Singing lessons can harm young voices, can anyone advise on this?

(104 Posts)
ZZZenEggain Tue 02-Apr-13 11:12:16

I have been reading that it is unwise to really train a girl's voice before the age of 14, some say even 16 because it is fragile while they are developing and can easily be damaged. I don't personally know anything about this but it might be wise to investigate.

My dd is 12 and has started having lessons which she enjoys. I am a bit concerned now after googling it whether she shouldn't wait a couple of years. Apparently you can really damage the voice if you train it in the wrong way, too intensively or too early.

AFAIK she does some warm up exercises, is working with Vaccai bel canto course (which I think is singing scales) and then they sing a couple of songs. Does this sound alright for her age or is it better to leave it till she is older? I like the teacher and so does dd, she enjoys the lessons. Dd has quite a low speaking voice and the teacher does rewrite if dd is finding the higher notes difficult.

ZZZenEggain Tue 02-Apr-13 15:04:47

What I have read is that straining the voice can lead to nodules or scaring on the vocal cords. Apparently Julie Andrews was operated on unsuccessfully for this. I think once the nodules form, the damage is permanent since surgery seems to be the way forward. I suppose this kind of damage would be caused by intensive singing and/or bad habits such as belting. Probably isn't a concern with a dc who has a lesson a week and short daily practice or a choir once or twice a week

pollypandemonium Tue 02-Apr-13 17:29:56

So when a school choir sounds kind of shouty, which is cute and all, but there's not a 'singing' sound - is that damaging their voice? More often than not they may get a bit of a warm up but it's not teaching them how to sing (posture, facial muscles, tongue position etc).

seeker Tue 02-Apr-13 18:00:05

When a school choir sounds shouty,the teacher should be shot.

Inncogneetow Tue 02-Apr-13 18:16:58

Like instrumental teaching, this is all about the professional experience and qualifications of the teachers. Children can sing in choirs from the age of 4 if they have appropriate (fun) leadership. There is no reason why children should not have singing lessons with skilled and talented teachers.

But there are far too many charlatans out there. ds2 (13) sings quite seriously, but when his teacher moved away, I was unable to find a teacher that I believed was suitably qualified and experienced, especially for a boy's changing voice.

One of his friends was having lessons and was being encouraged to sing very high treble lines, long after his voice had started changing and he should have been moved down to alto.

I am a professional classical singer and my husband is a top singing teacher with a reputation for getting boys into Oxbridge colleges with choral scholarships. There is absolutely nothing wrong with training young voices, the problem is that very few teachers do it well/carefully enough.

Zzzen, I'm afraid you are not correct when you say that girls shouldn't sing in 'falsetto'. Girls/women do not have a falsetto, but a head voice and a chest voice and it is very important not to prematurely develop the chest voice.

OP you mention your daughter having issues with going from low to high notes so maybe it could be worth checking that she isn't getting stuck in chest voice (the more 'shouty' and pop sounding part).

Another poster mention being pushed in a choir, and whilst I understand that choir leaders want to encourage the best sound they should never be asking anyone to push for more sound as the children will tend to strain and damage their voices.

Charlotte Church was never taught to sing properly and always sang with a fake, imposed vibrato which was destined to crash and burn vocally, but hey, she did pretty well out of it I guess!

Yy to nodules being pretty bad and mostly requiring surgery, or at least many months of exacting reparative exercises which might well be beyond the ability/interest of a child!

X-post, but pp, if you're in the London area I can give you suggestions for your DS!

You're quite right about charlatans, although even plenty of my professional colleagues with music college PG degrees freely admit they have no idea how to teach young voices (especially trebles and the subsequent transition).

ZZZenEggain Tue 02-Apr-13 19:44:56

thanks singsong, I didn't mention falsetto, can't really comment on it I am afraid.

Dd doesn't sing pop or shouty style, it is all church hymns, a lot in Latin, some mold folksongs, things like Greensleeves, an old Norwegian folksong, traditional German ones etc so I don't think she can have a chest voice issue yet.

It was just one song where she had a big jump from quite a low note to a very high one and she found it difficult to make the move sound good. The high note was not a hard one to reach but she didn't like the sound of the move (maybe I cannot really explain it). Other than that I don't think she is given anything to sing which would be a struggle for her to reach easily, which sounds like it is a good thing. Don't think she uses a chest voice at all, sounds like a head voice to me, but am not an expert.

When do girls start to use a chest voice and when do you use one and when the other, if you don't mind me asking?

ZZZenEggain Tue 02-Apr-13 19:47:55

singsong, at what age did you begin classical singing training? Could you say something about how you were taught?

Sorry if I am asking a lot of questions, finding this quite helpful

ZZZenEggain Tue 02-Apr-13 19:56:38

inncogneetow, that is a shame when your ds is already a good singer. I suppose you will already have asked around for recommendations. I hope you can find a teacher you are comfortable with before too long. Maybe someone in the know could make a suggestion. A neighbour of mine is ancopera singer and we havectwo more at church so if dd was advanced and serious about it , I might ask one of them or one of her instrumental teachers.

BCBG Tue 02-Apr-13 20:07:05

Singsong, can I just ask you a question, then, please? DS2 has just got a choral scholarship from Cambridge, has been singing since he was seven, has a great choral baritone but Cambridge Head of Music did comment at audition that he has an 'amazing' voice which should be 'unleashed' and DS thought she meant more vibrato, more operatic....which made me wonder if all his choral training up until now has been somehow limiting? I ask because DD2 who is 11, sings in her school choir, but her choir master (who DS had at the same age) says that she has a very unusually low register which she could start developing ....is that 'forcing' the voice too young, do you think? DD is exceptionally tall for her age 161cm, and it looks as though she will have an alto/contralto sound; she also has a huge chest voice compared to her brother at the same age. Reading this thread I am just worried that she might be pushed too soon, and I personally know nowt about singing!

singsong it was me that mentioned falsetto. I also said that I didn't think it was possible too.

*in girls

yy. one thing that I have learned as a choir trainer (and all singing teachers and choir trainers are constantly learning ) is that children should use their head voice for high notes and never to force their voice to go to lower notes if they find them unnatural.
and they will find them unnatural as their vocal cords are short (hence high notes being so easy).

I'm an adult, so this might not sound relevant...
I sing with my chest voice below a middle c. they call it my tenor voice.
when.I was in 6th form, some girls would use their chest voices to help with tenor parts.
so maybe 15/16? would be okay

ZZZenEggain Tue 02-Apr-13 22:26:46

thanks unique, am learning a lot on this thread

Schmedz Tue 02-Apr-13 23:47:32

Nothing wrong with good training but a woman's voice does not really fully start to mature until after puberty hits! Good technique, posture, phrasing, expression, varying vocal tone etc.. can all be learnt at much younger ages ( and probably SHOULD be learnt at a younger age). Babies make a huge variety of loud and quiet, high and low sounds without damaging their voices, so singing should really be an extension of the 'natural' voice. Operatic singing artificially forces the larynx into a low position which takes much more control and specific technique. Belting out high notes using a speech-level voice ( I.e. imitating most pop singers or trying to be Idina Menzel at the end of Defying Gravity!) will almost certainly damage your vocal folds...it is the equivalent to shouting if done incorrectly.
Ensure you are happy with the vocal teacher's pedagogy and all should be well.

Picturesinthefirelight Wed 03-Apr-13 00:35:12

School choirs seem to train young children to sing in a falsetto voice as mostly the teachers don't know what they are doing! It can lead to tension but produces the kind if sound done teachers think children should produce.

Dd is 11 and belts but safely under dh's expert supervision the key us retraction retraction retraction (or keeping the feeling if a silent laugh in your larynx)

We tell dd to ignie her school music teacher and to sing her way. Dh is teaching her how to produce the type of voice quality her teacher wants but in a different way. He teaches very technically Nd doesn't usually take on young children as they don't have the understanding.

MortenHasNiceShirts Wed 03-Apr-13 00:41:40

Young children and indeed all women don't have a falsetto - only adult men.

Picturesinthefirelight Wed 03-Apr-13 00:41:55

Belting if I remember correctly requires retraction and a high larynx. Speech quality is used a lot in children's songs

Nodules can be caused by constriction if the false vocal folds. There is one school if though which says that all singing should be done with the larynx in a speech level position. Dh disagrees with this and scientific research agrees with him.

Siren ing is a good excercise you need to allow your larynx to rise as you go up and watch head and neck positions.

Picturesinthefirelight Wed 03-Apr-13 00:42:37

Women and children do have falsetto

Picturesinthefirelight Wed 03-Apr-13 00:43:57

It's quite a thin sound. Am on holiday at the moment do can't reference the exact set up of falsetto and dh would kill
Me if I asked him to on holiday at this time of night!!!!!

Picturesinthefirelight Wed 03-Apr-13 00:46:33

Dh uses different terminology. For chest voice he uses speech quality. He teaches exactly what to do to safely create different types of singing. I cover my ears when he twangs!!!!

Pictures - please do not give people mis - information. There is no such thing as falsetto in females. You are using some very dubious pseudo musical theatre terms with little understanding of vocal anatomy or pedagogy. If/when you have multiple qualifications from one of the leading UK music conservatoires, feel free to come back and comment.

BCBG - there is quite a difference between the standard English/Oxbridge 'choral' sound and the classical opera sound and usually at the age of starting university it is not an unwise thing to be singing in a youthful 'choral' way. However there are certain voices which at undeniably more 'operatic' in nature, even at an early age, so maybe your DS is one of these. If he is keen on a choral scholarship, there at ways and means to discipline the voice somewhat so that he would be suitable in the short term.

With regards to your DD, height/build is often an indicator of natural voice type and she could well be an authentic alto/mezzo. If so, at this stage it would be even more important to concentrate on her middle voice and ability to blend between the registers (i.e. not just pure chest register) in order to preserve the strength of her head voice and not to over develop the prominent low notes (only using thick vocal chord occlusion) and not be exercising the middle register which is essential for any classical singing!

BCBG - also meant to say that many of my operatic colleagues started out a Oxbridge choristers and then developed their voices, when ready, into a more operatic sound, often set postgrad level at music college. The choral scholar experience is an amazing musical one which will put him at an advantage for the rest of his musical career (if he chooses one!). Just try to ensure that he sees a great teacher who understands his potential as more than the rather restricted choral sound. Good examples of baritone choral scholars turned opera stars include Simon Keenlyside and Gerard Finley.

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