“A young male with a fundamental voice pitch frequency in the range of about 200–250 Hz and a rich acoustic spectrum with ring frequencies in the regions of 1.5–5 and 7.5–10 kHz.”
In essence, this means a singer who performs the highest parts in choral music. This feat is possible because the treble singer has the vocal apparatus of a pre-pubertal child and has been trained to a high degree in its use. Quite often we hear the word treble used as a gender word. Women are “sopranos” boys are “trebles”. This isn’t really correct because high-voiced boys in the past were commonly referred to as “sopranos” and young girl singers today, if subjected to a similar training regime to their male counterparts, might quite legitimately be referred to as “trebles”. Treble is really a timbre word – it refers to a youthful, vibrato-free tone often described as “pure”, “guileless” or “angelic”.
Elsewhere in the book, I use the term “golden year” to describe the time when a boy is aged between 11.5 and 12.5. This is the “key year in which musical experience is added to voices at their peak.” There is little doubt that “the age of twelve is the time most boys peak as trebles”, yet boys can remain on the top line aged 13, 14 or even 15. The pure “treble” tone of the “golden year”, though, soon degenerates as boys pass the age of 12 and the reason is not hard to understand. The majority of 13 – 14 year old males have a fundamental voice pitch frequency in the range of 150 – 190Hz and very few of them can produce “ring” formants in the 1.5–5 and 7.5–10 kHz bands. In other words, though some of them may still sing the soprano part, they do not do so as trebles.
The book goes into considerable detail about the physiology of all this with some fascinating insights into the practice of earlier centuries when “boys” (or “young men”) really were sopranos. On this page you can find out what has happened to the boys featured as trebles in the “interludes” in the book.
Max (pp 41-44)
Max was aged 10 years and 8 months at the time his book interlude was written (2013). He was included because I “wanted a case study of a pure, pre-pubertal treble” that I “could assess, measure and analyse”. Max has certainly provided that, and a good deal more besides. He is currently (2014-2015) in his “golden year” (aged 12). Monday Afternoons is a unique project recording the entire career of a treble in CD tracks that correspond to scientific data on growth and development recorded at the same time. Here are some current sample tracks. The CD will be available when the project is complete.
View short film on Max’s progress. (coming soon)
William (pp 79 – 82)
William was aged 14 years and 2 months when his book interlude was written. I had studied him and followed his progress since the age of 11:10. He therefore takes over from Max in providing a complete story of progression from pre-pubertal treble, through the “golden year” and into the How High? dilemma. William was also involved in two of my “experiments” – the “Barthel experiment” (written up in the book and described in the Radio 4 programme About the Boys) and the choral demographics experiment, mentioned in the book but subsequently developed in greater detail.
View short film on William’s progress. (currently in production).
Read more about choral demographics.
Hear also Louis, or “Yniold” trained not as a treble but as a Bel Canto boy soprano.