As a singing teacher, I get song requests from students on a daily basis. I also get asked on a daily basis what types of songs are appropriate for students to be singing and listening to. In general, I love assigning students classical, art song, musical theatre, holiday, folk and Disney songs. However, if I had my say all the time, I would never learn to teach something new and exciting.
When deciding on singing repertoire, there are several elements such as range, tessitura, melody and harmony difficulty, breathing, phrasing, rhythm, accompaniment, among other things that I look at to see if a student can technically perform a piece. Aside from that, I think the most important element you should discuss with your child or student is lyrics and emotional expression.
I have approved elementary through advanced students songs from many pop singers such as Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Carly Rae Jepson, MattyB, Nick Jonas, Bars and Melody, Katy Perry… the list goes on. I have had students perform “Hello,” “Blank Space,” “Uptown Funk,” “Thinking Out Loud,” alongside songs such as “Happy Birthday to You,” “Let it Go,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Amazing Grace” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Yes, I have drawn the line several times on songs including Nicki Minaj’s “Black Widow,” “Take Me to Church,” and even “Chandelier,” but not always and forever! I think these songs are appropriate if the student is old enough and mature enough to interpret the messages in these songs.
All right, so here’s the gold standard I use. When it comes to popular music, I have one question for each of my students when they request a song. This is my standard for granting permission for a student to begin a song they are interested in performing.
"What is this song about?"
If a student doesn’t know what the song is about, chances are, they don’t know if the lyrics are appropriate or not. And if they do know what the song is about but are unwilling to talk about what the lyrics mean, I tell them that if they aren’t willing to interpret the lyrics of the song in speech form, they should not feel comfortable singing them. They’re still words, even in song form. The message doesn’t change with a pretty chorus.
I hope this helps! A child or student should be able to tell you what the song is about before you approve them listening or singing a particular song.