Singing and speech are siblings
These are good questions. The first answer has to do with ear training and how language sounds are heard then imitated by a baby or toddler. It also has to do with using breath control to give vowels and consonants their fullest power.
A famous European voice teacher from the nineteenth century named Lamperti said that singing is speech a thousand times refined, so I take his words and work them backwards. If we use singing to refine speech, we get the best of both worlds.
You don’t have to be a great singer to help your child
I wish I had a penny for every time I’ve heard someone tell me they were tone deaf or apologize because they thought they couldn’t sing well but wished they could. Somehow, they’ve gotten the impression that learning anything about singing is only reserved for those with so-called talent or a “good” ear. This simply is not true! In all my years of teaching, I have yet to come across a real case of congenital tone deafness. It’s not as common as people think.
In a few moments, I’ll tell you a true story about a grandmother who thought she was tone deaf, and so never sang to her children when they were young. Later in life she discovered that she could learn to sing on pitch. Now she sings to her grandchildren with great joy.
We all love to hear a soothing voice
You probably know someone who turns you off because their voice is tense and strident. It grates on you worse than fingernails scraping across a chalkboard. Instinctively, you want to cover your ears or move away from the ugly sound. On the other hand, you most likely know someone who has a soothing, melodic kind of voice. Without understanding why, you are drawn to it and only want to hear more.
So what is it about a soothing voice that draws you to it? What does it sound like? Do you notice that it is almost like someone who is humming? Do you hear that the vowel sounds are elongated?
For example, if I say the word ‘mommy’ in a tensely abrupt strident manner, the vowel sound will be tight in my throat and I might sound angry or upset. You probably won’t want to hear much of anything else I have to say. However, if I say ‘mommy’ in a gentle, calming way, extending the ‘aw’ vowel like this, ‘maaaaawmmy,’ it will sound comforting or inviting and you’ll most likely want to hear more.
This all has to do with sound waves, physics and brain science, which you can find out more about by going to our Neuroscience Links page.
Your baby mimics what she hears
Your baby or toddler will be drawn to a voice that soothes her, and if she consistently hears a soothing, melodious voice, she will probably end up speaking the same way. I cannot stress how important this becomes later in life, when she wants to communicate her thoughts, ideas, needs, desires and disappointments to you and others around her. Or how, in the distant future when she competes for college placement or a job, the sound of her voice might make or break her chances for success.
I know that it may seem too early to be thinking about these things, but the reality is that how she forms her vowels now will determine how she will sound in the future. You literally hold that future in your hands and have the tremendous opportunity to decide what it will sound like.
Your voice is your best tool
Let’s go back to the questions “What if I can’t sing?” or, “I don’t like my voice and I’m tone deaf. What does someone like me do?”
Now I get to tell you about the grandmother I mentioned above. She came to me for singing lessons because she wanted to sing to her grandchildren. Remember that she had never sung to her own children because she thought she was tone deaf, which is a common misconception (I’ve never come across a true congenital case of tone deafness in my entire life!). She thought her voice was so bad that she shouldn’t sing to her babies. Can you imagine it?
I worked with her for several months, using time-tested Bel Canto (Italian for “beautiful singing”) voice techniques, the same techniques babies and toddlers respond to on the SingBabySing™ Prenatal and Infant Music Singing CD. I’ll never forget the day she sang a complete song on pitch. Tears streamed down her cheeks when she finished and I asked her if she was okay.
Her reply will always inspire me: “To think that I never sang to my precious children. We all missed so much that we could have had. If only I had known. I cannot thank you enough for what you have done for me.” She was one of the lucky ones. She had the courage to empower herself with knowledge about her own voice, and her grandchildren and the world are better for it.
Thankfully, other parents and grandparents no longer have to wait so long. They are already giving their little ones the calming benefits of early training and are telling about the results.
Of course, the sooner you start the better. The optimum time frame for your baby is from pregnancy to age 3, so prenatal music can be extremely beneficial.