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Boys and Not Trying to Match Pitches

In teaching some basic pitch recognition patterns, I often sing a simple three note pattern and have students echo the pattern. Eventually, I start adding other patterns for them to echo and to name the notes. However, I have had a couple of boys that seem to refuse even trying to match my pitches. Because I thought the pitches might be too high for their range (or maybe the boys thought it sounded too feminine in that range) I had the students do voice sirens and other techniques to help them use their falsetto. Those falsetto techniques work on the first echo, but then the boys resort to a low drone that is not close to the correct pitches. How do I encourage them to continue trying to match the pitches?
Replies (11): Threaded | Chronological
on January 5, 2016 4:50am
It may be too late.  And now, before the onslought of "there's room for everyone / it's never too late" police show up:  It may be too late MENTALLY for these boys; although if you are really good with boys, possess the mind of a 13 year old, and have the boys on your side (as in they trust you); you can seperate them out, especially if they are mixed with females, and coax some above the staff excitement out of them.  I'll assume from the language you used that they are middle school age.
 
You didn't say what age these boys were, and I might not use the term falsetto (well I hate that term personally), as when dealing with actual pre-change boys there is no falsetto.   You say the term FALSEtto to one kid and the sponge brain teaches them "this is false singing and I want to do real singing" - Depending on the age you also need to set the precident that boys DO sing high, and show them examples. Show them examples of countertenors.   Once you break through that mental barrier, and they trust you, THEN you can do some real work.  This is true at any age.  You should ask them how they feel about it.  Boys, that is those males below about age 20, feel so deeply about the most minute things - yet we as a society supress this, calling it teenage hormones, and especially dismiss it in boys.  They may have some real concerns that you need to deal with, which in turn will allow them to trust you even more.  Boys are like fine bone china: sure they can take boiling hot stress with ease, but can also break with the wrong use - treat them well and they will be with you always.  They can and will supprise you by the clarity in which they speak about things they do care about - especially something they are doing physically like singing.  These conversations are best left in very small groups.
 
We've all got to do better at teaching our educators that real mean sing ABOVE the staff just as well as below it. 
Applauded by an audience of 8
on January 5, 2016 7:22pm
Thank you for your wonderful comments. I am excited to try out these ideas.
on January 7, 2016 3:19pm
The "boys DO sing high" advocacy might be extended to instruments playing those glorious high notes: show youtube videos of men playing piccolo trumpet, Maynard Ferguson playing jazz way up there, a men and boys fife and drum corps playing at a historic battlefield surrounded by reenactors with historic firearms, etc.  There must be a video somewhere showing men standing up to play that piccolo section solo in The Stars and Stripes Forever.
 
How about starting a video lending library of movies about pop singers who sing high?  In the last few years we've had movies about Franki Valli and the Four Seasons, and The Beach Boys.  I'm sure there must be video of contemporary singers in the a cappella, gospel, and barbershop genres, too.
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on January 6, 2016 6:47am
If the boys are middle school aged, and there are girls in the class at the same time, they may be droning because they are afraid of being made fun of by their peers.
 
In my experience, boys will often not try to sing at all if there are girls around.  I finally convinced my administration to separate most of my middle school choirs by gender, and now everybody sings, or at least tries their best!
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on January 8, 2016 6:24am
I have the same problems.  Thanks for sharing.  It is a good topic.
on January 8, 2016 7:10am
Good comments all! I taught middle school for many years.  Here are a couple of ideas that have worked well for me in the past:
 
Play examples of popular musicians who sing in both their chest and upper registers, particularly if they flip for vocal color effect. There are TONS of examples. One of my favorites was Dave Matthews  on the Crash  album - "So Much to Say" where he pops up into  "a little Ba-by!"  Using this as an aural example, we would then sing "The Lion Sleeps tonight" and everyone would love to do that high "ee----ee-------eee-oh wim-o-way...." - making it a game and fun and goofy was the point - just to get them to explore and get comfortable.
 
Middle school kids also think (boys and girls too) that that upper register doesn't "feel" right because they are just not used to the sensation uf singing there. And because they have not sung there, it generally does not have the power that they are used to having in their lower register. They don't realize yet that if they develop it, their entire voice will be stronger, so you have to reassure them that that is actually the case.  
 
Try the "Harold Hill" approach. Have the say "Hello", find and match their speaking pitch, and then have them sustain it so it becomes singing ("See? singing is just sustained talking....") then at the piano, move from their starting pitch up and down by 1/2 steps until they are easily matching you. The more flexible you can get them to be, the better the chance they will 
 
I gotally agree with the idea of getting the boys by themeselves. If you have one boy who can get up in the upper register and model it for them in a group of just the guys, they will feel more secure in taking that risk, and it's a lot about risk (I agree with the notion that it is a lot about a mental attitude towards this aspect of their voice.  It's also important that if this is middle school and we are talkign about changing voices, that they understand what is going on physically with their voices and how the voice works. Helping them understand the mechanics takes away some of the personal angst about it. Also make sure you know exactly where their voices are in the vocal change process.  They won't try to match pitches if they don't think they will sound good, and if they are physically unable to matach a pitch, they won't sing. John Cooksey's book on the Adolescent Voice is an excellent resource. I found that my boys were actually really curious tounderstand more about where their voices were in the change.
 
If you can't separate the guys from the girls, competition can be very helpful.  Guys will always be able to sing lower than the girls, but I often found that the guys could often sing higher than the girls, and boy, did they enjoy showing them up!  
 
Good luck!
 
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on February 8, 2016 9:40am
What are the ages of these singers? This is very important information especially if the voices are beginning to change, which is what I assume.
on February 9, 2016 7:37pm
  The issue is NOT that your young men are not trying, their voices simply do not have those notes!  Insisting that they TRY HARDER is counterproductive,
needlessly frustrating to you (but mostly to them) but can be damaging to voices and psyche.
  There is hope. YOU ARE THEIR HOPE! Do not make  them feel inadequate in any way! They do have a voicebat the end of a dark, prepubescent tunnel.
  In the mean time, gather them around you. Have each guy quickly count backward from 20. Along the way,beach will settle on there own pitch. Probably A-G below middle-C. They will not have lower notes in thebrest of that octave for a while but there might be notes below second space C.
  If they do have lower notes, rejoice with them but don't let them revel or wallow on those low notes or you and they might think that is all they will have forever.  NOT!
  Puppy whines are their friends. By having them phonate on an open-mouthed ng hum, each singer will find their "placement", their focal point, without pressing the glotis or tensing the tongue. In addition, if you have the breath activate from lower abdomen, then they can breathe and support the tone properly after everything comes together.  IT WILL COME TOGETHER!
  YOU MUST  give them hope and support. This is both. Their voices may immediately improve, it will be individual. I have had this happen to high school Juniors ready to jump of the next bridge. Within a few weeks, hebwas
 
on February 9, 2016 4:51am
My boys respond instantly to using their "Adam Levine" voice (Maroon 5). I believe Sam Smith sings us high... anyone have any popular musicans of color they are referencing these days? 
 
When my boys are having trouble matching in the upper register, I have them sing and A above middle C. One of them always nails it, I praise him, and ask eveybody to match that person. They usually dom sometimes with coaxing and pauses for sirens, etc. But this is all after I've taught them all, boys & girls about the changes in the voice for both males and females.
 
I have a new analogy that my boys are totally into: their voice is like a video game. They master it one week, then someone gives them a new controller with buttons in all new places. They will master it again (and much quicker this time), but it will take time to figure out where the placement of pitches are now that their voice has shifted. 
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on February 9, 2016 7:27am
Make the head voice exercises goofy. If they percieve it as funny, they'll do it. After they're comfortable phonating up there, you can slowly start asking them to do different things with it, including producing a quality sound and bringing it down to lighten the rest of the mechanism and avoid the "drone." Eventually, they'll do it without being silly, because they're comfortable enough that they don't need it. Also, never make them do it alone--they'll shrink up so fast and hate you forever for it, ha!
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on February 9, 2016 10:01am
I taught MS for 35 of my 42 teaching years.  I read all the comments presently found in this post and found six of them to be spot on.  Use these ideas but also allow the boys to use their new lower notes in chordal and linear warm-ups. If they do not wish to match pitches whatsoever, your problem is either aural maturity or discipline.  The comments to this post are exceptional.  
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