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Beginning singers: Training inexperienced Men's voices


Here is the compilation of responses that I received in their entirety.
Thank you for once again taking the time to offer suggestions.

Colleen Kennedy
Choral Director/Music Specialist
Beverly Vista School
200 S. Elm Dr. * Beverly Hills CA 90212
(310) 229-3669 * (310) 256-5408 pager
(Part-time geek)

I sympathize with your dilemma as do most of our colleagues ! I can
suggest but one exercise which I have found has always held me in good stead
with not only the changing voice, but men for the rest of their singing
1) always start high and soft
2) beginning on B flat or C above middle C, work down on "oooo" to "ah"
on a five to one scale (soh to doh)
3) hold the initial "oooo" until the suitable tone and pitch is found
and then go down the scale on a gradual crescendo to the doh.
4) work your way down until well below the break and into the head voice
No miracles, but good solid technique that will develop over the years,
a smooth transition over the higher passaggio, useable falsetto range and
cleaner, stronger lower register.

Gary Fisher
High Park Choirs of Toronto
Burlington Civic Chorale

Dear Ms. Kennedy,

I have no great suggestions, but I would like to stay in touch with you. I
teach middle school band, chorus, and orchestra in the middle division at
the Brentwood School on Barrington Place near Sundset Blvd., and I'm having
a terrible time with my two mixed choruses (one 7th grade and one 8th
grade). I've taught high school and elementary chorus successfully,
conducted church children's choirs, and I've had 24 years of adult choir
experience and a masters in choral conducting, and nothing has prepared me
for the agonizing experience of boys who didn't sing before their voice

I remember my own drastic voice change (I was a first soprano as a boy and
in 8th grade became a low bass). But my experience is not like the kids, as
I already wanted to sing and sorta knew how.

Next year I'm going to do boys' chorus and girls' chorus. I'm hopeful that
it will help. My girls, although they are not great at all, can sing in
tune, sing in parts, and match pitch. The girls also have more "standard"
vocal ranges. I do think that having the boys in the same class as the
girls reifies everybody's idea that the boys can't sing, as it's so much
easier for the girls. The girls can sorta sing, and need to learn about
choral musicianship. The boys need to learn how to sing at a very basic
level, and their music has to be arranged and rearranged for their voices
especially. And I think they need a very supportive, nurturing, fun, and
low-performance-pressure environment. This is only my opinion -- I'm going
to try it and see if it works.

And the boys who do have singing back ground - -their voices tend to change
later anyhow. i think there are physiological reasons for this. If you go
to the Los Angeles Children's chorus concerts, they have sophomore and
junior boys still singing treble, who also sing tenor or bass in their HS
choirs. I think it's just the suppleness of the vocal muscles in a singer
who sings a lot.

I'm interested in getting together with groups from area schools who are at
similar (beginning) levels of achievement. Let's talk about this.

Bob Crocker
323-308-0955 (cell)


I really admire your perseverance! You've got just about every thing that
can possibly be going against you, yet you don't want to give up. Keep on

As a retired church musician I have had practically no experience in
working with the situation in which you are forced to work. You are
probably aware of the fact that some of the country's finest boy choirs are
moving into the area of SATB music, working with their "graduates" to keep
them singing. For Jim Litton and his American Boy Choir, this became a
real mission because he became concerned that a very small percentage of
adult men sing in any kind of choral organization in this country. He is
concerned about the future of SATB choral music in America - and I gather
that you are too. The difference is that he
1) is a man - though a very quiet, gentle one
2) had worked with these kids at a high level for years, and though he
certainly encouraged their continued participation, the boys themselves
wanted to remain with the organization.
3) It is completely unfair to dump on you a bunch of older guys who
could care less about your kind of music.

If you have to deal with them, must it be a choral experience, per se, for
them? Could it be more a music appreciation class where you could start
where they are and relate rap to chant, for instance? Or Rite of Spring
to the beat they like to listen to, etc? Listen to world vocal music and
compare vocal production values, and maybe coax them into trying various
approaches themselves?

It 's probably harder for a woman to teach men than a man to teach women,
since most men retain some of their falsetto. But it can be done. Just as
the man has to suggest a quality with his falsetto, women can suggest a
quality with their chest voice. I suspect the occasional problem of octave
transference might be similar in both instances, particularly where there
is no pitch matching background. You well know that the time to develop a
pitch sense is in the elementary grades, and that it becomes increasingly
more difficult through the years.

So I really have no advice for you, but all sorts of accolades for what you
are attempting and the creativity with which you are going about it. Hang
in there!

David McCormick

Ms Kennedy:

I am only a first year teacher, but I think I may be able to offer some
advice. Something I'm finding for middle school boys is that they seem
to respond better to friendly banter (friendly teasing, laughing with
them, etc.) Within that banter, they seem to respond better to
instruction because you seem more human. Perhaps you're already doing
something like that, I don't know.

Certainly having male vocal models is a good thing, but I think you can
still get a good response and sound out of your boys. One exercise I did
when I was student teaching (and that I've used at my school) helped a
great deal for my high school male singers. I played several listening
examples of men's choruses, and explained to them what sounds to listen
for. After we listened, we picked apart what kinds of sounds they were
making, and I explained to the students how the singers were making
those sounds. Finally, we decided what sounds were best to make for the
particular piece we were rehearsing, and the students immediately
responded (Hoorah for Bloom's Taxonomy and student-ownership of sound!).
Some good listening examples are any Rockapella CD, The Men of the
Robert Shaw Chorale singing "Sea Shanties" ("What Shall We Do With The
Drunken Sailor", and "Whup! Jamboree!" are excellent examples), Michigan
Jake "For the Record" (Michigan Jake is a barbershop quartet; you can
get the CD from's Harmony Marketplace, or
Even though I used this with high schoolers, I'm sure that you can use
it with success with middle schoolers as well.

Forgive my lack of experience, but I hope some of these suggestions will
be of the very least, perhaps you can pick them apart and find
some nuggets to use. Please let me know if these methods are successful.


Nicholas Petersen
Director of Choirs
Montrose Christian School
Rockville, MD

P.S. Perhaps this is a long shot, but given your proximity to Hollywood,
perhaps you can get recording artists or celebrities to visit your
school and tell the boys how important music has been in their lives,
how much they enjoy singing, etc.? (as an act of charity on their part?
At the very least, free publicity!)

Ms Kennedy:

"Did your boys laugh at the music being played? If so, how did you get them
to look beyond the style and just listen to the vocal quality?"

I warned them ahead of time that the sounds that they would be listening to
might not be what they were used to hearing and used to singing. I didn't
have that much of a problem using those recordings, because I knew that the
guys would like them. At the very least, I figured that they'd be familiar
with "What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor" from elementary school, and a
new arrangement of that song might stir their interest. From there, I
branched off into other songs as they got used to the sounds.

The other thing I told them to do was shut their eyes. I looked at them all
to make sure that they were shut before I played the music, and scolded
them if they were not. If they can't see the other guys in the class, the
more likely they are to respond to the music rather than try to act all
macho for their friends (don't you love peer pressure?).

Finally, I told them that if they laughed, we'd be having a talk after
class. I explained to them that this was serious music and deserved to be
taken seriously. I said it in a more kind manner than what I just typed,
but they understood that I expected them to behave well when they listened
to music, live or otherwise. I think that when high school kids have
something explained to them rationally and logically, 9 times out of 10
they'll respond positively.

Hopefully this better explains my thinking to you. If you choose to go with
my crazy idea, I do hope that it works out for you. As I said, please let
me know what kind of success or resistance you meet. I'd be curious to see
if this idea works well for high schoolers in another state!


Nicholas Petersen
Director of Choirs
Montrose Christian School
Rockville, MD


Cambiata Vocal Music Institute of America, Inc. has a couple of articles
online which might be helpful to you. They are
Training the Uncertain
Singer and The New
Adolescent Bass (just click on the title of the article to access it, or if
your emailer does not recognize HTML, paste the link,,
in the address box of your internet browser, hit enter, and then choose the
title from the page that comes up). These are particularly appropriate
for mid-level singers.

Also, finding literature in which consideration is given to the vocal
characteristics and tessitura limitations of their unique voices goes a
long way in getting the youngsters to sing tunefully. Check out the
Cambiata Press website
( If you sign
the guestbook at the bottom of the homepage and respond to the automated
email you will receive from them, they will send you a packet of
complimentary music chosen particularly for your group.

I hope this is helpful. If I can serve you further, please do not hesitate
to contact me.

Bill Rich
Activities Coordinator
Cambiata Vocal Music
Institute of America, Inc


At 11:38 PM 10/24/03 -0700, Colleen Kennedy wrote:
>Hello colleagues,
>Choral professionals can find a wealth of information about helping young
>men through the voice change, but what do you do with a young man whose
>voice has already dropped but he didn't sing through his change? I was at
>a high school where there were no elementary music programs and no middle
>school choir programs. I would get 18-year-old guys in the beginning men's
>chorus who had never really sung a note in their lives. They couldn't
>match pitch; they couldn't differentiate their singing voice from their
>speaking voice. And being a woman, I couldn't demonstrate for them. Poor
>things didn't have a chance! Most of the young men listened almost
>exclusively to rap and hip-hop, and singing was seen as "gay." Worst of
>all, most of them were dumped in there against their will by their
>counselors. Gotta keep those enrollment numbers up! Obviously, there were
>multiple issues at work.
>Some things that I tried:
> - seating "non-singers" near singers so that they could have an example
> to follow
> - bringing in male guest singers/conductors
> - falsetto warm-ups (e.g. the "wee" line from Lion Sleeps Tonight)
> - sirens
> - physical movement during exercises to "draw" the voice up into the head
> - pop repertoire (e.g. Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On - which they selected)
>I keep hearing about choir directors who are having a great time with
>their men's groups. Truthfully, while I did have some success, by the end
>of the year I hated working with that group. Everything I tried (and I did
>give all of these things multiple tries) met with resistance which spread
>through the group like wildfire. I'm in a middle school now and I can see
>similar issues coming up with some of the 8th grade boys. I'm sure that at
>least part of the problem lies somewhere in my approach. Any suggestions
>you could offer would be appreciated - especially ideas for helping young
>men feel less self-conscious and getting them to buy into the idea that
>singing is an OK thing for a man to do.
>Thank you so much. I plan to post a compilation.
>Colleen Kennedy
>Choral Director/Music Specialist
>Beverly Vista School
>200 S. Elm Dr. * Beverly Hills CA 90212
>(310) 229-3669 * (310) 256-5408 pager
>(Part-time geek)

on June 15, 2006 10:00pm
I love working with my 8th grade boys' choir. I challenge the basses to sing higher than the tenors (unchanged soprano) in their falsettos. Anyone who can sing higher than me gets a treat. At the first of the year, I had (out of 40 singers) 8 bass/baritones and 7 changing (who knows yet - hard time matching pitch) and 25 unchanged voices. At the end of the year I had 9 basses, 15 baritones, 2-5 changed tenors and the rest unchanged. Some of the first bass/baritones had moved up to tenor and others down. We had continually voice shifting throughout the year. Every quarter I would re-classify voices. I had them sing together on exercises and then sit when things got too low or too high. I wouldn't just let them decide either. I know that sometimes a student whose voice is changing assumes that they are singing higher or lower than they usually are. I would have them sing together and walk around the piano where they would "stop" by me and then I would signal when they should move again. When I had them classified - I would then check the part(s) separately and see the ranges within the parts.

We sang a lot! We sang everything from "Amazed" by Lonestar to "Die Nacht" (TTBB) by Brahms. The most enjoyable piece we did was on our Pops concert when the basses sang up in their falsettos on "My Girl." I found that if we learned the music one part at a time. (basses singing tenor, tenor singing bass lines, etc) and then adding them together, I could keep them singing. It was extremely helpful to create an atmosphere that was conducive to learning and singing. I would always start the year making terrible sounds like a boys voice changing. They would laugh. I would say to them, If you are afraid to sing out because your voice might crack, what's the worst that can happen? Someone might laugh. Well guys, everyone in this class is going to have their voice crack at one time or another and we might laugh, but no one will die if their voice cracks. They felt more at ease and we went through voice changes constantly. They kept singing and by the end of the year we had mastered repertoire that amazed me and them!! Hope that "atmosphere" works for you!