Are Children Too Young for Voice Lessons?

Babies respond to music and singing with awe and wonder, and as soon as they begin trying out sounds themselves, they begin imitating what they hear with musical intonation. Children’s songs are full of life lessons, fun sounds and repeated phrases at higher pitches so their tiny vocal folds can match easily. Singing is joyful…but could we be teaching our children about vocal anatomy too early in their lives?

A Biased Lens:

As a young person, I experienced multiple ways of singing education. I was active in church choirs, musicals and enjoyed a good Raffi tape or Andrew Lloyd Webber compilation disc in the minivan as my mother carted me around to various activities. I loved singing so much, that I begged my mother to enroll me in voice lessons. She put it off until I was around the age of 11 and enrolled me in lessons at a local university with a teacher I saw weekly. We sang scales, she chose songs for me to sing, and I worked on singing those songs toward a recital or 2. At church, our music director was heavily involved in music education for us kids, as we created a children’s choir singing SAB (that’s soprano, alto and bass) or basically 3 part harmonies. She also took on the task of musical numbers in productions like “Oh, Jonah” and Christmas based solo performances. In school, our 3rd, 4th and 5th grade years were spent growing from books full of songs like, “The Cat Came Back,” and “I’m Not Gunna Be Your Valentine,” teaching us rhythm and time signatures. We also participated in Texas and America themed patriotic song groupings for all-school assembly performances, and more complex musical numbers with spoken lines and acting in between like “It’s Saturday,” in which I was “My Mother, the Coach.”

Beginning in middle school, I had a more formal choir education about theory and music, but very little was I taught about voice production physiology or any rationale for different types of vocal warmups. As high school progressed, I began gigging often with my guitar and voice, and taking on more demanding competition singing as well as vocally athletic roles in musicals. I was told to “not belt” and to “not hurt my voice.”

Reflections as an Injured Singer:

When I injured my voice my senior year of high school, I was in denial. I truly thought the pitch issues I was experiencing would be gone in a few weeks. This denial (and confidence I guess) carried me through a vocal competition where I sang the entire song holding my throat to one side so I could more accurately stay on pitch. I based a lot of my identity through the beginning years of college on being injured and felt throttled and frustrated. I believe I remained in denial for a decade following my voice surgery and voice therapy sessions.

I began looking for the answer to why I became injured in the first place. I began looking for who to blame and what I could have done differently to have avoided the cyst in my vocal cord. Was it I who was to blame because I had pushed my limits with cheerleading, singing in choir, theatre and on the weekends for gigs? Was it I who was to blame because I had belted the roles in the musicals I sang in trying to match the singers I heard on the discs? I thought belting was bad, but I didn’t know how to avoid it since the adults guiding me weren’t able to tell me what to do instead, and I certainly don’t remember them asking me to give anything other than a “more belty” sound.

I then began to search for a way to help others avoid the same issues I had. I wanted to know more about how to become a speech-language pathologist who knew about singing and music and could help injured singers. I wanted to become the person who could improve the lives of others because they could start their vocal play and years of singing and practice with the knowledge of what vocal cords are, how they work and that there’s a physical representation out there instead of figurative imaginary ideas that voice lessons and voice coachings had afforded me. I wanted to spread the information that formal voice lessons weren’t the ONLY way to be a good singer, and I wanted to be able to meet all injured singers exactly where they were at to offer explicit guidance to get them functional again without judgement or shame.

Reflections as a Parent:

Like every parent, probably, I think my children are geniuses. They make me laugh and they view the world differently than me. They are not jaded, they have hope, they have ideas and they have passion. Their ideas about things are often surprising to me and therefore valuable because I wouldn’t have thought to analyze a topic in the way they do. They are thirsty for knowledge, but not desperately in the way I was following my vocal injury. They want to know to make sense of their world and they are quite logical when we visit the doctor, dentist, or other type of care provider.

I feel that my children enjoy learning and can and do modify their behavior when I am able to explicitly explain rationale and give examples they can see, hear, feel or experience. Singing is no different. I spend time if they’re curious about it, but don’t offer unsolicited advice EACH and EVERY time I hear them singing. It’s a personal and intimate thing to sing, and it can be embarrassing when you realize someone is listening. It can be even more intimidating when you realize that person is making a judgement while listening. Creating a culture of knowledge free from judgement can help keep them aware and their singing voices sustainable for years to come.

Children are Simply Too Young for Voice Lessons…Or Are They?

Are children too young for voice lessons? I think not, as long as the teacher is creating a learning environment where mistakes are expected and fun, and they are rooted in voice science and research about the vocal mechanism and voice production physiology. Scare tactics like “You’ll destroy your voice if you have too much breath in your sound,” have ABSOLUTELY NO PLACE in a teaching environment. Music educators throwing that garbage around should take a long hard look at what type of culture they’re creating with that. It is a culture of singers so afraid to fail or make a mistake, they can’t see the true potential of their sounds and they will be constantly judging themselves or expecting judgement in the most brutal form for simply expressing themselves vocally. I hear this time and time again in my voice therapy clinic where people say “I never learned to sing properly,” and I simply ask, “What is proper?”

Every person with vocal cords has a threshold of overuse where inflammation (swelling) begins to happen in the tissue. There is a balance of genetics, hydration and response to training and exercise (respiratory and phonatory) that can reduce the risk of injury, but if you ignore the vocal changes (how it sounds and feels) that occur after that threshold is met, and continue to vocalize without rest or reset, the risk of injury increases. The more that cycle happens, the more long term damage MIGHT occur. Physicians don’t have all the answers for why vocal injuries occur, but more studies come out every year.

If your child is singing in a vocally athletic way, it is vital to begin teaching them about voice production physiology and vocal anatomy. If they are 5, explain it to them. If they are 9, explain it to them. If they are 13, explain it to them. I’ve created materials to help singers of any age get this vital knowledge whenever they begin singing in a way that is increased in frequency (how often they are singing) and intensity (how loud volume or dB is) from normal, daily activities of living. This increased frequency and intensity could start as early as 5 or 6 years old, and we see children for vocal overuse (vocal nodules diagnosis) in my clinic as young as 4. Injury potential is out there at that young age, so prevention should be there too.

I hope you find this blog helpful. Here are some references you can read and some of my materials you can download instantly off my website or order from

About the Author: Kristie Knickerbocker, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and singing voice specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. She evaluates and rehabilitates voice, upper airway disorders and swallowing at her private practice, ATEMPO Voice Center, and lectures on voice science internationally. She is a classically trained mezzo soprano with a minor in vocal performance from Texas Christian University. She has collaborated on and authored multiple peer reviewed published research articles about her community-based voice specialty clinic. She continues to develop a line of instantly downloadable voice assessment and voice therapy materials on TPT or her ATEMPO voice center website. Follow her on Pinterest, on Instagram or like her on Facebook. Kristie is a founding member and co-owner of The Confident Clinician Cooperative and mentors on voice, upper airway, business and private practice through


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