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Singing With Children in General Music

I am a elementary general music teacher.  I am a baritone and need any advice on how to sing with the children in my range and for the children not to sing down there with me.  I know about singing in falsetto and all of that, but I can't sing there for long and on certain ranges in songs forget it. I have usually resorted to having them sing with the CD's or play the piano.  Any suggestions out there especially from male singers (baritones)?  I struggle with K-2 most of all.  The older children for the most part have no trouble hearing my range and singing in theirs except for some boys who want to sing down there with me.  I tell them not to do that and why and then have a couple of kids come up front and sing with the class as vocal models.  Thanks.
Replies (17): Threaded | Chronological
on October 23, 2012 9:18pm
I've always been taught that you never sing to children in falsetto, always demonstrate your natural, healthy singing voice, so I always sing in my baritone range and the kids always seem to do fine. The problem might be the key, for some reason children sing better in Dmajor, try to pitch your songs differently and see if that works.
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on October 24, 2012 4:55am
 Using a child model, as long as you have one who can do it can be really helpful - this would have been my first suggestion, but you are already doing that.  You might also have a female teacher be a model, until they hear and understand the difference.  For daily classes, using a recorder to give pitches is another idea.
I have heard a number of male teachers who sing extensively in their upper register with little ones quite successfully - I think it depends on the individual. If you are not comfortable, and your upper register is strained, it's not a good model for the children, nor is it good for you vocally!
Good lucki!
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on October 24, 2012 8:23am
I always sing in my regular (tenor 2) voice in my range.  I've tried the falsetto thing, but I'm not that good at it, so I sound more natural in my octave. I've found that if you are comfortable singing, the students will sing comfortably as well.  I've used piano or (especially with K) just sit on the floor and sing with them.  I'm not sure why it works - but it does. But then, I listen to Raffi and Pete Seeger - and these guys sing in the men's octave, and the kids never stop singing with them. As Nike says, "Just do it."  
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on October 24, 2012 9:31am
This is a very timely topic for me, as I am doing doctoral research on male vocal models and their effect on children's pitch matching.  I have taught elementary age students for many years, and I find that pitch matching and octave displacement problems almost disappear when students hear songs in their own singing range.  If I am having students echo what I'm singing, I sing in their octave until around grade 5 or 6.  If I am introducing a new song for comprehension or objective listening, I use my lower range.  Don't be afraid to use your own falsetto.  Practicing the use of that range with the students and some work on your own outside class should have your sound in good shape in a short time.  Not only will you be providing a model in their own octave, you will be helping them develop the tone quality that we, as music educators, seek from our students.  It is very laudable that you use student vocal models.  That's a big help all around.  Feel free to contact me if you would like more information.
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on October 25, 2012 8:41am
If you use the CD's with the kids, do you walk around the classroom and listen to them / sing with them 1-on-1? Then after the CD is over, demonstrate your lower octave voice and the CD in upper octave voice. Use simple terms like high and low. Also, try a guessing game, alternating between high and low pitches on the piano. If it's high, have kids point to the sky, if it's low, point towards the floor. Then have a kid (shortest in class) stand up and stand right next to you. Say, "look at our height differences, also, our vocal cords are much different. This girl 'Abby' has smaller vocal cords and as she gets older her vocal cords will grow. Since I'm an adult man, my vocal cords are bigger and fully grown and I can sing low." After some demonstrations and explanations of various types, as well as listening to high and low it should correct itself. My preK, K and 1st have limited ranges, I often pitch songs down a 3rd and sing in falsetto, but 99% of my students are of Mexican descent and my experience is that their range is generally lower anyways - major Catholic hymnals often pitch Anglo hymns lower when translated into Spanish hymnals.
One other thing I forgot, if the range is really too high, start out by singing the first few notes only in flasetto, then once the kids are singing, drop out for a few measures and join them a little later in your range.
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on March 30, 2013 7:43am
Try playing a melody in their range on the piano, then in your range and then together, in octaves.  Then a CD with children's voices, while they sing along.  Add your voice in it's natural range and compare with what they heard on the piano.  The recorder is also a good idea.  Just attended a workshop with Don Brinegar and one of the very interesting things he said was about non-pitched singers.  Since then, I have spoken with a classroom teacher who agrees this theory describes her tone-deaf problem.  Don has found that some of these people hear 'too much.'  They hear all the overtones and can't distinguish the tone they are looking for.  He suggested playing a melody on the recorder sometimes works to help these people because it is relatively free of overtones.  That might help your little singers as well.
Best wishes,
Eloise Porter
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on March 30, 2013 8:20am
Eloise:  You're exactly right about the recorder.  Depending on how the individual instrument is voiced, it comes closer than any other instrument to producing a pure sine wave tone.
However, you should also be aware that the recorder sounds one octave higher than notated.  That is (technically and based on organ terminology), we sing at "eight-foot pitch" (which is the normal piano frequencies with middle C having a fundamental of about 256 hz), while the recorder family sounds at "four-foot pitch" (with the written middle C for soprano recorder sounding about 512 hz).  Or to put it another way, each recorder sounds an octave above the singing voice by the same name!
But usually that isn't a factor, and most people aren't even aware of it.  It only becomes important in orchestrating the recorders with other instruments.  (Which makes me wonder what all the fuss is about with men and women singing in different octaves, and why kids can't respond appropriately in their own natural range.  Perhaps we're simply over thinking the problem, or creating a problem where there really isn't one!)
All the best,
on May 4, 2015 11:01pm
I'm wondering...
When using music,do your children sing an octave higher than the music is notated?
on March 29, 2013 8:54am

on March 31, 2013 7:52am
What do you think guys about this boy soloist and his vocal technique? Comment, please.
on March 31, 2013 10:18am
Sorry, Alex.  There wasn't any link to sound.
on March 31, 2013 11:48am

on March 29, 2013 9:48am
Dear John:
Back when I was in college (c. late 1970s), I had a male sight-singing prof who regularly sang in falsetto because -- as he told us -- when he went through college as a music teacher, it was thought that school children were "not ready" to hear a male singing voice in a music classroom setting. He advised that he still sang that way because that was the way he was trained. However, he overtly advised us that this was "an old method of thinking" and the process has since moved away from that...
A number of years ago, I even had a 'consulting teacher' who tried to convince me to sing in a falsetto range when teaching at the elem. level... Knowing this little thought was "old" methodology, I asked her for the data and research to prove this. She had none. (Be careful of these well-intentioned but hurtful clowns!)
I too am a bass/baritone, and have found that I can not sing in falsetto range for extended periods of time as this does tend to tire out my voice very quickly. I have also found that if I sing falsetto, some boys and girls will try to mirror the sound with their own "falsetto-ish" sound. Conversely, occasional boys (and girls...!) do try to mirror me in the lower vocal range, to which I advise them not to pre-maturely sing in that range -- "Wait, it will occur naturally in a few years."
For the most part, I have found that children have no trouble mirroring my singing in their own comfortable range.
Ron Isaacson
Germantown, MD
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on March 31, 2013 4:20am
It seems as though teacher education programs don't spend very much time on voice timbre doesn't it? If children have been taught pitch matching as they should, and have been taught the differences between high-low sounds, as they should, it is not difficult for even little children to learn appropriate rote songs from a voice an octave lower than the voice in which they sing it.
As natural masters of imitation, small children when sung to with falsetto timbre will of course, attempt to imitate falsetto timbre!
Pre-Barney generations learned songs by listening while our moms sang while doing the dishes and while our DADS sang while hammering in nails and changing the oil in the Packard. I entered Kdg. knowing "When You Wore  Tulip" in both melody and harmony parts, and my father certainly never sang it in falsetto. 
This discussion also supports introducing letter names in a structured process (Kodaly, for instance), by third or fourth grade at least, so that you can be saying "We're both going to be singing 'A' but I'm going to sing it in my voice range and you're going to match it in yours". Then you can say "Will your voice be higher or lower than mine when we sing 'A' together?" and you will have reinforced another exciting musical concept!
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on April 1, 2013 1:45am
What an interesting discussion, with a range of viewpoints! In my case, I use both falsetto and natural voice, depending on the circumstances.  I tend to use the latter for singing full phrases, learning a song a line at a time, I-sing-you-copy, etc. Falsetto I use to establish the correct pitch if children are unclear, e.g. an interval, and to get other technicalities nailed down, e.g. intonation, which are best done at pitch. That said, there are some technical aspects which are best done by demonstrating in natural voice, such as colour/mood.
In my own experience, children get used to the way we teach, and cope pretty well. Older boys in this range (10-12 years) will often try to sing an octave besite tlow, even with feamail colleagues, since their voices are beginning to change. Similarly, if songs are pitched too high for younger children (up to, say, age 7), pitch-matching will not be possible, as the vocal range is more limited.
on April 2, 2013 4:06am
Apologies for the typos - darned over-sensitive laptop touchpad!
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on April 2, 2013 11:58am
I agree with D.I. Falsetto is best with younger children.  If you're uncomfortable with your falsetto (Remember, all men have a falsetto. Real men use it.), be sure to use it if you are doing any individual pitch-matching songs and use your regular voice when the whole class is singing.
Glad this is an issue, since I fear there is far too little singing going on in elementary music classes, and in the world in general!
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