While most voice teachers will let students sing songs that aren't quite appropriate for the child's age (largely because most songs children want to sing aren't age appropriate), many believe that it would be preferable to not teach these songs. To be clear, by age inappropriate, I'm not talking about having 6-year-olds sing a song with a bunch of swear words in it. I'm talking about letting an 8-year-old sing "Memory," from Cats, even though she's too young to be thinking back on her "days in the sun" or "Love Story," by Taylor Swift, even though she's too young to be buying her white dress.
What I Think About Age-Appropriate Songs
I believe that age-appropriate songs have a time and place. You're probably not going to want to send your young daughter to her Annie audition with "I Dreamed a Dream." It's also useful for kids to sometimes work on music that allows them to emotionally connect with the lyrical content.
But that's not the whole story. I believe that in most instances, kids should be encouraged to sing the songs that most move them. Recently, I observed my 3-year-old son singing "Rawhide," which he knows every word to. He has no conception of wishing his gal were by his side, or what a single word in that song means, for that matter. But there he was, singing to himself, developing his pitch, and beginning to get a sense of the rhythm. Should I put a stop to this and ask him to sing the ABC song because the lyrics of "Rawhide" aren't right for him? Of course not!
Keep These Things in Mind
Sometimes Understanding an Emotion is Enough
Maybe an 8-year-old is too young to look back on her days in the sun. But you know what she'll be able to connect to? Missing something. Missing a lost pet, an old friend, or a former school. Even my 3-year-old can relate to feelings of nostalgia, and this is the emotion that needs to be called up in order to connect to "Memory."
There Are Other Important Considerations Besides Lyrics
Many songs aren't about the lyrics at all. Listen to "8 Days a Week," by the Beatles. Yes, they're about wanting to be with someone a lot, but it is not a lyric-driven song. It has a fun, catchy melody, and the quirky absurdity of wishing for an 8th day to spend with someone is beside the point. You can feel music, feel a chord progression, feel a melody line or a rhythm without relating to the words at all, and there's plenty to be gained from that.
It's Great Learning Music You Love
Most importantly, it's wonderful to learn music you love and to let children learn music they love. If singing along with "On My Own" instead of "Castle on a Cloud" is exciting for them, then they should get to do that. It's not only joyful for them, but it'll help instill a life-long love of music in them that being forced to sing kids' songs exclusively may not.