Riva Capellari

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Located in Brookside in the heart of Kansas City

Not Just Little Adults

Whenever I meet someone who teaches young children, I try to remember to thank them. Early childhood is such an important time in  brain and learning development, it is essential to cultivate individuals who are passionately committed to teaching young children.

I realized long ago that this was not my forte. I stuck with teaching college level classes and set the minimum age for entrance into my private voice studio at 13, preferably 14. So when a father contacted me about voice lessons for his 7 year old daughter, I was more than hesitant to say yes. However, I gave in to his persistence and have since taken on more young students.

Having taught older, more developed voices and minds, my vocal toolbox was challenged to find new ways of working with young voices. Children are not little adults – they present their own unique needs and ways of learning. For example, they tend to respond to imagery and metaphoraphoric verbal instruction while adults find clear, cognitive explanations more helpful. Children also have different vocal demands on their voices than adults.

The voices of young children are not fully developed. Their vocal folds are not just smaller versions of adult folds so teachers cannot  “little down” their methods in working with them. Their lungs and respiratory systems, not yet at an adult stage, require them to breath more often while singing.

Sometimes there is a mismatch between cognitive and physical development. The neural networks in the brain that process speech are not “synapsed” with those that access music. Deconstructing a song, learning the words apart from the pitches, simplifies the learning process and builds confidence.

Their vocal fold vibrations are inconsistent from cycle to cycle and it is more difficult for them to separate a change in loudness with a change in pitch. Using hand movements to follow pitch movement often reinforces  developing neuromuscular abilities that assist in more accurate pitch matching.

So—we should not expect children to sound like adults nor should we encourage them to do so (despite what you hear on all these talent shows!)

Maybe age has mellowed me some because although teaching children has brought new challenges it has also given me great joy. That first young student, who is still with me, continues to delight and surprise me with every lesson. A great pay off for any teacher!

 Bodymind & Voice: Foundations of Voice Education, Vol 3. L.Thurman, Edd & G. Welch, Phd., co-eds. The Voice Care Network & The National Center for Voice & Speech. 2000

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