Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 06 Dec 2007

My 11-year-old is upset because he has been told to mime in the Christmas concert. Can I help him learn to hold a tune?

Hillary's Advice

I know how he feels. This was done to me at school, and exiled me from the wonderful world of singing forever. Imagine never being able to sing Happy Birthday to your children or join in a carol service!

Yet music experts are adamant everyone can sing. It’s just that some children need more training than others – exactly in the same way some children need more help with reading or sporting skills.

The Hungarian educator Zoltan Kodaly devised a graded approach to teaching pitch, with accompanying hand signals, that research has shown not only increases children’s musical ability but also their reading, writing and study habits. British schoolchildren were widely exposed to his methods in the early twentieth century, and probably had more chance to increase their aural perception than children today. Some modern music education courses, such as Growing With Music, incorporate his methods.

Your son needs to practise hearing notes more carefully and then imitating them. You could find a music teacher to help him – ask his school music teacher if he or she knows of anyone, at the same time pointing out just how hurtful it is for pupils to feel excluded from musical celebrations – or, if you have a piano or keyboard, you could work with your son yourself, striking notes and asking him to sing them back to you. Alternatively you could trawl the internet for exercises he might enjoy following by himself. Go to for a list of free ear training programmes available. But you will need his cooperation – this requires practise.