood the child’s voice has a distinctive and underlying anatomy which produces specific modes of singing, because the vocal folds, the larynx, the vocal tract, the resonators and the tongue of the young child are completely different from those found in adults’ singing. Clearly, this all causes a young child’s sung tone to have totally different qualities to those of an adult.

As an example of this, consider how, when children sing on their own—i.e. without adults—you can hear in the majority of instances how their voices easily lift up into higher pitches and bright open timbres, however, when children sing together as a class with an adult you often hear how they push their voice which leads them to use a lower pitch range.

Nowadays  children in their early years have the added problem of primarily hear ‘popular’ singers using a type of singing  which is based on a heavy, strong contact of the vocal folds.  This  way of singing is fine for the energy and emotions that stand behind most ‘popular’ forms of music and for older teenagers but is wholly inappropriate for a young child’s voice.

Pre-school children will normally have a  forward, light and bright resonance, it is therefore necessary to teach a child by reflecting the child’s natural sound and it is necessary to adjust exercises to a child’s physical capabilities.

Further when teaching the  following vocal qualities should be used:

  • Lots of breath movement, good line and a strong sense of phrasing
  • Open throatedness
  • Legato articulation
  • Clear resonant vowels
  • Good use of the self (namely, a well balanced use of the body so that unnecessary movements – e.g. pulling the head back or tongue retraction – do not compromise the singing).

Children hear at a higher frequency than adults but will also copy the manner in which an adult sings, it is very important when teaching a child that the quality of an adult’s voice are not copied by a child as this could reduce the brightness, resonance and height of a child’s natural voice.