The set-up we have as babies is not the same as when we reach adulthood. So, what does that mean for young singers, and what is it like to even audition for child roles? Meet Abigail…
Music enters our lives even as early as the foetal stages, whether that be through the sound of our mother’s heartbeat, or by radio playlists that get cranked up in the car. My niece did a whole series of uterus wobbles in the audience of ‘Dreamgirls’ (either really enjoying the performance, or annoyed at being belted awake by Amber Riley). From the moment we enter the world we create sound, announcing our arrival with a cry, but Mariah Carey didn’t pop out singing whistle register, neither did Pavarotti pierce the amniotic sac with a chilling round of ‘Nessun Dorma’.
We have all been there: sat on a train tucking into a meaty chapter of a book, or in a restaurant enjoying a bowl of Spaghetti, when a baby’s wail pierces the peace. If an adult were to, randomly, start screaming in the middle of Costa Coffee, we might:
So, why might a baby create vocal hell and escape the damage?
A baby’s only real communicative tool is their rainbow of noises: a beaming smile and a giggle can tell us that the baby is content (or has wind), and those penetrative shrieks indicate there is something wrong, from hunger to armageddon in their nappy. Unlike in an adult, the baby’s larynx is positioned high up in the neck and sits behind the jaw, which allows the baby to feed and breathe at the same time. The high set larynx is optimal for creating a loud ear-splitting screech, something which cannot be easily ignored by the carer.
Survival and attracting attention are the only real requirements for the vocal mechanism at this age. As I touched upon in a previous blog, the primary function of the larynx is to keep us alive by protecting the airways against unwanted objects like food and drink. It just so happens that this survival kit also gives us the gift of music. Special, really!
As we toss the nappies to one side and emerge from babyhood, we can expect:
At approximately 7 years old, children can start forming good singing habits, like efficient breathing technique, creating a clear sound, releasing from strain and exploring the upper range. At any age, we might experience vocal limitations, whether that be due to the size of our vocal tract or through our lifestyle choices. For the child, their limitations could be linked to the size of their instrument and it’s stage of development. However, we can continue to encourage a child’s sense of play, their inquisitiveness and imagination to help produce healthy singing storytellers.
“The limits at this age are still, to an extent, pitch range, loudness, flexibility and stamina.” – ‘Teaching Singing to Children and Young Adults’ by Dr Jenevora Williams.
When I was a kid, I distinctly remember:
Singing can be enjoyed on a long car journey or with friends at a sleepover and, for some, this enjoyment develops into a passion for performance. ‘Billy Elliot,’ ‘Matilda’ and ‘School of Rock’ are popular Musical Theatre shows that continue to entertain audiences around the world, and all require the employment of child performers.
Abigail is a young singer of 12-years old and first started singing lessons with me in 2017. She has aspirations of working professionally in Musical Theatre and is currently a member of West End Kids. Abigail attends Stage Coach and, last year, auditioned for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘School of Rock’ for the role of Katie. Speaking to Abigail, she explained what she finds tricky with singing, gave an insight to West End auditions for her age bracket, and shared some tips on dealing with rejection.
Hi Abigail! Tell us – what do you love most about singing?
A: Everything! It just makes me happy.
What have you found the most tricky when it comes to singing, and what are 3 valuable things that you have learnt whilst having lessons?
Our lungs continue to develop until we reach our early to mid 20’s. Children will, most likely, need to take more breaths during singing compared to an adult, simply because their lungs are smaller.
Tell us about the audition process for ‘School of Rock’. How did you first find out about the audition, and what did you have to do?
A: My mum found out about the auditions online. For the first round, I had to record an audition tape of me singing whilst playing bass guitar. I got through to the next round in London and, for that, I had to prepare a monologue, a piece to play on the bass guitar and something to sing a cappella. Immediately after the audition I was told I had been offered a recall for the third stage and, for this, I had to learn material from the show. We spent the day playing our instruments, singing and then performing together as a band. It was fun!
What helped you to feel most prepared whilst you were going through the audition stages?
A: I watched lots of youtube videos to get to know Katie as a character, and I practised lots. I had extra singing and guitar lessons to work through the material to make me feel as prepared as possible.
How did you control your nerves?
A: I was very nervous but, by the third stage, I had made friends with some of the other people auditioning, so it didn’t feel as scary.
You did brilliantly getting to the third round but, unfortunately, you weren’t offered the part. What helped you deal with rejection?
A: I was really sad and had feelings that I wasn’t good enough, but I tried to think of 3 positive things I could take away from it:
I threw myself into other opportunities and, shortly after, I auditioned for West End Kids and got offered a place in their training group.
What is your dream Musical Theatre role?
Either ‘Matilda’ or Katie from ‘School of Rock’, because I am exactly like them: I love music and books!