The Young Voice F.A.Q.

How do you teach young voices, say under fifteen years of age?

For both boys and girls, basic musicianship should begin as soon as possible. A stringed instrument such as violin, viola or cello is good to learn, li gives the youngster a feeling of long, continuous, bowed lines, and a „vibratoed“ quality of tone which is indeed similar to the singing voice. Piano and guitar are also very good as they will help in the later study of harmony and be useful as a means of self-accompaniment. Naturally, with all instruments, the involvement with reading music and rhythm is invaluable.

Then, as the voice becomes more responsive with age, the already activated musicianship supports and enhances the overall musical ability.

As far as actual voice training goes, however, one must be careful. In girls, it is not uncommon to find youngsters around ten years old who can vocalize easily from low G and A to E-flat above high С and above. And it is possible to maintain that marvelous start if those handling that voice are careful not to require any heavy singing. That is, competition in groups of older voices or participation in school musicals which require belting. These young voices will become fuller (rounded out), without loss of range, power, and quality, if care is taken to keep strain absent.

In male voices, the change from boy soprano to the beginnings of the adult male voice can be traumatic. It can happen dramatically (overnight in some cases), or hang in a „cracking limbo“, bobbing back and forth within an octave range for a period of time. It is both embarrasing and bothersome, and indeed (if the young boy has experienced some success with a beautiful soprano voice) a horrifying experience. There is no promise that his voice will return in any consistent state of well-being.

This is a difficult period to live through, unless you have knowledgeable and patient vocal guidance from an expert voice technique teacher. The youngster must be monitored regularly to insure that he is keeping his voice coordination as balanced as possible through the change.

There is always the danger that a young singer will „grab“ onto any part of the coming mature voice and begin to „grind away“ in an effort to retrieve some of the vocal control he enjoyed before the maturation process began. It is therefore complete lunacy on the part of a choir director to ask a boy to dig for low G's or even A's in an effort to sing the bass line in an ensemble. Just because the boy soprano has been forced to temporarily retreat from singing high tones, it is assumed that he is going to be a bass. Actually, when this happens, he should sing baritone, taking the low notes up an octave, or down an octave, should the vocal line become too difficult to sing comfortably.

It is interesting – and there are always exceptions that disprove the rule – that most boy first sopranos drop to bass or baritone, and the boy second sopranos move into tenor. Occasionally there is a boy soprano voice that deepens slightly and moves into tenor or male alto, with no apparent „change“ or drastic reaction. It has been my experience that all young voices are subject to the same vocal principles as adult voices.

There seems to be numerous children's singing and performance workshops in most cities, any opinions?

Children, with their undeveloped voices and lack of maturity to make decisions, are the easiest prey to poor voice teachers who use „performance workshops“ as a „shill“ to acquire vocal clientele.

Children are allowed and encouraged to „belt“ their brains out, trying to sing adult ranges or yelling shows like „Annie“, which can have disastrous effects on the eventual balance of the „midrange“, which everyone strives for as the maturation process continues.

It is extremely rare to find any children's vocal performance workshop which is knowledgeable enough to encourage proper balance in the young voices, and set vocal keys which contribute to a youngster's vocal growth and understanding.

Do you believe in student loyalties?

Absolutely – loyalty to themselves and their voices. If the student's has a wobble or a tremolo, leave the teacher. If the muscles under the chin reach down and tense as the pitch rises, leave the teacher. If the student's voice has no vibrato, leave the teacher. If a woman has all head voice and no connected chest voice, leave the teacher. If the man has chest voice and no connected head voice, leave the teacher.

The above situations are what I call student loyalty, that is, loyalty to common sense. There should never be loyalty to a teacher who doesn't produce improvement within a short time. If the pupil's vocal talent is poor, that student should never have been encouraged to continue in the first place.