Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Why Do We Stop Singing with Our Kids?

 by Danielle Maestretti


Tags: Spirituality, music, singing, parenting, Toner Quinn, The Journal of Music,

Journal of Music AugSep09We sing with our children constantly when they’re small—lullabies when they’re babies, all kinds of on-the-fly songs when they’re toddlers—but as kids get older, families seem to stop singing together. Some quality time with the singsongy kids’ show Wonder Pets made Toner Quinn, editor of The Journal of Music, wonder why we lose our voices.

When kids hit school age, Quinn writes, parents tend to channel their musical impulses into instruments—piano lessons and trumpet practice come in, and singing goes out. “From a toddler-hood of joy in singing,” he writes, “parents suddenly emphasize playing an instrument, as if singing just wasn’t substantial enough. Instruments are purchased, music stands are put up, practice is emphasized, and slowly that natural instinct to sing out at the drop of a hat is left behind.”

Part of it stems from a widespread belief that while musical instruments can be learned, a good singing voice is innate. “Our language is full of phrases to inhibit us singing—‘she’s tone deaf’, ‘he doesn’t have a note in his head’, ‘I never had a voice’. Very few people are actually tone deaf. Not being able to sing in tune is little more than a matter of practice.”

Society—the bulk of it—has become shy about singing. . . . Family occasions that cry out for a song—not just weddings and funerals, but lunches and dinners—are bereft of the practice of calling for hush, and asking the one or two in the family who are known to have a voice to release it. Do we know today if any of our nearest or dearest even have a voice?

There’s no easy solution, of course, which Quinn acknowledges. But his assertion that “music clearly needs a champion in the home” is a good place to start.

Source: The Journal of Music, August-September 2009 (excerpt only available online)

lisa goettel
2/16/2011 3:38:28 PM

What a lovely and validating recognition of this growing cultural deficit! I am a singing teacher - not the traditional voice coach, but one who teaches group singing in the round - joy-based rather than performance-based - and what Danielle mentions are exactly the principles I teach! We all have the capacity to learn to hear and match pitch, to develop an authentic and lovely natural singing tone... What a unique and fulfilling experience it is when we do take the brave step into our voice. http://thebirdsings.com


toner quinn_1
10/11/2009 6:21:51 PM

Hi Amy, Thanks for your comments. In the article I say: "Singing is one of first things that parents do with their babies when they are born, and in the toddler years, parents are constantly singing to their children: wordless ditties, choruses and refrains, made-up rhyming songs, anything to distract babies from putting their fingers in their own excrement, to comfort them or engage with them." I don't say parents sing lullabies or full songs to their children, but rather whatever comes to mind. A lack of lyrics and knowledge of full songs does seem to be an issue for parents, but we still sing. Regards, Toner Quinn http://www.journalofmusic.com


amy robbins-wilson
10/7/2009 6:50:12 AM

I have to disagree with Quinn that we are singing to our children. As a musical mother and the "Lullaby Lady at LullabyLink.com I am often approached by other mothers to ask what the lyrics are to what used to be common lullabies and children's songs. A recent British study revealed a serious decline in parents singing to their children. Most parents are looking to CD's and DVD's to teach their children songs and nursery rhymes, partly because the parents have been taught that music is the realm of "professionals" and their voices are not up to the task. Because of this, children are learning more music from the television/radio box which leads to the notion that music is created by machines rather than by people. The break in funding for choral music in schools and the emphasis on instruments comes, I believe, from the erroneous idea that only some can sing, but anyone can learn an instrument. This "pure talent" idea is also why singers struggle to get paid and why their skill is considered a "gift." I believe anyone can do either with practice, but that talent and perseverance takes some ahead of the crowd. Our expectations of what a voice "should" sound like have been influenced by the sound studios who commonly adjust for pitch in their singers. The only place we can hear the naked voice is when our parents sing to us. We must reclaim our own voices if we hope our children will grow to raise theirs in song. Amy Robbins-Wilson http://www.lullabylink.com