The First Five
Your child tells you she wants to be a singer. This can be great news, but it can also be a bit daunting. Maybe you’ve never heard her sing before. Perhaps you worry she’s not talented enough. Are you apprehensive about this whole “music as a career” thing? Or are you simply thrilled? Now what? Here are a few tips for caring for the vocal athlete in the family, followed by a guide to choosing the best voice teacher. Make the Effort
First and foremost, be supportive. If you’re concerned that your child doesn’t sing well enough, don’t be. Remind yourself that singing is a subjective art form (think of your feelings on Taylor Swift versus Miley Cyrus). In addition, voices are constantly shifting with age and can be shaped and molded with the help of good training. Keep all negative comments to yourself, even if you’re worried about saving your singer from disappointment. If your child is determined to sing, she will sing. Disappointments will always come, even if she’s blessed with the most beautiful of voices. Let her know you’re in her corner from day one.
That said… Don’t Be a “Stage Parent”
Ever heard of Mama Rose from the musical Gypsy
? Do not use her as your model. Avoid pressuring. (This includes empty praise—telling your child she’s the greatest singer in the world can make her set impossible standards for herself.) Odds are career choices will change several times before adulthood. What’s more, if your child constantly equates “singing” with “career,” she runs the risk of working too hard and losing her love of music. Singing isn’t so much a professional goal as it is an enjoyable thing to do
. Whatever your vocal athlete ends up doing for a living, she will be able to cherish singing for the rest of her life if you help her concentrate on her passion rather than on fame and fortune. Get Involved
Bonding is key. If your child expresses an interest in singing, do your best to get to know the type of music she wants to perform. If she suggests she wants to try her hand at opera, an off-handed comment such as “I never got why people liked opera” can stifle her newfound enthusiasm before it begins. If she’s interested in a specific genre, show her that you’re interested, too. Does she like jazz? Buy a few Ella Fitzgerald CDs and listen to them together. Does she enjoy Broadway musicals? Memorize a few song lyrics with her and have a “belting” session. Expand Their Frame of Reference
Important as it is to cultivate your child’s love of a specific musical genre, keep in mind that most singers are called upon to sing all kinds of music. Introduce your vocal athlete to as much music as possible so that she can get a feel for several musical languages. Invest in season tickets to your local concert hall or opera house. Give her a monthly iTunes allowance (she’ll love you for it), so that she can keep up with musical trends.
Remember, too, that music is a collaborative art, and that a good singer employs knowledge from all walks of life. Conductors and music teachers all love working with someone who has a well-rounded education. Academic performance is, therefore, very important; don’t ever fall for the “I won’t need to know math if I’m gonna be a singer” line. (Incidentally, yes, she will—rhythm is
mathematics.) A helpful trick is to encourage further exploration of the music she loves by having her look at source material. Does your singer love Les Misèrables
? Great! Have her read the Victor Hugo novel. Is the school putting on Kiss Me Kate
? Schedule a family reading of The Taming of the Shrew
. Help Them Help Themselves
“Vocal athlete” is no misnomer. The voice is a series of muscles and membranes, and it needs conditioning. If your child wants to sing, it’s your responsibility to help her protect her instrument. This can be a thankless job, as singers don’t always know what’s best for them. Your athlete may be resistant to any helpful hints, even at the expense of her own interests. Be prepared for a few conflicts:
“Mom, I want to go out tonight!”
“No, you can’t. You have a voice lesson at 9 a.m. tomorrow.”
Help your child come up with a guide for vocal maintenance. Build a daily plan that allows for practice, homework, and general relaxation time, so that your singer can stay focused and balanced. Make sure your athlete keeps practicing, but be careful that she doesn’t tax her voice by over-practicing. Likewise, be sure to carefully monitor any sports activities, which often involve an immense amount of shouting, and can damage the voice. Above all, always be on hand to gently remind her of her love of music and her musical goals.
The Final Four
Finding the Right Personal Trainer for Your Athlete
A voice teacher is essentially your child’s “vocal parent.” They act as guide and mentor on all things vocal, and their advocacy and enthusiasm for your child’s voice should ideally mirror your own. They are also charged with the physical care of your child’s vocal chords, and the act of choosing a teacher should never be taken lightly. Here are a few thoughts on finding the best candidate to help your singer navigate the vocal field:
Be a Savvy Consumer
Set about choosing a voice teacher in the same way you would a doctor. Don’t just go by convenience or word of mouth. Do some homework. The Internet is an easy way to get started. The website for the renowned magazine Classical Singer as well as the site for the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) offer voice teacher directories searchable by state, language, and even lesson price. Keep in mind, though, that directories such as these largely consist of teachers who have asked to be listed or have subscribed to this digital advertisement, and may not be the best instructors available.
But don’t stop there. You can ask the music teacher at your child’s school if he has any recommendations. Or if you live near a conservatory, contacting a professor of voice also might be helpful. Parent networking is likewise a useful tool. If a student at your child’s school seems to be thriving vocally, ask her parents about the teacher they chose.
Invest in Practice Lessons
It’s a good idea to select a few possible teachers (at least three) and audition them with your singer before making a decision. Remember that a worthwhile instructor will focus on the fundamentals of singing (breath, resonance, tone, etc.), rather than simply play the piano and have your child sing along. Boston Conservatory Professor of Voice Monique Phinney cautions, “There is a difference between a teacher who is able to convey the technical aspects of singing and someone who will primarily work musically on songs….” Ask yourself: Is my child learning anything with this person? Does the teacher explain himself well? Does my child feel too vocally taxed or have any pain when she’s finished? Consult Richard Miller’s The Structure of Singing for an overview of some of the things your child’s teacher should be aware of and touch upon.
Consider Your Child’s Emotions
Because the voice teacher/vocal athlete relationship is entirely one-on-one, it is imperative that your singer feels safe and comfortable with her instructor. Be sure that the teacher’s motivational techniques are constructive rather than harmful. Any yelling or abusive statements should never be tolerated—the long-term emotional damage of such behavior far outweighs any temporary positive results.
Consider, too, that the “coolest” teacher may not be the best teacher. Lessons should be as much about work as they are about fun. Your child should find it easy to relate to her teacher, but don’t let the cool factor dictate her final choice.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are credentials important?
Yes and no. It’s great if your child’s teacher graduated from Julliard or sang on Broadway, but teaching is its own art form, and superior knowledge of the voice doesn’t always translate into good voice training. Look at the teacher’s history as an educator. Research their students’ credentials.
Should my child’s teacher also be a working professional singer?
It’s not essential. The best teachers are often the ones who choose teaching as their primary career. Bear in mind that, while a working professional may have a lot to offer in terms of networking and knowledge of the current music scene, he may often be unavailable to your child should he have a rigorous performance schedule.
Where else can I turn to for advice?
Magazines and online communities are a good start. Classical Singer and NAT’s Journal of Singing are invaluable resources on everything from proper food and drink, to local competition listings, and their respective web pages are equally helpful. In addition, cities often offer communal websites for young singers, where aspiring musicians (and their parents) can ask questions or swap trade secrets. As always, consider any advice carefully, as your child’s physical and emotional health are always at stake wherever the voice is concerned.