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Working with singers with Down Syndrome

     I have a 10 year old choir member with Down Syndrome. I'm usually pretty good at getting my 10 year old singers to either improve at matching pitch or getting them to use their head voice, but I'm a little stuck on how to help this boy. In doing a very minimal amount of research, I've learned that it takes twice as much energy for a person with Down Syndrome to produce vocal sound as it does for a person who does not have Down Syndrome. I also learned that very little attention has been paid to developing therapies that improve vocal technique in people with Down Syndrome. The lest post on ChoralNet on this subject was 10 years ago and got one response. I'm hopeful that time has given us more collective knowledge or wisdom in this area.
Here are some questions I have that I hope some of you may be able to answer.
1. I'm trying to see if this student can sing a mi re do pattern. He has an unchanged voice. Can anyone recommend a good starting key?
2. I wonder how I can get this student to use his head voice in some kind of simple exercise (ie vocal siren). Any thoughts?
3. Any other tips?
on October 26, 2015 9:02pm
Hi Seth,
1. Use the starting pitch you usually do and adjust up or down if need be
2. Check with the school speech therapist for some ideas on getting vocal sound to improve but I think your idea about a *vocal siren* is a good place to start for head voice.
3. People with Downs Syndrome have low-ish muscle tone.  Their mouths can be shallow and often they have HUGE tonsils.  These things alone can make things difficult, singing-wise.  My go-to working with almost anyone is to work on breathing and this might be doubly important for someone with Downs. How is his hearing and does he have tubes in his ears for fluid (also another issue for some with Downs)?
Applauded by an audience of 2
on October 27, 2015 7:09am
There is an online ACDA resource for singers with Downs and other disabilities.
It is called FRIENDS OF JOYFUL NOISE.   Joyful Noise is an adult chorus of singers with intellectual and physical disabilities.   Several of them have Downs.
on October 27, 2015 7:13am
1. Sol-Mi might be a better starting point. Just pick a key and adjust as necessary. 
2. Pretend he's a unicorn or narwhal- point with finger on top of forehead and "dive" off with finger towards the floor while singing in high head voice to low. The motion really helps. Even my 5th graders love this- they're the ones that changed it to narwhal. 
3. Definitely talk to speech therapist. Maybe have him cover one ear to hear himself better? Or to touch the piano while you play to feel vibrations (even better if it's another boys throat, but that can be tricky). 
- good luck! 
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