Often times when I first start working with a child, their parents will ask how they can implement music therapy activities at home and/or follow through with home programming in order to support what we are doing in therapy. However, when parents ask this question, they tend to amend it with, “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, so singing is out of the question!”
Regardless of whether you are a natural singer or you are tone deaf, there is no voice a child would rather hear than his or her parent’s, specifically, their mother’s. Research has shown us that beginning at roughly five weeks in utero, embryos begin tuning in to the intermittent reinforcement of mother’s voice. Mother’s voice, it turns out, very likely drives early neural development, and later takes on profound significance that can last a lifetime. For better or worse – for impoverished neural development or for enriched development – mother’s voice is closely connected to survival for young children. Thus they learn to pay attention to it from the get-go.
In addition, the ability to sing and the ability to converse with expressive speech are closely related. In our Kindermusik classes we attempt to nurture your child’s speaking and singing voice by playing with rhythmic speech (poems and rhymes) as well as introducing and modeling simple tonal melodies with a limited range. And when you continue your play with both words and timbre sounds in your home during the week, these skills will be strengthened in your child and retained!
There are many ways in which you can improve your singing voice in order to feel more comfortable singing and making music with your child. As a trained vocalist who performed for many years, I always enjoy helping parents “find their voice” so to speak. Here are some suggestions:
- Sing like you speak. Relax your tongue. Relax your lips. Your singing voice should be as natural as your speaking voice, otherwise it sounds forced and uncomfortable.
- Breathe and improve your posture. Remember when you mother told you to stand up straight? You can sit up straight too if you are rocking your baby. Good posture means that you are making room for more air as you breathe, which improves vocal quality. Breathing is crucial. How does one breathe correctly? Well, you need to breathe from your diaphragm. Just think of it as breathing from your stomach. Watch your stomach below expand with inhales and go down with exhales.
- Open up your soft palate. When you open up your soft palate, the vocal chords will actually vibrate more too, which gives you more of a vibrato. What is my soft palate you ask? Well, it's the soft part of the roof of your mouth. Just try to move it so it opens more and allows more air to flow. That will make your notes sound so much better! Just try singing comfortably in your car while opening up your throat more. You'll immediately notice how much better you sound with less effort.
- Learn your vocal range. This is essential, as singing pieces written for the wrong range may strain your voice. Find out if you have a low voice, a medium voice, or a high voice by singing a simple tune like “You are My Sunshine”. Find where you can sing it most comfortably and then try to move between your “chest voice” and “head voice”. The mix voice is a blend between the lower range "chest voice" and the upper range "head voice". Developing a great mix will improve the overall tone and power of your voice which is much more important than just range.
- Be Confident! You would be surprised at how many wrong notes and bad form you can get away with if you sing with confidence. After all, we are just trying to have a little fun with our kiddos, right?
For more information on the benefits of singing to your child, check out this blog post entitled, “Does Singing to Your Baby Really Work?” by Kimberly Sena Moore, at Psychology Today.