Why does my child sing so quietly?
By Allison Zema
One of the most frequent questions I receive from parents deals with simply hearing a child when they sing.
“My child is always so loud when they talk but when they sing I can barely hear them. Are they just shy?”
Sometimes that answer is “yes” (which requires an entirely separate discussion!) But more often than not the answer is more complicated than you might think. Volume of the singer is dependent upon many factors, two including diaphragmatic breathing and resonance. It is very important that as your child progresses with singing that they are not asked to sing louder than their vocal chords can handle. Much like an athlete cannot be pushed beyond their strength capabilities, the vocal chords are indeed a muscle and need to be built in a similar fashion.
When we sing, the diaphragm uses air pressure to keep our vocal chords together. Too much or too little pressure will cause vocal tension in the throat. Encouraging a child to “be louder” before they are ready can cause a young singer to push out the sound with force. This can, in turn, create bad habits that could lead to serious vocal programs down the road such as hoarseness, chronic laryngitis, or nodal development on the vocal chords.
Here are some things you can do to help your child improve their volume and confidence:
Encourage your child to practice! Every student is different and your teacher will recommend the amount of time your child should spend each week. Although this time will depend on how long your child has been taking lessons and their age, a good recommendation to follow is 2-3 times per week (outside of lesson) for about 20-45 minutes. Many teachers will allow you to record the lesson so you can do the same exercises at home. (This is especially helpful if you do not own a piano!)
When you practice you can focus on two things:
1. How long can you sustain a sound? This works really well on a hissing “ss” sound or a lip buzz/trill. Children love to be challenged by being timed and seeing if they can beat their last score!
2. Bringing resonance forward. This can be tricky for non-singers, but the basic idea involves “placing” the sound in the nasal cavities to create sound wave vibration in the face bones. Good tricks to do that include “meow” sounds like angry cats!
Most importantly, remember that singing lessons focus on improving internal muscles. These improvements are harder to observe than, for example, playing the guitar or piano where our outer extremities improve (which shows a more visible progression). Every singer is different but I usually encourage to wait anywhere from 9-18 months to observe improvement in the voice. However, I promise that your teacher will notice if you practice or not! Like I tell almost all of my singers – it’s all a process.
About Allison Zema
Allison Zema received both a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and Vocal Performance at the University of California, Irvine in 2013. She began teaching in 2010 and currently teaches over 40 private students per week throughout Orange County. Through her concentration in choral conducting, Allison has performed with the UC Irvine Choral Program at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. as well as internationally in Hungary and Slovakia, where her women’s choir received first place at the Bratislava International Youth Music Festival in 2014. Allison also regularly performs with the Orange County Women’s Chorus and the Atomic Cherry Bombs, a vintage chorus line.
In addition to her regular engagements, she also directs a two-week summer intensive for high school voice students at UC Irvine through the Summer Academies in the Arts. She has overseen multiple vocal master-classes at high schools throughout Orange County as well as at The Music Factory. Allison is classically trained in opera and also specializes in musical theater, jazz, and pop styles. Lessons include instruction in vocal technique, music theory and musicianship, sight-singing and performance practice. Allison is incredibly passionate about her students’ development in vocal technique and confidence on stage!