You’re at a public function. The kids climb, waddle, jump onto stage. They are so darn cute. You want to turn into Aunt Dottie and pinch their cheeks. So cute. The accompaniment begins. Little hands begin to mirror the hands of the adult sitting on the floor in front of them. Super cute.
And then they open their mouths.
Oh. Good. Grief.
Y’all, kids should generally be able to sing. I don’t mean they should all be deciding which record deal they’ll take. I mean the ability to match pitch should be more common.
Time-Out for the Musically Clueless: Matching pitch means making your voice create a sound at the required frequency, or pitch. Almost everybody can tell when somebody else is singing too high or too low, but many people these days can’t tell when they themselves are off. Each note of a melody is like a target that’s hung at a certain height on the wall. The sound of your voice is like an arrow. The farther away from the center of the target your arrow lands, the worse you sound.
I’m stunned at how many kids can’t match pitch coming into Kindergarten at the elementary school where I taught. I really hope this isn’t the case everywhere. Few people truly lack the physical and mental requirements to learn this basic skill. My eleven month old can match the contour of my vocal play, and if you’re a parent, you’ve likely noticed these type of developments in your own kids. Every culture in the world throughout history has had music, and it’s normal for singing to be a part of daily life. Yet, as I listened to kids audition for choirs and solo spots over the years, I wanted to jump up and down when I found one who could match every pitch of “Happy Birthday.”
Much of contemporary culture relates to music differently now and it seems to be stealing this natural developmental process away from even the youngest of us. Here are just two of the things you can do to help the little musicians in your life:
1) Sing in a key that works for them. We’re way more comfortable singing low, but kids (especially the very young) have a limited range of notes that work for them. When you sing too low for them, they sound like dinosaurs because they can’t get to the notes.
This graphic might help you if you’ve got just a bit of background.
2) Give a bazillion opportunities for listening, for singing, and for improvising. Challenge them to mimic your silly voices. (You might want to set a timer on that one.) Let them make up songs for you. Encourage them by singing along to your own favorites in the car, and tell them how much you like to hear their voice. They’re building a musical vocabulary, and they need a chance to practice it. Did I say bazillion? Eh, make it an even megathillion. In short, we’re not singing enough.
I can appreciate the momentary cuteness of the 19 simultaneous keys, but hear me when I say that there’s more. They’ll miss out on quite a bit without this foundational skill of matching pitch, because they’ll never know the joy of joining their voice with others in simple unison. They’ll certainly never experience the joy of singing in true harmony.
I believe we’re inherently musical, and it’s a travesty to see us reserve singing for specialists.