I firmly believe that if you can talk, you can sing. However, learning to sing in tune is not easy for everyone. For some, it seems to come naturally. For many more, it is something we have to learn and practice.
Children can imitate instruments and sing purposefully as early as 12 months old. Through practice, purposeful exposure to a wide range of music and sound, as well as play and encouragement, your child can learn to sing.
If your kid is learning to sing or is struggling to sing in tune, read on. This guide is jam-packed with ideas, advice, and techniques that can be used to improve your child’s pitch. It will probably help you as well!
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Sing Along To A Well-Tuned Instrument
When you are practicing with your kid, make sure you are doing your best to play instruments that are in tune. If you have an upright piano, get it tuned! If you have an acoustic guitar, pay a little extra attention to its tuning.
It is harder for anyone to sing with an out of tune instrument, and it could be especially frustrating to a child who is having difficulty singing the right notes.
Beyond that, some research shows that playing children's music when they are in early development can help their ear and sense of pitch. It is important to aid this development as much as possible!
Play Individual Notes For Them During Auditory Development
On that note, let’s talk about how you can improve your child’s sense of pitch from an early age – before they can even sing!
Children who grow up speaking Mandarin perform seven to eight times better on pitch tests than children who grew up speaking English, because their language is pitch based. The meaning of words can change depending on the pitch of the words.
This supports research that suggests that infants exposed to pitch regularly and meaningfully can be taught to have a stronger sense of absolute pitch. Teaching kids how to sing at the same time you teach them the ABCs will help them become better musicians down the line!
If you took piano lessons at a young age as I did, you may remember simple songs like “This Is The Sound Of Middle C.” They seem silly at the time, but repeated exposure to a single note can help develop your ear and sense of pitch.
Listen To High Information Music
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is some evidence that exposing babies, infants, and toddlers to high-information music can help develop a sense of pitch.
High information music means music that is complex, usually fast, and tonally ambiguous. Bebop, contemporary classical music, and atonal music are all examples of high-information music.
The idea is to counter the exposure to individual notes and pitches with uncontrolled exposure to notes without context. Theoretically, it gives kids a better ability to freely associate notes with pitches in their mind.
Check out “high information music” on YouTube, and try listening to some of it. It is interesting and engaging for adults as well!
Call And Response Activities
Call and response activities are a great way to practice music with your kids. It is fun for the parent, because they get to make music with their kid, and it is fun for the kids for the same reason! Make sure to keep these activities enjoyable, don’t take it too seriously, or your child may feel stressed.
Try singing five-note melodies and have your kid sing them back to you. If you know how to use Solfege (the do-re-mi method of learning notes) use Solfege and have them sing them back to you.
You could also sing note names or interval names and have them sing them back to you.
Encourage kids to match their voice to the sound of your voice or to the sound of the instrument you are playing. Over time, this teaches them to use their ears first when they are learning music.
If you are stuck on what to be singing with them, try out this list of 40 call and response songs.
When you are just starting out on this practice, try occasionally matching your child’s pitch when they are responding to you. It can be helpful for them to hear what it sounds like to sing in unison.
Some beginning singers have trouble knowing whether they are singing harmony or unison, and this sort of regular practice can eliminate this problem. It teaches kids to identify pitches instead of intervals.
Incorporating movement into your child’s musical education is essential, and music teachers who teach young children know this. Development is based around motor function for kids, and tapping into that development can help musically.
When you are doing call and responses or just warming up your voice, have your child mimic the pitch with their body. If you are singing up high, have them raise their arms. As the pitch descends, have them lower their arms. Make a siren noise and go up and down.
Incorporating movement is essential in early development, but it helps adults as well. If you have sung in a choir, your director has probably had you raise your arms or your eyebrows to get the note tuned sharper, and it works!
Using your body activates more of the brain and fosters association with the voice and the ear.
Teach Your Child To Use Their Head Voice
Children will have a hard time hitting the right pitches if they are not able to access their head voice.
Head voice has a clear, resonant tone, and is easier to control. Young voices have naturally high and beautiful head voice, and it is usually easier to control. Not teaching this at a young age can limit your child's range and stylistic ability later in life.
One way to encourage the use of head voice is to start vocal warmups at the top of their range, work your way down and then work your way up again.
From a very young age, you can help your child practice yawning. This sounds strange, but it is important. Yawning helps the Adam’s Apple to lower and relaxes the muscles around the neck.
Practicing yawning will help you develop good breathing technique and help your child access their head voice and control their pitch.
While practicing yawning, focus on breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Have fun with it, and challenge your kid to hold their breath as long as they can. When exhaling, have them exhale slowly and carefully as though blowing through a straw.
This will develop breath control and eventual vocal control.
Learn & Teach Solfege
Solfege is a valuable tool for teaching ear training to anyone. I did not learn it growing up, but I ended up learning how to use it in university.
Solfege is where “Do, Re, Mi” came from. Solfege was invented by an Italian monk named Guido who oversaw the church choir. At that time, music wasn’t written down the same way it is now, and the only way the chorus could learn music was through repetition.
Guido solved this by naming notes in the scale and then using a chant that began a note higher than the line before, and thus Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, and Ti were born.
This method is still used all over the world. It works by using a “movable Do.” This means that Do is always the first note in the scale, no matter what scale you are using. Initially, this sounds confusing, because C is not always Do – in the C major scale, C is Do, but in the G major scale, C is Fa, because it is the third scale interval.
Once you start using it, it is not as complicated as it seems. It is a very quick and effective way to transpose and train your ear.
It works by helping you identify relationships between different notes and recognize the patterns that define keys, chords, and melodies. Every note in a scale has a function, and Solfege helps you understand those functions.
Move From Monotone Speaking to Singing
One way to encourage children to sing with pitch is to help them find a natural pitch that is easy for them to sing. This note is around the note where the speaking voice naturally resides.
Have them speak something aloud. Repeat the spoken word, and have them sing a pitch that is close to where they are already singing.
You can model this technique by starting with a flat and monotone voice and moving that monotone to an actual sustained note.
Once your kid has learned to sing this one note, you can easily teach them about pitch by teaching them to sing notes that are higher and lower than their speaking voice note.
This technique can be used for children, but it is also used to teach people who consider themselves tone deaf to sing basic melodies.
Practice Producing Good Quality Sounds
Singing with proper technique and good tone goes a long way towards developing a keen and accurate sense of pitch. Many students struggle to sing in tune because they are struggling to sing at all.
The first battle is producing a sustained, loud note. Nervous singers will sing too quietly or run out of air too quickly. This does not help them sing on pitch, because they can barely hear what they are doing.
Encourage them to take full breaths. Practice breathing techniques that encourage deep, controlled breaths.
Using the right language is key to encouraging this technique. Instead simply encouraging your child to sing louder, encourage them to use more air and energy. This encourages them to use their body to produce better sound.
If they are flat, encourage them to put more spin on the air and aim higher with their voice. Use hand motions or facial expressions to prompt this.
If they are pushing too hard, have them make their voice float. Allow them to sing clearly but without straining.
When they are singing with you but end up out of tune, get them to open their throat and mouth to create a better tone. Have them imagine a small egg in their mouth while singing.
Try Singing With A Drone
Singing with a drone is a great way to tune your ears and practice ear training. I sing into a drone when I’m warming up for a show. I pick a drone in the same key as the first song in the set, and then sing vocal warmups with the drone.
Children can practice with drones as well. Set up a drone in a comfortable key. You can do this using an app or a website, or if you have an instrument, you can play a drone on the instrument. If the key is F, play an F and a C to create a drone. Any interval of a fifth will work well.
You can sing a note matching a pitch within the drone, gradually going sharp or flat. Have your child listen for waves or beats where the pitch you are singing is rubbing with the drone.
Most kids can tell when you are going out of tune, and that is a good thing! It means they are listening for pitch.
This is a good way to explain what you mean when you talk about singing on pitch. It is easy to forget that the concept of being in tune is something that you must learn. If you don’t know what it means to be in tune, it is hard to know when you are not in tune and how you can fix it.
Have them do the same exercise, and have them stop when they hear themselves going out of tune. Eventually, you can have children sing scales or songs with just the drone to guide their ear.
This is an excellent technique for children or anyone who has trouble singing in tune.
Keep It Fun!
Learning to sing or play instruments takes time and repetition. This can get boring and frustrating for both student and parent. Hopefully it doesn’t get frustrating for their music teacher!
The key to helping your child sing in tune and improve their singing is keeping the practice fun. Your child does not need to be practicing hours a day, especially at a very young age. A few minutes every day will make a huge difference.
How you treat practice will affect how they perceive practice time.
Make practice time a game. Make it fun! This way you can practice consistently – a little bit every day – and have it be time that everyone looks forward to.
Make games out of the exercises and techniques. Sing melodies that they recognize and enjoy. If they can’t form words yet, let them use whatever syllables they like. Have them explore their voice and creativity.
Encourage Experimentation & Exploration
Anyone who plays an instrument or has worked on their singing ability knows the difference between having someone tell you how to do something and figuring it out on your own.
When you accidentally discover a cool lick or a life-changing technique, it quickly becomes part of your musical language. Encouraging kids to explore their voice can lead to these kinds of discoveries.
Encourage your children to practice different ways of singing, speaking, whispering, and shouting. Can they shout with a high voice and a low voice? Can they whisper but still project their voice? Have fun with it! Shout, laugh, sing, yell!
It can be fun to play with sound effects as well. Have fun with your kid and make animal noises, slides, sirens, etc. Have your children echo your sound effects. Have them come up with sound effects for you to echo!
Experimentation breeds joy. Encouraging children to love singing and making music will do them more favors than a thousand vocal exercises.
Look For Opportunities To Sing
Helping your child become a better singer can be hard, because it is easy to sound critical when helping them improve. Being a stage parent can be fun and rewarding, but it can also put a lot of pressure on your kids.
Don’t be too pushy when you are helping your kid improve. Be careful and gentle and have fun with it. It is absolutely worth encouraging them to practice and improve, as long as you are helping them find ways to enjoy their new hobby.
Encourage your kid to join choirs, play music with friends, and participate in music and band classes in school. Be supportive! Show up to recitals and tell them you enjoy listening to their practice.
One of the best things you can do to improve your child’s overall singing ability is hiring a teacher or taking a few vocal lessons.
These days, there are numerous vocal lessons and courses that can be taken online. Many of these courses would be helpful for parents as well! Which brings me to…
Get Singing Lessons
There are many options to consider if your child is showing an interest in singing lessons.
First, I would recommend seeking out a teacher who can give your child a few in-person sessions. Getting in-person instruction is beneficial, because singing is a very personal and physical activity.
A good teacher will help your child with their breath, their posture, and their confidence. They can also give out feedback that is personalized to your child’s needs. This is the one thing that online lessons cannot do for you.
That said, online lessons are great. They are affordable, easily accessible, and in the “lockdown era,” they are safe and easy!
Here are a few options to check out:
30 Day Singer
The 30 Day Singer course is taught by several talented teachers. The course covers a wide range of technique, warm ups, vocal exercises, and songs, and it is valuable for beginners and intermediate singers alike.
This is the sort of course you could easily do with your child, and have it be a learning experience for the both of you.
You can choose beginner courses to start, and work on vocal health and vocal warmups as well. Most children won’t be able to do the advanced lessons, but perhaps you can!
School Of Rock
The School of Rock is an online music lesson portal with lessons for all instruments, including the voice. It is tailored for young students and offers a wide variety of lessons. There are singing lessons for preschoolers, kids, teens, and adults as well.
The School of Rock has a fun and modern approach to lessons. They teach about relevant skills like mic technique as well as a healthy dose of fundamentals like singing in tune, breathing properly, and enunciating clearly.
Theatrix Youtheatre Society
The Theatrix Youtheatre Society offers regular lessons with a live teacher. They offer lessons on a weekly basis over Zoom, so you would likely be taking the class with a bunch of other kids.
I think this is a fun and simple format that mirrors the experience kids would have taking a group music lesson.
Questions To Ask Yourself If Your Child Is Struggling
Many kids struggle to find their singing voice, especially under pressure. If your child is struggling with singing on pitch and confidently, ask yourself these questions:
Is The Music In An Appropriate Range?
Children’s voices are higher than our own. You need to make sure that the music is singable and comfortable, otherwise your kid will naturally struggle with it. If they are straining for notes, they will lose confidence in themselves.
On that note, just because something is listed as a “children’s arrangement” doesn’t mean that it is right for your kid. Every kid is different and has different abilities and ranges.
Are They Singing With Confidence?
Any singer knows that confidence plays a huge role in how you are singing. Pitch is affected, tone is affected, diction is affected.
Work on boosting your child’s confidence. Encourage them to sing for fun. When they sing well, congratulate them for their work and their progress. It is so important to nurture a creative, curious spirit at this age.
Are They Enjoying Themselves?
There are times when kids will not enjoy practicing their music. There was a time when I wanted to quit music lessons.
Quitting is not an appealing option, though, and a child may come to regret it later.
Instead of quitting or simply pushing through, try altering their practice to include more things they enjoy. My piano teacher switched me to playing jazz and eventually ragtime (when my hands got bigger) at a young age, and I am forever thankful.
It renewed my interest and love for music, and kept me going long enough to discover my passion for the art form.
If your child is struggling to enjoy music, take the pressure off a bit, and try something different. Don’t give up!
How To Get Your Child To Sing In Tune, Final Thoughts
Singing in tune is just one part of singing well. Singing is an art and a learned practice. Your child can become a good singer with practice and encouragement on your part.
As long as you are working to instill a love and curiosity of music, your child will grow up to sing well and more importantly, enjoy singing too.