Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Schoolhouse Review: Teaching Kids to Sing

Do your children want to learn how to become better singers and speakers? There's a product on the market that I have never heard of before I started on the Schoolhouse Review Crew and it might be what you need for your family's music elective coarse. It's called "Teaching Kids to Sing" by Vocal Coach. Let me tell you all about it.

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I am definitely NOT a good singer so I know that I can't teach my daughter how to sing. I get embarrassed every time I sing. My voice is pitchy and cracks when I attempt any high note. Alyssa's father and I really wanted to give Alyssa singing or voice lessons because she is extremely interested in singing. She sings all day long. We have a baby monitor in her room so that we can hear her when she's sleeping and she almost always sings herself to sleep. We often overhear her singing while working on educational computer games and she always tries to incorporate singing into every lesson. She enjoys making up her own songs about concepts we are currently learning. We didn't want to pay a fortune for professional singing lessons since she is still fairly young (almost five). We want to make sure that learning to sing is something SHE truly wants to do. We always take any possible avenue to encourage her music endeavors.

As part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we were given the opportunity to review a product called "Teaching Kids to Sing" available through Vocal Coach. The lessons are presented by the founders and creators, Chris and Carole Beatty. This sounded perfect for my little singing princess! I jumped on the chance to review this item as soon as I heard about it. She tore open the package and was pretty happy when it arrived.

She saw the word "SING" on the cover - couldn't resist smiling big. 
What is it?
Chris and Carole Beatty have over 40 years of experience and training with teaching children of all ages and adults how to sing using effective methods and proven materials. Please take the time to read about their teaching methods and style after reading this review. "Teaching Kids to Sing" is geared towards children ages 5-13 in grades kindergarten through 5th or 6th grade. This product will help the child become a better singer and speaker. They use step-by-step interactive lessons and training exercises to teach principles to children and then they utilize songs to reiterate the materials presented. The knowledgeable and passionate instructors are assisted by the Vocal Coach Kids Choir cast consisting of children between the ages of 5-13. The topics build on one another so it is recommended that you complete the lessons in order as seen on the DVD's.

What You'll Receive
You will receive a 3 disc training DVD/CD set when you purchase the "Teaching Kids to Sing" package for only $44.99. There will be two lesson DVD's and one music CD-ROM. There is a sheet inside the case that lists many of the songs with their lyrics which was helpful in the beginning when learning the words to the songs. I think the only missing song was "The Diction Song." Each DVD lasted approximately 30-45 minutes. A lot of information was covered on the DVD's in a short amount of time. Repetitive viewing sessions will benefit those that are using this program and serve as a review. I recommend that you consistently use the product to fine tune your child's singing skills. I will describe what is taught during each DVD session while explaining our experiences. Let's start with the first DVD.

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1.) Building Foundations That Last DVD (Disc 1)

This DVD emphasizes the basic foundational topics including:
  • Posture
  • Breathing
  • Tone
  • Warm Ups
  • and More
Our Experiences
We first learned about the importance of posture when singing. This DVD teaches the child that their "voice is physical, mechanical, and acoustical." Children also learn that we use many parts of our body to sing and speak. They learn techniques that make them better "vocal athletes" the more they practice - according to the founders "practice makes permanent." Alyssa made a connection to the DVD with regards to her dance classes and how she must have an "upright" posture position when attempting dance steps. The instructors provided a variety of examples using different sports or hobbies. Slouching makes it hard to perform dance positions correctly. My daughter constantly reminds me that when I slouch I can't breath properly; I wasn't aware how often I slouched until she pointed it out to me on a daily basis. On many random occasions, I heard Alyssa say "I want the top of my head to be as far away from the floor as possible." She even made her father repeat this phrase three times in a row while singing in the car on our way to a birthday party. He didn't know what to think or where it came from until I explained it.

The foundations were covered by also discussing the concept of breathing. Alyssa was taught that when she breathed in she expanded different parts of your body. She participated in a variety of exercises that exhibited which body parts expanded and which did not expand when singing. The "Breathing Rap" emphasizes or reiterates the concepts learned in this lesson. Alyssa sang, "I breathe without moving my ribs and chest. I breath this way because it's best." She absolutely LOVED the balloon demonstration in a glass. The key concept was that "good posture causes good breathing - the breath powers the voice." I so wish I knew about this before viewing the DVD, because I would have gathered supplies so that she could experience it first hand. The lesson compared her lungs to balloons and revealed how posture has an impact on how we sing, speak, and breathe. In the photos below, you will see her participating in the a couple of the breathing exercises.

Practicing Breathing Exercises - Feeling Tummy 
More Breathing Exercises

Children are taught that warming up the voice prevents injuries and maximizes their singing voice. Alyssa laughed as Chris presented a series of silly (unsophisticated) yet systematic exercises that are meant to prepare her voice for any type of communication including singing or speaking. I have to admit I was caught off guard (I think it was the flapping lips) and kept laughing during the exercises. Bad mommy! Chris and Carole emphasized the importance and effectiveness of the exercises so Alyssa and I switched gears, changed our attitudes, and focused on the lesson. Our favorite exercise was the siren exercise. Her father even participated in this exercise; it must be because he is a firefighter. This was one of the most memorable events during the review. As Chris teaches the children vocal habits, Carole checks the children's posture and breathing to remind them of how to apply the techniques.

My daughter was also taught how tone affects the quality of the singing and the speaking voice. Tone can be considered resonate (vibrates) or breathy (whispered). Alyssa participated in exercises that focused on the term "vibration" to learn the difference between a good and bad tone. She understood that "when there is sound ... there is vibration." She learned that you can feel vibrations in different parts of the body when singing or speaking. I can honestly say that I learned a few things from this disc.

2.) Essential Skills for Growing Voices DVD (Disc Two)
This DVD targets the following lesson topics:
  • Rhythm
  • Diction
  • Dynamics
  • Vocal Heath
  • and More
Our Experiences
The DVD begins at the Vocal Coach Diner with a quick review and reminder of what was learned previously about posture and breathing. Alyssa was able to sing one of her favorite songs, "The Breathing Rap." The children's reactions, to me, seemed fake or scripted almost to the point where they were unbelievable or silly. There were a few cheesy jokes thrown in for giggles. Alyssa enjoyed participating in four vocal warm-ups (singing different sounds) that prepared her voice for the lessons to come. She mimicked the children in the video ... she even had a few favorite girl participates that she looked up to.

Alyssa learned about diction (articulation or enunciation) and how her lips, tongue, and teeth are used to say what she wants to say clearly. I did notice that she mumbled less after viewing this part - not that she was a huge mumbler. This session consisted of several alliterative exercises each targeting consonant sounds and how they are pronounced using the lips, tongue, and teeth. Alliterations are repetitions of initial consonant sounds which help build phonemic awareness. The cast focused on several consonant sounds. For example, Chris and Carole taught the children that in the phrase, "Tuna on Toast Tastes Terrific," the t is formed when the tip of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth behind the teeth. The alliteration,"Nathan Never Needs Noodles," emphasizes the nasal n sound. The instructors also taught the children that p is a stopping consonant that stops air flow when repeating the alliteration, "Popping Popcorn Pleases People." This part of the video inspired Alyssa to create several of our own alliterations using the same initial consonants to practice the pronunciation of the sounds. We paused the video for this fun extension. Alyssa sang "The Diction Song" to practice what was learned in the lessons. She really liked the diction exercises and forced us to repeat the alliterative phrases many, many times throughout the day. I think it might have drove her father a little crazy.

Dynamics is the loudness or softness of the sound. The instructors used physical examples to make Alyssa and the children more aware of the differences between loud and soft sounds heard in her environment. She was good at identifying loud and soft sounds viewed on the screen with images. Furthermore, she gave several of her own examples. One of the key elements discussed was that the amount of breath and tone quality affects the sound. The difference between staccato (short and separated) and legato (smooth and connected) was explained as she participated in sound exercises where they would present sounds for her to hear. She was supposed to decide if the sound was legato or staccato. The answer was slowly revealed to all on the screen. This activity was a little bit harder for us both, however she did eventually learn the more advanced terminology utilized in the video.

Rhythm, the pulse or beat of music, was identified and practiced using clapping and counting exercises where accents were emphasized on different beats. Is my child the only child that enjoys clapping? The sounds change depending on where the accent was placed. Alyssa created her own clapping exercises afterwards. We practiced making clapping patterns that reiterated this concept. At times, I would pause the DVD so that we could extend the activities before moving on to the next concept.

Tempo (the speed), how fast or slow words are sung, was demonstrated using a basketball that magically appeared. My daughter practiced clapping different tempos based on how the ball was dribbled in the park. They sang a song that combined all the aspects studied on the second video called, the "Loud, Soft, Fast, Slow Song." Alyssa got a kick out of slowing and speeding up her actions as she sang. Not to mentioned, she enjoyed raising her voice as loud as she possibly could when prompted.

Chris presented nine voice care tips from the "Heathy Voice Menu" that informs the child of ways to keep their voice healthy. He reiterated the fact that the voice is physical and can be harmed. My daughter learned tips to take care of her voice. She learned that the treatment of her voice affects how it works at a later time. She drank a lot of room temperature water during this session after the instructors stated that it was important to keep your voice well hydrated. I also used this tip as a reminder when I wanted to encourage her to drink more water throughout the day. At one point, Alyssa told me that she did NOT want a piece of her Halloween candy because it was not good for her voice. I believe this is because they mentioned eating a proper diet so that the voice can be controlled. I really appreciated the information and simple tips presented about how to care for your voice when you have laryngitis. I actually tried several of the helpful recommendations when I was sick and noticed I was losing my voice. Alyssa also saw a video of the vocal chords that she thought was disgusting or gross. It really wasn't that bad; I actually thought it was interesting.

Many musical definitions were explored during the lessons including a couple that I did not know. The instructor, Chris, ends the "Essential Skills for Growing Voices" lessons with the Bible verse Proverbs 22:6. My daughter repeated the verses with the other children. Afterwards, Alyssa and I looked up the scripture verse again and she added it to her scripture memory system. She memorized it that week!

3.) Accompaniment Tracks CD
This CD contains a list of 26 tracks divided into two columns based on the two DVD titles. The accompaniment tracks heard on the DVD lessons are available in two formats:
  • With Vocals (learn while following along) 
  • Instrumental Tracks (allows them to hear themselves better and perform)
This CD-ROM enables children to preform the songs they have learned throughout the lessons. This item can be purchased separately for $14.99, but it would be more useful as part of the package.

Our Experiences
I would frequently hear Alyssa singing her favorite songs around the house, during bath time, and at bedtime. Her favorite songs were "I'm a Vocal Athlete," the "Breathing Rap," and "I'm an Upright Child of the King." Several of the tunes were catchy and easy to remember which is most likely related to the number of times we heard the songs in a week. There were a few songs that I caught myself singing. Alyssa stole I mean borrowed her father's sunglasses one day for the "Breathing Rap" song and frolicked around the house singing like a goofball.

How We Used it?
I used Teaching Kids to Sing 3-4 times per week for 30-45 minutes with my daughter, Alyssa, who turns five this month. We alternated the use of the DVD's each time. Alyssa was also given the chance to randomly listen to and practice her singing lessons using the CD-ROM songs and music. The topics are built on one another so it is recommended that you complete lessons in order as seen on the DVD's. That is exactly what we did! Furthermore, the company suggests that you cover one topic per week deeply for two or three sessions. This product was used more leniently in our case and the schedule was not as strict in our homeschool setting. This DVD/CD collections was used in conjunction with her keyboard lessons and music curriculum. We started out using the DVD's in different rooms or locations. Then, Alyssa asked to bring it in the car as we traveled. She also used it while grocery shopping. I enjoyed watching bystanders glance at the screen and then stop to listen. It was hilarious because several people didn't realize that I notice them moving their mouths and standing more upright!

Optional Items (These items are not necessary to use the program. This is by no means a master list.)

  • Athletic Equipment
  • Variety of Instruments: Guitar, Piano, Flute, Xylophone
  • Balloons
  • Tall Glass
  • String or Yarn (Posture String)
  • Basketball
  • Hammer and Nails in Board
Likes
  1. We didn't have to leave home or pay a fortune for singing lessons. My daughter could take singing lessons in the comfort of our own home or in the car. This was very convenient for us and I am sure it would save us a lot of money compared to the cost of a singing coach (if there were even one in the area). 
  2. The lessons started from the very beginning teaching children how to use their voice, how to take care of it, and guided them through developmentally appropriate exercises. I didn't have to worry about her voice being injured or overused while practicing. I loved the fact that the lessons taught vocal techniques that were modeled and presented at an age appropriate level. The lessons didn't focus on how to sing specific songs; they targeted the principles and showed how the child could apply them to their everyday life.
  3. Did Alyssa like it? Surprisingly ... yes, she did enjoy the lessons and topics studied. Honestly, I feel that she liked the DVD package more than I did. I was worried and thought for sure that she wouldn't watch or participate in the exercises, but I was dead wrong. One day after viewing her lessons, her grandfather knocked on the door to drop off some leftover pizza. Alyssa answered the door and I overheard their conversation. She felt obliged to giving him a lesson on how to breath and use correct posture. He goofed around with her a bit and participated in her lessons. She stated everything clearly as if she were one of the kids on the cast or one of the teachers. Any time a child repeats something heard from a lesson it is a sign that they truly like it and want to share what they learned with others.
  4. They used a variety of locations or settings when filming the lessons including the choir classroom, park, and diner. This changes up the scenery for the child watching the lessons. I also appreciated that "real" people were in the cast and that this was not an animated show to watch.
  5. The addition of songs added a little flair to the lessons. The songs reiterated the lesson concepts taught and a few were catchy even though at first I felt awkward singing them with my daughter.   
Possible Cons
  1. I could tell immediately that the DVD was filmed long ago and seemed a bit outdated. Upon further research it looks to be that it was filmed back in 1999. I would suggest updating the DVD package giving it a face lift for more modern times. This aspect didn't seem to bother Alyssa but it was bothersome to me.
  2. I was personally a tad bit bored by the lesson presentations but the activities Chris and Carole presented managed to capture and maintain my daughter's attention and interest. Some children may be turned off by this product and may not sit still to watch it. The child may need to have a strong desire and interest to sing in order to attentively watch the lessons. It will also greatly depend on their attention spans and maturity level of your child.
  3. I wouldn't consider this a complete curricula. However, they do have a special section dedicated to homeschooling families with additional suggestions and tips including schedule advice. I think a curricula guide would be helpful. I do believe enrichment lessons or additional breathing and posture activities would be beneficial to any family. This product does not teach different types or ways to sing and this information is stated under teaching methods and style on their website. They teach techniques that can be applied when singing any style or genre. Additional lessons on types of singing might make the product more complete and desirable to some individuals. 
  4. Camera shake was noticeable on several occasions. This was very minimal and didn't jeopardize the professionalism of the program. My eyes are pretty sensitive to these minor issues.  
  5. The program is Christian influenced. This is definitely NOT a problem for our family but should be mentioned for those looking strictly for a secular singing program. God is mentioned during demonstrations and in the song lyrics. For example the words are sung, "I'm an upright child of the King" in one song. Additionally, the "Breathing Rap" is sung using the words "It's all by God's design." Furthermore, a scripture verse is read from the Bible at the end of the second video. Personally, I highly regard curricula and resources that are Christian-based. 
Possible Suggestions
  • Provide a list of supplies needed to follow the hands-on lessons presented on the DVD's. Alyssa was intrigued by the hands-on science activities demonstrated so much so that she kept asking me for supplies needed to participate in the activity. A supply list would have been helpful in the beginning especially for individuals wanting to enrich the experience with these activities. They could complete the same activities while viewing the lesson and further explore the concepts. I would suggest adding more hands-on exercises to the DVD's or on the blog that correlate with the topics studied.
  • Will the videos be updated any time soon?
  • Can you make a Karaoke version of the accompaniment CD? Alyssa would use it and I know they still sell many machines? I have seen Spanish curriculums that sell Karaoke versions of the songs on their CD's for students to practice independently. 
Other Products
Vocal Coach offers several items on their website to help with your family's singing endeavors.
  • Do you have older children or do you want to learn how to sing properly? Then, check out Vocal Coach Singer available in CD format for $119.99 or $99.99 in MP3 format. A handful of Schoolhouse Crew members are also reviewing this product so be sure to read the reviews if this is of interest to you. You can tell by how we link up the product. Mine will be labeled as TKS or Teaching Kids to Sing. The others will link up using Vocal Coach Singer or a variation of the term.
  • As you or your child learn how to sing, you may need something to hydrate your throat. The company sells Entertainer's Secret Throat Spray for $7.95 which may be useful during or after lessons. 
  • Chris Beatty offers Private Online Training for $89.00 if you would rather have a more personal and interactive experience with a real person rather than watch lessons on a DVD. 
Overall Experience and Results
I have noticed slight improvements when Alyssa sings especially during family Karaoke time. Those once unbearable high notes that were often not reached have now become more pleasing to the ear and appear to be not as pitchy. She makes more requests to sing using the instrumental versions which means she is gaining confidence in her singing abilities. She pays more attention to her posture (and ... my posture) and how she breaths when singing. This DVD package provides her with the resources she needed to practice building her "muscle memory" as Chris Beatty would say. The DVD/CD set uses a systematic approach to teaching children how to sing any genre (style) and Alyssa has benefited from using it at home. The lessons and principles are presented in an easily understood child-friendly manner. I know that she learned that "good posture causes good breathing" because she told me this about a zillion times. I had to politely ask her to stop reminding me, because it was repeated over and over again to the point where it was a bit annoying. This lets me know that she was learning. She also learned that her voice is an instrument. Here is a photo of her the first time she watched the DVD. She watched it while I cooked dinner. She seemed curious about and interested in the program. Alyssa's favorite parts were the hands-on balloon exercises, warm-up voice exercises, and she definitely enjoyed singing the songs. Overall, she liked the program and will continue using it upon her request which at this point is several times a week. "Teaching Kids to Sing" is a great introductory program that teaches the foundations to any beginning singer. I was happy with her experience using this program.


Recommended
I recommend this products to homeschool families and schools teaching children ages 5-13 that have a desire to learn how to sing. I told a music teacher about this program while visiting a bookstore. I also recommend it to families wanting to teach the foundations before enrolling their children in professional, often expensive courses. The "Teaching Kids to Sing" package can be utilized by choir directors or teachers, young soloists, music teachers, vocal coaches, Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, and co-op directors. Basically anyone who teaches children about music may find this resource of help.

If you have any questions about Vocal Coach, please contact the company here. You can also sign-up for or subscribe to their newsletter on the same page to receive teaching tips and special offers. You will also hear more about Vocal Coach and the products available. Vocal Coach can be reached at 615-649-8067 for general questions about their products or you can read through the FAQ's section. They have free singing resources available at their Resource Center on their website containing tips, videos, and articles that may be helpful. You can also find Chris's blog on that page which offers additional advice and answers to commonly asked questions about singing or their products.

Thank you Vocal Coach and Schoolhouse Crew Leaders for giving my daughter the chance to learn how to sing!

Please visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog here to read other reviews for Vocal Coach products.

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Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received the Teaching Kids to Sing DVD/CD package from Vocal Coach, at no cost to me, in exchange for an honest and professional review on my blog.  All opinions expressed are my mine and were not influenced in any way by the product or company.

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