The Other Singing Voice

2011Symposium_1_2Music teachers of young, primary grade children know it is important to teach children to find and use their singing voice for singing. Left on their own, most children will try to sing with the same voice they use for speaking, which is very limited in range, and usually too low to sing accurately or with a clear tone. With children 2-3 years of age, they are still exploring what sounds they can make with their voices and how they can control them. Modeling the difference between singing and speaking and then letting the children play spontaneously with sung sounds is a good strategy. Gradually, the selection and accuracy of pitches will improve, and a tonal center will be perceivable. In these initial stages, and with voices this young, the upper range of the child’s voice is where we want them singing, to separate and differentiate from the speaking voice.

By first or second grade, though, children who are accustomed to singing will need to learn and use the lower part of their singing voice, the part that overlaps with their speaking voice. Now the question isn’t how to use a different part of the voice, but in how to use the same part of the voice differently. Even when the ranges of singing and speaking voices overlap, the way the voice is used for singing must be different than how it is used for speaking. Respiration, breath management, resonance, and vowel use, to name a few, are concepts that must be handled differently for singing than for speaking. Because children spend more time talking than singing, these concepts are less developed and less natural for singing than they are for speaking. Most children receive formal music instruction once or twice a week in public schools, so encouraging them to practice good singing habits on their own is helpful.

To develop the lower adjustment singing voice, imitating animal sounds is helpful. In working on this with my second graders, I began by working from the familiar upper adjustment.  I asked them to name animals that made high sounds. They quickly identified cat, owl, and bird (there is no need to distract them with the fact of an owl being a bird). I suggested that because there are so very many birds, we pick one, and use the singing-kidscuckoo. I modeled each sound so that they would produce it exactly how I wanted it, and then had them imitate me. Once they could make all the sounds musically, with a good singing voice, we sang “Old MacDonald” using those animals with the practiced sounds. I pitched the song in C major so that they would be singing in the middle to upper parts of their range. Then we named animals that made low sounds. We used tiger (grrr) with a phonated “rrr” at a low pitch, a cow, and a big dog with a low bark. We then sang “Old MacDonald” again, this time in B-flat major, an octave lower than before. Going back and forth between singing and making animal sounds, they began to transfer the lower adjustment of the animal sounds to their singing.

After this, I had them sing a song that went from high to low adjustments. I used “As I Came Over Yonders Hill.” I pointed out the upper and lower adjustment parts of the song, and told them to listen to the quality of my voice as I sang in one adjustment and then the other. I then had the class sing the song, and told them to listen for how their own voices changed from upper to lower adjustment. They were happy and a little excited to hear the two adjustments in their own voices. They now were aware that they have these two parts of their singing voice, and that a singing voice is not always a high voice. Eventually, I will work on blending the two, but initially it is good for them to hear the difference and be able to sing correctly in both. This lower adjustment is the other singing voice.

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