The question “When to start voice training” is an old one, but also pertinent. There are several schools of thought on this, and, since there are some professional roles for children, it might seem that you want to start training them as soon as possible. I have a slightly different opinion on this, which is based on my experience, as well as what I’ve observed through the years.
Children’s voices are beautiful–who doesn’t love listening to a trained boys choir, for example? Children’s choirs amaze with their pure, angelic sound, which is often, if not impossible, to replicate after the onset of puberty. You want to avoid any possible bad habits, and instill good ones, as soon as possible, such as breath support, phrasing, and a pleasant expression.
Children’s voices, and teenagers voices, should be handled very, very gently–within the confines of a professional children’s choir if possible, or with teachers who have solid pedagogy behind what they’re doing, and experience. The voice is a muscle, and a very delicate one at that. It is an instrument that cannot be traded in–you only get one voice. So students must be taught to treat it appropriately. (I definitely screwed up in this area a few times as a young student!) Ear training is also important here, so the student can learn a cappella singing.
Classical singing is what I consider to be the best way to begin, in that you start with the solid foundation of reading music, scales, pitch, and musicality. You also begin, usually, with Italian exercises, which focus on vowels and purity of sound. Also, if any problems haven’t been corrected up to this point, they can be now, and still have lasting effect on the student.
If you’re a parent, be sure to call around to local conservatories, or ask at the local high schools or junior highs (Usually they know former students who teach, or can recommend teachers at their alma maters. Heck, they might teach themselves.) If you can’t find a good voice teacher for a kid, then it won’t really hurt for them to wait until they are in high school, when it becomes a lot easier to find voice teachers and honor choir opportunity.
I also think it’s worthwhile for all vocalists to learn the piano. That way we can read music and accompany ourselves as necessary. (It’s a very useful skill, trust me!)
Other vocalists out there–what have been your experiences, for god or bad? What do you think about the right age for starting?