Suzuki Sunday: Singing

In just about every other developed country in the world (and many that aren't!), students learn music theory right along with their other subjects in school.  It's considered a necessary thing for everyone to learn, whether or not they choose music as a profession, and most children play at least one instrument through their grade school years.  This is especially the case in Japan, where Dr. Suzuki developed his method of instruction.  Sadly, it is emphatically not the case in the United States, where music is considered an "extracurricular" activity that falls far behind organized sports in the hierarchy of child schedules.

Many of you have heard me lament this fact before, so I won't dwell on it; I just want to point out that two of the most valuable components of a music education at a young age are the ability to match pitch when singing and (perhaps most important) the confidence that one can match pitch fairly easily.  In the age of American Idol, people believe that if they can't belt out a Top 40 hit to rave reviews, they can't sing.  I've had many parents (and some children, or worse still, parents who say this about their children) tell me that they're "tone-deaf."

The reality is that very, very few people are actually tone-deaf, and most of these people are people with hearing and / or speech impediments.  Just about anyone, if properly trained, can learn to discern the difference between pitches, in the same way that just about anyone can play the piano or dribble a basketball if given some instruction.

The problem is that there's a stigma about singing.  Even the youngest students are nervous when I ask them to sing a simple scale, and those who can match pitch on the first try often won't, because they are embarrassed to be singing higher or lower than their normal range.  So, when instructing my students, I do one of two things: either I ignore the discomfort completely, treating it like any other game in the hopes that the student will, too; or I give positive, encouraging feedback ("Nice job matching my pitch," or "What a lovely voice you have!")

I do a singing unit with my piano students each spring, and after a few weeks, I have not found one who can't match some of my pitches.  Usually, with a little bit of humor, I can get them to match all of them.  (I'll encourage them to "pretend you're a baby" for the high notes, or "give me an angry-dad voice" for the low ones.  It's amazing how well that works, as it gives them a familiar context for the note while also shifting the attention from themselves to the character they're imitating.)

Singing and playing the piano have everything to do with each other.  They help students learn proper intervals, memorize repertoire and better absorb and retain knowledge of the musical scale.  The more a student sings, the more likely she will be to remember what she sings and apply those lessons to any other instrument of her choice.  Besides all this, in my experience, people who enjoy singing enjoy life more!