If your child is anything like mine, they have been making all sorts of funny noises since they were born. These noises don't seem to resemble anything in particular, until one day they do. Before you know it, your little baby is copying you and trying to sing along. This may make you wonder when a child can sing in tune.
If exposed to music, a child will naturally start to sing in tune around 2 years old, starting with very short phrases. However, with the right training, babies as young as 3 months old can imitate pitch. By 5 years old, most children who are exposed to music can sing entire songs in pitch.
I will run through each of the major milestones in a young child's singing development below. You may have also noticed that a child needs to be exposed to music for this to happen earlier. Below are also more ways you can encourage your child to sing in tune.
When Can a Child Sing in Tune?
Children have the capability to sing in tune at a very young age, but they will only do so when given the opportunity to learn this skill. One study showed that children as young as three months old were able to imitate pitch with their voice.
However, this study also showed that these same children could no longer imitate pitch three years later, after leaving the experiment. These children were compared to others that were raised in musical households, which showed the musically-raised 3-year olds were far better at imitating and maintaining pitch.
Including music in your child's life is therefore essential to them reaching the milestones below. Without regular exposure to music (even in the car), they may take longer to develop these skills. You can find more information further down on how to nurture your child's ability to sing in tune.
A 1-year old usually cannot sing in tune, but they can sing along to music in their own way. They may even be able to copy a single pitch if you persist. However, most children this age can recognise when the pitch is higher or lower, but won't sing along to anything in tune.
For example, if you sing a high note, your little one will pick a random pitch in their upper register. If you sing a lower note, they will pick a random pitch in their lower register.
However, if your child is surrounded by music from an early age, or has dedicated training like the babies in the study above, they will be able to copy simple melodies you sing regularly.
Take a look at this 1-year old below who obviously sings along with her mommy every day!
By two years old, your child should be able to hit some of the right notes. You may find that they can sing a very short phrase in tune, and then the rest will be out of tune.
This is the age that you will start to see results from singing all those nursery rhymes to your baby. These simple songs are much easier for your child to copy, and they are usually sung in a key that matches their vocal range.
Below is an example of one incredible 2-year old boy who can sing Elvis Presley's Can't Help Falling In Love, mostly in tune. What an absolute champion!
Around four or five years, your child will be able to sing entire songs in the correct pitch. Keep in mind that the songs in question are those designed for this age-group. Singing a popular song from the radio is going to be a lot harder than singing Twinkle Twinkle.
If you expect your child to sing songs written for adults, there are going to be a few wrong notes here and there. This is mainly because the vocal range between an adult and a child is quite different.
Below is a beautiful 4-year old girl singing Moana's How Far I'll Go.
From this age onwards, your child will develop their voice even more and will be able to sing harder songs (despite this little girl singing quite a tricky one!). It is not until 18-21 years old that your voice is fully developed.
Can you Teach a Child to Sing in Tune?
You can certainly teach a child to sing in tune, assuming they are not tone deaf (the condition known as 'amusia'). This can even start before they are born.
A child in the womb can hear their mother's voice from around 6-months gestation (when you are 6-months pregnant). If they become accustomed to hearing you sing from the moment they can hear you, their brains will start to process pitch. Below are a number of ways you can teach your child from there.
Expose Them to Music
Try to include music in your child's everyday life. This can include the following.
- Singing around the house (eg. when doing chores)
- Listening to music in the car
- Singing nursery rhymes with them (or to them)
- Sing as you play with them
- If they watch TV, let them watch programs with singing
Start With Easy Songs
Many of the songs we sing from the radio are complicated to show off the singer's musical talent. On the other hand, things like nursery rhymes might be boring for adults, but are your baby's equivalent to Mariah Carey.
Of course, you still want to include other songs in your day-to-day singing, but when singing song with your baby, they can get lost in the complexities of mainstream songs.
Sing Without Words
Speaking of complexity, babies and toddlers can easily become lost in language when you sing the lyrics of a song. If you want to focus on pitch, you can sing along to 'la la', or another sound that your baby can make.
Again, try not to always sing without words. When singing directly to (or with) your little one, I would recommend singing half your songs with words and the other half without. Singing is the best way for your baby to pick up language, after all.
Choose an Appropriate Key
Children do not have the same vocal range as adults. You can learn more about their vocal range in this article. As a general rule, they sing more in the soprano range. This is why many nursery rhymes are sung with a high female voice.
If you sing a song that feels comfortable to you, there is more chance that your child cannot reach the lower notes. This will encourage them to sing out of tune.
Allow Them to Copy
Give your child plenty of opportunity to copy you. Sing the first phrase of a song and wait for them to respond. This will allow them to hear their own voice and recognise if they are singing the same notes as you.
Turning it into a game like this will also make singing fun. This is one of the key strategies when organising singing lessons for kids. They will always learn quicker through games and playtime.