Songbooks for Young Singers

Finding appropriate music for young singers can be challenging if you don’t know where to look!  Here are some of my favorite song books that I use with my young voice students. 

**This post contains affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through a link on my site.  

Kids’ Musical Theatre Collection: Volumes 1 and 2  – This is a nice beginning-level book for young singers, with an assortment of kid-friendly songs from movies and Broadway musicals (ages 5 – 12).  Songs are in easily accessible keys that fit comfortably in most young voices, and the piano arrangements are simpler in this book than in some others.  Volume 1 and Volume 2 are sold separately, as well as in the complete edition.  

Singer’s Musical Theatre Anthology: Children’s Edition – This is a great collection of kid-appropriate songs from Broadway musicals, for approximately ages 8 – 14. Some of the song arrangements and piano accompaniments are more challenging than in the other kids’ anthologies.  It includes a mix of songs from classic and contemporary musicals, and includes plot notes for each show.  Songs include: What If (The Addams Family), Maybe (Annie), You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile (Annie), Electricity (Billy Elliot), When I Get My Name in Lights (The Boy from Oz), I Know Things Now (Into the Woods), Getting to Know You (The King and I), I Whistle a Happy Tune (The King and I), Naughty (Matilda: The Musical), Quiet (Matilda: The Musical), Castle on a Cloud (Les Miserables), Gary Indiana (The Music Man), Where is Love (Oliver), The Girl I Mean to Be (The Secret Garden), It’s Possible (Seussical the Musical), I Know It’s Today (Shrek the Musical), Dites-Moi (from South Pacific), and more.  

Broadway Presents! Kids’ Musical Theatre Anthology – Songs include: All I Do is Dream of You (from Singin’ in the Rain ), Alone in the Universe (Seussical: The Musical), Be Kind to Your Parents (Fanny), Big Blue World (Finding Nemo: The Musical), Consider Yourself (Oliver), Different (Honk!), The Girl I Mean to Be (The Secret Garden), Good Morning (Singin’ in the Rain), Green Eggs and Ham (Seussical: The Musical), Heart (Damn Yankees), I Gotta Crow (Peter Pan), I Just Can’t Wait to Be King (The Lion King), I Want It Now (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), It’s Possible (Seussical: The Musical), Johnny One Note (Babes in Arms), Part of Your World (The Little Mermaid), Pure Imagination ( Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), Shy (Once Upon a Mattress), Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (Mary Poppins), When I Get My Name in Lights (The Boy From Oz), Wouldn’t It Be Loverly (My Fair Lady) .  Available with downloadable accompaniment tracks.  

Disney Solos for Kids, Volume 1 – contains 10 classic Disney songs: Beauty and the Beast (Beauty and the Beast), Chim Chim Cher-ee (Mary Poppins), A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes (Cinderella), Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat (The Aristocats), God Help the Outcasts (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), It’s a Small World (Disneyland, Walt Disney World), The Lord Is Good to Me (Melody Time), Reflection (Mulan), The Second Star to the Right (Peter Pan), Winnie the Pooh (The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh).  Additional volumes are also available: More Disney Solos for Kids, and Still More Disney Solos for Kids.    

25 Folk Song Solos for Children – contains easy arrangements of kid-appropriate folk songs: All the Pretty Little Horses,  Animal Fair,  Annabel Lee, The Ash Grove, Bill Grogan’s Goat, Cradle Song, Every Night When the Sun Goes In, Father’s Whiskers, The Generous Fiddler, How Can I Keep from Singing, Hush, Little Baby, The Lark in the Morn, Little Brown Dog, The Mermaid, My White Horse, On Mondays I Never Go to Work, Poor Lonesome Cowboy, The Red River Valley, Scarborough Fair, Shenandoah, Simple Gifts, The Streets of Laredo, Sweet the Evening Air of May, Tell Me Why, The Water Is Wide.  The book comes with downloadable accompaniment tracks for students to practice with.  

36 Solos for Young Singers – traditional and folk songs with limited ranges that are well-suited to young voices (ages 6 – 12).  Featuring songs from a variety of countries and composers, including: April Fool, The Blue Bells of Scotland, Country Gardens, Cuckoo, Dandelions Gold and Green, The Desperado, MacNamara’s Band, Old King Cole, The Quest, Red River Valley, Sidewalks of New York, Sweet and Low, Toyland, and more.  The book comes with downloadable accompaniment tracks for students to practice with.  

36 More Solos for Young Singers – is a second volume of traditional and folk songs for young voices.  This is great for students who are working on developing the middle range of their voices.  

Art Songs for Children – contains 13 songs songs for young classical singers (ages 5-12), including: Come to the Fair, Cradle Song, Simple Gifts, A Twilight Fancy, The Water Is Wide, and more.  

Daffodils, Violets, and Snowflakes: High voice / Daffodils, Violets, and Snowflakes: Low voice – Contains 24 classical songs appropriate for young singers ages 10 to mid-teens, in suitable keys for developing voices.    

Some books are published in different versions for different voice types– often containing the same songs but in higher or lower keys.  Singers should decide with the help of a teacher which range is best for them.  

Piano Books for Beginners

For piano students of all ages, I generally use the Piano Adventures series. There are many piano methods out there, and I’ve used others before, but this one has worked the best for most students, and there is a wide variety of supplemental music available at each level as well. I also sometimes use the Alfred’s Premier series and may suggest this or another series if I am teaching a pair of siblings and would prefer them to have different books.

For Young Beginners (ages 4-6)

My First Piano Adventure: Book A – This book is great for the youngest beginners (4 to 5 years old). It includes kid-friendly songs and activities, and is designed to be developmentally appropriate for young students. This book is entirely pre-reading, meaning that students focus on learning technique, finger numbers, the music alphabet, rhythms, and playing loudly and softly– all before learning to read notes on the staff. The companion Writing Book reinforces concepts and skills from the lesson book with fun activities and songs. After this book, students move on to My First Piano Adventure: book B.

My First Piano Adventure: Book B – The second book in this series, but I often start 5- to 7-year-olds in this book. It introduces note reading in an easy-to-follow way, and encourages students not to rely on finger numbers but to learn the notes instead. Students learn to read notes moving by step in the Treble and Bass Clefs, and the C 5-Finger Scale is introduced. The companion Writing Book reinforces concepts and skills from the lesson book with fun music theory activities and songs. After this book, some students will continue to the 3rd book in the My First Piano Adventure set (book C), while others will be ready to move directly into Piano Adventures: Level One.

My First Piano Adventure: Book C – The 3rd and last book in the young beginners series. I often skip this book with students 5 and older, but this is a great review for students who need a bit more practice before moving on to the books for older kids. The companion Writing Book is recommended as well. Students learn a few new notes in the Bass and Treble Clefs, and learn to read skips on the staff.

For Kids (ages 7-12)

In this series, each level contains several books. There are four main books in each level: Lesson (where new concepts are introduced), Technique and Artistry (exercises for developing good hand position and expressive playing), Performance (longer pieces that are fun and great for recitals), and Theory (workbook and practice of concepts). There are additional books available as well of more “fun” repertoire. This comprehensive approach helps to train well-rounded musicians.

Piano Adventures: Primer Level – This is a good beginning book for slightly older kids. It begins with pre-reading work– learning finger numbers and rhythms first, then the music alphabet, and then beginning note reading about half way through. Once note reading is introduced, it moves pretty quickly, so it’s important that students have established good practice habits by that point in order to not get frustrated.

Piano Adventures: Level 1 – Although it is called level 1, this book assumes that students already know basic rhythms and note reading. Students who have some previous piano or other music experience may be able to start in this book, but beginners should complete either the Primer level or some of the My First Piano Adventure books first.

After Level 1, students may continue to levels 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B, 4, and 5. Students are ready to begin playing some sonatinas and early-intermediate piano pieces around level 2B or 3, and a good selection of supplemental books is available for each level as well (Popular Songs, Kid Songs, Jazz and Blues, Rock, Hymns, and more).

For Older Beginners (ages 12-17)

Accelerated Piano Adventures: Book 1 – This series is designed for older beginners.  It moves more quickly than the regular Piano Adventures, so it’s important that students are committed to practicing regularly in order to make progress.  

For Adult Beginners

Adult Piano Adventures: Complete Book 1 – This is an all-in-one method (rather than multiple books) designed for adults, and includes classical themes as well as popular songs.  It moves more quickly and includes more chord-based playing than the kids’ books.  


3 Common Myths About Singing

There is a lot of misinformation out there about singing and voice technique.  A lot of these problematic ideas are leftover from the days before technology enabled us to understand how the voice actually works. I especially don’t like seeing ill-informed “voice teachers” profit from teaching incorrect and potentially dangerous techniques to unsuspecting singers. I acknowledge that there are many different styles and approaches to singing, but some things are objectively true no matter the genre.  I believe in empowering singers with accurate knowledge about how to train and care for their voice.  


Myth #1 – Singing from the Diaphragm is Helpful

I hear singers talking about this all the time.  Yes, the diaphragm is important for breathing, but most of the time when it’s talked about in regards to singing, it is not accurately described.  

So first, let’s talk about the diaphragm:  It’s a layer of muscle located at the bottom of your rib cage and is shaped like an upside-down bowl.  When you breathe in, it flattens downward, which pulls air into your lungs. This happens automatically, whether or not you are aware of it.  We can’t really feel the diaphragm, because it is deep inside the body where we don’t have nerve endings.  

When the diaphragm moves downward, it pushes on the internal organs in the abdomen.  In order to get a good, deep breath, it’s helpful to relax the abdominal muscles– this allows the external organs to move out of the way so that the diaphragm has maximum range of motion. If the abdominal muscles are tense, it’s hard to get a complete breath.  This is where thinking about the diaphragm is useful: for inhaling deeply.  

Once you’ve started singing, the diaphragm isn’t active.  There are other muscles involved in breathing, all around the ribs and torso.  In order to have good breath control and to sing longer notes and phrases, singers train those muscles to release the air slowly.  Keeping some of the inhaling muscles active during exhaling (or singing) is part of healthy breath support, but trying to focus on the diaphragm often does more harm than good.  

Here are some videos that show more about the diaphragm:

3D View of Diaphragm –

More about breathing –

What’s so bad about “singing from the diaphragm?”  

Most of the time if I ask students what kinds of things they’ve heard before about the diaphragm, most of it is wildly inaccurate.  There are a couple of common ways it gets misunderstood:

Many singers think that this means they should squeeze the sound out forcefully, using the abdominal muscles.  This is problematic because singing with too much air pressure can lead to vocal fatigue or even vocal damage. Too much air pressure means the vocal folds have to open and close more forcefully, increasing the chances of injury.  

Many singers confuse the diaphragm with the abdominal muscles, and think that they move at the same time.  The diaphragm is actually deeper inside the body and higher up than the abdominals, although squeezing the abdominals can indirectly press on the diaphragm.  I have found it much more helpful to focus on strengthening my core muscles, and many of my students have benefited from core exercise as well.  

I’d also like to mention that there are different schools of breathing, and I’m not here to recommend one over another, especially to singers who are not my students.  Diverse bodies and genres benefit from different methods and I think that everyone should do what works best for them. Abdominal breathing can be really helpful for some singers, but thoracic breathing works better for others.  A knowledgeable voice teacher can help you develop a technique that works for you and is stylistically appropriate.  

Myth #2 – Singing From the Throat is Bad

There’s a particular sound that is often described (even by voice teachers), as “throaty.”  Or, “stuck in the throat,” etc. You probably know what I mean. This sound is caused by muscle tension, and an experienced teacher can hear which muscle is likely the issue based on the specific sound (if it’s not clearly visible by watching the singer).  Sometimes teaching with imagery is helpful for this, and I might encourage a student to “send the sound forward” or something like that. Often a student with this issue is trying to control the sound, so focusing too much on individual muscles can make them tense up more.  

If the “throatiness” is happening more on a particular vowel, where is the tension?  Lip trills and rolled R’s can relax the tongue and jaw. Switching to a brighter vowel like “ee” might also help by moving the tongue forward. 


Myth #3 – You Can “Place” Your Voice

A lot of teachers talk about placement of the voice.  This is an idea that’s leftover from before we understood physics and how sound waves work.  In short, the sound waves produced by your vocal folds are shaped into the sound that we hear by the way that they bounce around through the vocal tract and out the singer’s mouth.  Adjusting the shape of the vocal tract (aka the mouth and throat) changes the sound— vowels are a simple example of this, but there are more subtle adjustments happening as well. 

So, what is placement all about?  Basically, if the vocal tract is amplifying the sound waves just right, singers might feel a vibration or other sensation in the nose or cheekbones.  With a modern understanding of acoustics, we can see that this sensation is the RESULT of good technique, not the technique itself.  

I will sometimes tell students to “send” or “aim the sound” toward the front teeth or cheekbones if I’m noticing tension, but don’t ever talk about “placing” the sound or singing from anywhere other than the vocal folds.  Sometimes this kind of imagery might help, but other times it might just lead to more confusion. Where should I place this note? What about that one? What if I place it wrong? This is much less productive than just addressing the underlying tension.  


Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract Exercises

What does Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract mean?

Semi-occluded means partially blocked, and the vocal tract is what we call the space between the vocal folds and the lips.  Semi-occluded vocal tract (SOVT) exercises involve partially blocking the vocal tract, which limits the airflow and helps to relax the vocal folds.  

What is the benefit?

Many singers use more air than they need when singing.  Too much air pressure below the vocal folds means that the vocal folds are closing more forcefully with each vibration, which can increase the risk of vocal fatigue or injury.  Optimizing the airflow to be more efficient allows the vocal folds to relax, as well as encouraging better breath control.  

What are the most common types of SOVT exercises?  

  • Straw Occlusion (also called Straw Phonation)
  • Mmmmm / Nnnnnn / Nnngggggg / Vvvvvvvv
  • Lip Trills /Tongue Trills / Rolled “R”

How does Straw Occlusion work?

Just hold a straw between your lips and sing!  Keep your lips closed around the straw, and make sure that air is not escaping through your nose.  Focus on keeping a smooth and steady flow of air through the straw as you vocalize. It may feel difficult at first if you are used to singing with much more air.  If your voice feels tense, you may want to alternate between straw occlusion and lip trills at first.  

Other variations…

Paper cup – Poke a hole in the bottom and then put the rim of the cup against your face and sing.  This allows your mouth to open wider, which can be helpful for higher notes or belting.  

Hand – No props needed for this one– just place the back of your hand against your mouth.  A little bit of air will escape around the edges of your mouth

When should SOVT exercises be used?  

SOVT exercises are recommended as part of a daily vocal workout routine.  They are beneficial as part of a warm-up and cool-down, and for troubleshooting vocal issues that come up when working on songs.  

Straw occlusion can be used to minimize fatigue during long rehearsals, or as a “reset” during breaks when practicing or performing.  

Straw occlusion is also great if you want to sing without making too much noise– perfect for travelling, or when your housemates are asleep! 

The Importance of Developing a Growth Mindset

In the groundbreaking book Mindset, Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, Ph.D., describes two ways of looking at the world: a fixed mindset, where we see skills and abilities as innate talents that can not be changed, and a growth mindset, where we see skills and abilities as changeable. People with a growth mindset tend to respond positively to challenges, seeing them as opportunities to learn and grow. People with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, have a hard time with challenges and take failures very personally because they interpret those events as proof that they are not smart/talented/etc.

How can you tell if you have a fixed mindset?  Do you see intelligence and talent as things that you are either born with or not?  Do you think that people are just who they are and no one really changes?  Do you avoid doing things you aren’t good at or putting yourself in situations where you might look foolish?

If you have a growth mindset, you likely enjoy the process of learning.  You know that failing doesn’t mean you should give up, and you see obstacles as opportunities.  You like trying new things, even if you’re not great at them right away, because you know that you can improve with effort.

I encounter these mindsets every day with my students.  Some of them love a challenge. Some students have a really hard time with criticism and take it very personally. As they learn to adopt more of a growth mindset toward their music, it becomes easier to see feedback as constructive and helpful. After all, knowing where there is room for improvement simply tells you what to work on! I emphasize that feedback is just information, and that we should take what is useful and let go of the rest.

Another way that I help my students develop a growth mindset is by praising effort rather than talent. I’ll say things like, “Wow, nice work! This is sounding really good!” rather than, “You have such a great voice!” This may seem counterintuitive at first, but let me explain– if I am only ever praised for my talent (i.e. you’re so smart/talented) then anything that suggests I might not actually be as talented as everyone thinks (i.e. a disappointing score or result) is going to feel much more painful and discouraging. When I learn to appreciate my growth and progress, it is easier to see challenges and failures as experiences that can be learned from.

I’ve seen these mindsets in my own life as well.  As a “smart kid,” I was praised for my intelligence a lot.  I did well in elementary school, but didn’t handle challenges or unexpected situations well at all, and it got worse as I got older.  Like many with a fixed mindset, I eventually settled into self-sabotage, since if I’m not REALLY trying my hardest, then I can cling to that rather than feeling the rejection of doing my best and still coming up short.  This mindset showed up in my singing as well, and I had a really hard time with criticism and rejection.  Each time I’d audition and not get the part, I’d feel like I just wasn’t good enough, and it was devastating.   I’ve come a long way since then, but this is still something that I am working on with myself as well as my students.   There is always room for improvement!  🙂

If you are reading this and realizing that you have a fixed mindset in certain areas of your life, don’t worry– it’s changeable!  There are lots of resources out there that can help.  If books are your thing, then I highly recommend Mindset by Carol Dweck.  You can also find videos online of several talks and interviews she has done on the topic, if that’s more your style.

Becoming Whole, Healthy Artists

(Trigger Warning: depression, suicide)

2018 began with the death of an old friend by suicide.  It was particularly devastating because he was one of the brightest and funniest talents I knew.  He had so many things going for him, and was deeply loved by so many, but then depression came along and swallowed him up.  I felt especially saddened by the wish that I’d made more of an effort to stay in touch over the years.  Then we lost Kate Spate, and then Anthony Bourdain.  And just before them was Scott Hutchison of the band Frightened Rabbit, whose album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks (2010), had gotten me through some of my own darkest times.  I found myself listening to those songs again, tears pouring down my face, wondering why so many of the most brilliant minds are so tormented.  And, more importantly, wondering what I can do to make a difference.

I’ve been doing a lot of personal growth work for the last 10 years or so.  If you knew me in college, I was, to put it nicely, kind of a mess.  I was in a lot of emotional pain that I didn’t know how to process, and that pain had become part of my identity.  But then, in 2006, I discovered that yoga helped with my back pain and helped me reconnect to my body, and that sent me down a new path.  I was finally able to quiet my anxious mind and really connect to myself.

Another life-saver during those dark times of mine was Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way.  It started me down a path of self-care and personal development, which continues to be a priority for me.  I began to see that I would still be myself if I let go of all the darkness I’d been carrying around, and that I could make simple changes to help myself feel better, one step at a time.

I’ve also learned that I’m a Highly Sensitive Person, which explained so many things that I thought were just weird quirks.  I’m just wired a little differently and my nervous system is more sensitive than most, so I get easily overwhelmed.  I am grateful to have found coping strategies that work for me, like meditation, yoga, and giving myself quiet time to decompress.  (I will be sharing more about these strategies in future posts– stay tuned!)

The more I have learned to take care of myself, the more I wish I’d learned these things sooner.  Why didn’t my fancy music school education teach me how to stay sane in the high-pressure life of a professional musician?  I certainly wasn’t the only one struggling under all the pressure.  Why are young singers still being told outdated and incorrect information about whether exercise is good for the voice?  Our bodies are our instruments, so why not learn how to properly care for them?  Fortunately, some schools are starting to include wellness skills as part of their music programs, but this is not yet the norm.

Everything I’ve been through has helped me find my true calling as a voice teacher: to help singers and other artists unlock their true selves and true voices.  I am creating an online community where singers at all levels can support and encourage each other on our paths to health and healing.  In the future, I also plan to offer retreats and workshops where the community can connect in-person and learn together.

I believe that it’s time for creatives to release the “tortured artist” ideal and start becoming whole, healthy performers.  I believe that we can create our best art when we choose a life full of purpose, joy, and creativity.

Fall 2018 Updates

I can’t believe the summer is almost over!  I just wanted to write a super-quick post with a few updates for the 2018-19 school year.

I am currently accepting new students in Oakland (Holy Names University Preparatory Music) and Vallejo.

I am a vendor with Visions in Education, and students may use their vouchers for lessons in voice, piano, or both (at my Vallejo location).  I may also be offering a group voice class for beginning singers (TBD – depends on number and ages of singers interested).

Please contact me if you are interested in lessons or would like more information!

I also have some exciting projects in the works!

Coming soon: online voice lessons, and more!

Expectations and Benefits of Voice Lessons for Kids

Singing is a complicated process involving many muscles, and training them to work together efficiently and effectively takes skill and practice.  Singing is muscle memory, and practice is key.  Sometimes results can be quick, and that’s great.  Sometimes it takes a while.

In kids’ voices, results depend on even more factors.  Kids’ bodies are smaller and more flexible than adults, which makes some things easier and others more difficult. Kids typically take longer than adults to get the hang of breathing for singing– expanding the belly on inhalation while keeping the shoulders relaxed.  This is a key piece of vocal technique, and just one example of something that kids take a little extra practice to master.  This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to learn it, it just means they’ll need to practice.

A kid’s voice will not naturally sound like an adult’s (there are some exceptions), and forcing an unnatural vocal tone adds tension and strain.  Kids’ voices can’t do what adults’ voices do, and we shouldn’t try to make them.  Learning healthy, age-appropriate singing technique can start students on a path of lifelong singing.  One of my main goals with young students is to undo any bad habits that might cause vocal strain or injury in the future.  Unfortunately, the vocal styles that are trendy in current pop music are not healthy to imitate, and singers who attempt without the proper technique can damage their vocal folds.

I also include solfege exercises in lessons to build musicianship skill. (Solfege, or Sol-Fa, or Solfeggio, are names for the syllables Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do.  These syllables are hugely helpful once students become fluent with them, which takes time and repetition.  Learning melodies on the solfege syllables incorporates music theory into singing, and reinforces musicianship skill and ear-training.

And last but certainly not least, music lessons build confidence.  Performing in front of peers and family builds confidence, and students may enjoy auditioning for other singing opportunities at school or in the community.  Voice lessons also help many students feel more poised and confident in public speaking.  One of my students was so shy in her first lesson that she would barely speak or make eye contact with me.  After only a few weeks, her parents had already noticed a difference in her confidence; now after 2 years she is a much more confident performer, and even had a large role in her school musical last year.

Finally, many young students choose to take lessons in both voice and piano.  This is a great option for motivated voice students and young beginners alike!  Piano skills are extremely useful for singers of all ages.

If you have questions about whether or not your child can benefit from music lessons, please ask!

Memorization Tips

Hello, everyone!  I wanted to share a few of my favorite tricks and tips for memorization.  Memorizing songs is something that comes very easily to some, and not at all to others, but it is a skill that can be strengthened and developed.

Here are some of the things I do when I am working on memorizing something:

  1. Write out the lyrics.
  2. With a partner, speak through the lyrics together.  The way this works is your partner holds the music/lyrics and says the first word.  Then, you say the second word, your partner says the third, and so on.  It’s surprisingly tricky, and really helpful!
  3. Look at your music one phrase or section at a time, really look at it, then close your eyes and keep visualizing the music on the page, and sing it.  Work through the song this way, spending more time on the phrases that you have trouble remembering.
  4. Imagine yourself singing the song.  Really hear it in your head, in YOUR voice, the way you want to sing it.  This is great for when you want to practice without making noise, or if you want to keep working on a song without tiring out your voice.
  5. Working on the scene or story of a song can also help with memorization.  Spend some time creating the world of the song inside your head, and connect the lyrics to the emotions that your character is feeling.
  6. For more advanced musicians, harmonic analysis of the song can also be helpful.  This works especially well for more modern or challenging pieces.  Understanding where the points of harmonic tension and release occur, and how that relates to the vocal line, helps me remember the structure of the piece and what comes next.

That’s all I could think of so far.  I’d love to hear any other favorite memorization tips or tricks that work for you, so please share them in the comments!

Healthy Body, Healthy Voice

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything! I thought I’d write a little bit about what’s been on my mind a lot lately in my teaching as well as my own singing: the importance of good posture and body awareness for singers.

It’s easy for singers to focus on only what’s going on in the throat and mouth as we sing. After all, that’s where the sound is created and shaped. However, posture and tension in the rest of the body can also have a huge effect on our singing.

When I was in college, I was overweight and felt disconnected from my body. Over several years, I lost more than 50 pounds and began reconnecting with my body. (One of the things that started me on that journey to getting healthy was the two weeks I spent at the OperaWorks program, where we had an hour of yoga every day… and I could, and eventually will, write a whole post about how Ann Baltz and OperaWorks changed my life and my singing!) I’m not saying that simply losing weight made me a better singer. I’m not saying that being overweight is bad, or that anyone should be ashamed of their body. But as I got more comfortable in my own body, I was able to feel more connection and support while singing. And for me, personally, being healthier and stronger has made me a better singer. I also know singers who have had the opposite experience: after losing weight, it was harder to feel support from the abdominal muscles, and singing became more difficult. Everyone has their own unique experience, and mine has greatly influenced my growth as a singer and as a teacher.

Lately I’ve been amazed to discover how much the slightest tension in my body affects my singing!  If my shoulders are feeling particularly tight, that tightness will show up in my voice. Most of the time, if I am struggling with something vocally, I can fix it by finding and releasing tension in my body, and making sure the right muscles are working to support my sound. I’ve also recently been working on my core strength, which has had an amazing effect on my singing and helped me to discover a richer, fuller sound that I didn’t know I had.  As I continue to get healthier and stronger, so does my voice.

With my beginning piano students, I talk about using the larger muscles of the arm to play, instead of making the little finger muscles do all the work. With singing, I feel that it works the same way: really supporting your voice with good posture and active (but not rigid) muscles in the torso and abdomen reduces tension in the larynx. (Of course it’s important to experiment with these ideas under the careful guidance of a voice teacher, because using the abdominal muscles to push too much air through the vocal folds can cause vocal fatigue and lead to damage!) I’d really like to write more about the concept of support, and some of the varying opinions on it, but I will have to save that for my next post.

I’ve been finding ways to incorporate these concepts into voice lessons, but it seems especially difficult with young students who have not developed good body awareness yet. With young students, props like rubber balls or resistance bands are especially helpful because they keep the students’ hands busy and cut down on extraneous movement and wiggling, while encouraging more stable posture without becoming stiff and rigid.

Teachers and singers, what are some of your favorite ways to engage the body while singing? How do you develop body awareness and good posture in young singers? I’d love to hear what is working or not working for you!