Updated: Nov 28
Our teen singers are just like we were when we were teens. They’re in love with certain artists. They’re moved by artists whose music reflects their feelings back to them. They feel certain songs very deeply, and they want to sing those songs.
We want to help them express themselves because we love them. But we also can feel a bit reticent sometimes.
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On one hand, teens seem like really easy clients. Typically they aren’t paying out of their own pockets, and they have time for voice lessons. They also have very little sense of consumer advocacy, so they tend to go with whatever your program is.
On the other hand, they can be more complicated. They look to you for a lot, and you’re aware of that responsibility. You want to help them develop their voices, their artistry, and the musical gifts they want to share with the world. You have to teach them about vocal health and healthy vocal habits. You’re teaching them how to have a responsive voice that gives them joy. For all those reasons, picking CCM/Pop/Rock songs for your students can be a little bit scary.
In teaching teens and tweens, we want to use our relationships as teachers to expose the teen or tween student to types of music they may not find on their own. Classical, jazz, blues, folk, or Motown are wonderful genres that a kid is not likely to happen upon, but may love once they’re introduced to singing them.
As young artists, teens should be allowed to exercise artistic agency. We should acknowledge them as individuals. We should let them sing the stuff they love, and teach them to do it in a healthy and satisfying way. Sometimes, though, we feel reluctant teaching them styles we’re either unfamiliar with or just plain don’t like very much.
There are hormonal receptors on the vocal folds, and they respond to the increased hormone production that occurs in adolescence. In testosterone-influenced voices (who will become baritones) it presents as the voices inability to modulate registers with the fluidity it will have later. In estrogen-influenced voices it presents as a mild edema which can affect high notes and tonal quality.
It’s a Family Show
Normally, their parents are paying for these lessons. The student has to understand that you cannot work on songs with a swearing, explicit sexual content, or lyrics expressing violence. You also can’t work on songs that have those things in their videos.
As we all know, right now the commercial music world is all about higher and louder. Every so often you’ll have a teen singer who can do that. But mostly not. You can:
Teach them how to blend high, while tempering their expectations a little (the singers they want to emulate are both older and more experienced than your students)
Show them how to move between registers with fluency and without apology
Teach them how to use the qualities of the registers to create vocal texture and style
A combination of two or all three of those things!
The Artists Approach
Currently there’s a really good example of a strong artistic approach in the form of Billie Eilish. Billie is not just a singer (in the way we’ve historically understood singers). Billie is an artistic package. She represents something. Her lyrics, her clothing, her social media, her videos, etc. She’s really tapped into a zeitgeist and young people love her. The way she sings is the way she sings. Nothing against Billie. But most voice teachers are loath to teach a kid to sing like that.
Good news. You don’t have to teach a kid to sing like that. Instead, what we can do with the Billie Eilish (or similar) phenomenon, is to devote a lesson to teaching the student how to listen.
Listening as an Artist
Help them move closer to really hearing what a singer is doing, both as a vocal instrument and as a musician. Say to your student, “One of the things we love about Billie is her style, right? There’s a lot to be gained from copying the style of singers you like. Ultimately you’ll find and create your own style. So...let’s spend our lesson time today really listening to Billie (or whomever) and let’s figure out what she’s doing, both as a vocalist and as an artist.”
If you do that - and do it without judgement, but with your magical, analytical voice teacher ears - you will very likely change their lives.
No other teacher is going to do that for them.
That 30 minute interaction with you and Billie Eilish (or, whomever...) will change the way that student listens to music forever.
Get this FREE Pop/Rock song resource!
46 songs from various microphone genres, the range, difficulty level, style, artist, and teaching notes about the song from moi. Also some links to great resources, and ideas and tips for recitals, studio organization, and more!
#meredithcolby blog post and video about #teenvoicelessons, #repertoireforteens, and #teachingvoice. This post contains #freedownload of a #popsonglist, a #contemporarysonglist, and a #songlistforteens. Meredith is a #voicecoach, a #vocalcoach, and a #voiceteacher from #chicago. She helps #voiceteachers and #vocalcoaches teach for #popularstyles and #microphonestyles by teaching privately, supplying helpful content, and offering a #certificationclass in #neurovocalmethod.