When a boy realizes his voice has deepened, it can become difficult to convince him to sing in his upper range. Many are proud of their deeper voices, and do not want to sound like younger boys whose voices have not yet changed, and they are more secure singing down. In spite of this resistance, it is important to have boys sing in their upper voices, so that their singing voices will fully develop. Training young singers in their upper adjustment voices can be difficult, but with persistence and some helpful exercises, it is well worth the effort.
Much of what I have found successful to this end has come from Kenneth Phillips’ excellent book, Teaching Kids to Sing (1996, Schirmer Books), and online sources. I like to start with training students to manage their breath with a non-vocalized exercise. After taking a few deep relaxing breaths, I have students make a marcato thrust to initiate a hiss, which they then sustain and slide downward in pitch. I watch for use of the abdominal muscles in producing the thrust, and sustaining a constant dynamic level as the pitch of the hiss descends. From their I move onto Phillips’ marcato thrust exercise. The student sings on or around fa on the top line of the treble staff on “hooo” beginning with a strong abdominal thrust and sustaining through a descending glissando. I watch for abrupt abdominal movement on the thrust, and tell the students to use plenty of “h” in their “hoo.”It is important for the students not to sing in falsetto, but to produce a light “whistlelike” quality. I then complete the warm-up with a canon. Many canons require light singing, and extend into the upper range, so they are well suited for following up on the previous exercises. I especially like “Kookabura” because it starts in the vocal range we were just working in with the marcato thrust exercise, it begins with the consonant “koo” which facilitates opening the throat on the following vowel and connects easily with another exercise I like to use, which is done entirely on “koo.” I will describe that exercise now.
This exercise is also from Kenneth Phillips. He calls it “staccato koo-koo.” The basic pattern (in fixed do solfege) is do la do la do_ti_, where the first four notes are sung staccato quarter notes on “koo” and the last two tones are sung legato half notes, also on “koo.” I generally start on re (re ti re ti re_ti_) and then repeat the pattern down on half step, until I reach re a whole step above middle c. The staccatos can be combined with abdominal thrusts to avoid singing in falsetto, or can be artiulated with the consonant and supported by constant contracting of the abdominal muscles. I have had excellent results with third through eighth grade students using this exercise.
Once the warm-up is done, and by now we have seen that it is more than a warm-up, but also an important time of training, I continue the rehearsal with a song that will immediately take the singers into their upper range. So much music written for adolescent voices is in the middle to lower part of their register, it sometimes takes diligence to find music voiced appropriately for developing upper adjustment singing. Sometimes it can be as easy as transposing, while at other times it requires careful selection of literature. Henry Leck materials are often well-suited for this purpose. With a treble unison choir, or two part choir, it is easy to hear singers who are singing down, and it is usually a boy or two who is doing so. Insist that they sing up, and remind them of all you just did with them to prepare them and give them practice at singing the way you are now requesting. Be sure they transfer what has been learned and practiced in the first part of the rehearsal, the warm-up/training time, to the singing of repertoire. Praise every success, and they will after a time take pride in their upper adjustment voices too.