When considering an appropriate time to begin private voice lessons, most people have more questions then answers. Additionally there are often multiple answers to the same questions that only helps to further confuse things! So, lets try to simplify things a bit.
The first and most common misperception many folks have about singing is that it is a skill people are born with or they’re not. I have heard countless people ask, “Aren’t singers just born with talent?” This is far from true. The most successful professional singers I know are those who worked tirelessly in a practice room for hours upon hours, honing their skills. To me, what defines talent is a willingness to practice, sing scales, try something new and fail and try again. Many voice teachers will tell you that if you can talk, you can sing. This is 100 percent true. I have worked with many students on in home voice lessons who have had issues with pitch, rhythm and diction but, because they wanted to sing so badly, they put in the needed work and were able to overcome initial difficulties.
Age Of Student
Another question I get quite a bit is, “How old should a student be before starting voice lessons.” There are as many answers to this question as there are voice teachers but there are some good rules of thumb to go by. Boys and girl’s vocal instruments are different. While girls do experience a voice change it is not as dramatic as the change boys go through. I have heard teachers say, it is best not to begin vocal lessons until after this change occurs. This is not the case. Much of what we learn in vocal lessons has to do with breath, breath support and creating a sound free from tension. These fundamentals do not change when the voice does. The coordination that is necessary for good singing between the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles can be taught without vocalizing at all. I have known several vocal students who were boy sopranos who morphed into bass/baritones, but they still use the techniques taught to them at an early age.
Stay In Your Range
While starting at an early age is fine, there are a couple things to be aware of. Many young students begin singing because their idols and role models are famous singers. All students of vocal have professionals they aspire to be, the danger comes when we try to emulate them and create sound they way we THINK they are creating it. In recent pop music men’s and women’s ranges have come to overlap quite a bit. Men are singing way higher then they used to (think Adam Levine of Maroon 5 vs. Johnny Cash) and women are singing lower but using their chest or belt voice primarily (think Carrie Underwood vs. Billie Holiday.) Very often what we are hearing is not what is actually happening and is the result of audio manipulation and a very specific technique. Many female students I have worked with want to be Broadway belters and are of the school that louder is better.
Who can blame them? Recent Broadway soundtracks are filled with “in your face vocals” that can sometimes sound like shouting on pitch with late onset vibrato reminding us we are listening to singing. For many, this is thrilling because it conveys a raw emotion that is far from subtle. But are we really hearing a full belt in these cases? The answer is often no. A full belt into the upper echelons of ones voice, will often not stay on pitch and cause long and short-term damage to the voice itself. What we are really hearing is a mix of the head voice and the chest voice. The sound retains the edge of the chest or belt voice but has the musicality to the head voice. The ability to mix the two voices can only be fully achieved after years of work and study. Unfortunately many students get frustrated with an inability to create the sounds of their favorite professions quickly and quit claiming they don’t have the “talent.” I can guarantee that those singers did not have the innate ability to sing as they do as adults when they began their study.
Voice Lessons Are Powerful
Voice lessons are a wonderful thing. In addition to the love of singing it can instill, it also aides in developing self confidence and a sense of how hard work can pay off over time. As long as a student understands that like any other skill, singing takes time to develop, there is no downside to begin. So, when asking about beginning vocal lessons, the answer is, as soon as a student is interested!
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