“Singing voice” is a term often used but seldom defined or explained. What does it mean? Here’s a flavour of what Singing in the Lower Secondary School has to say.
It’s important, first of all, that all working with young voices have a clear audiation of the singing voices of children, boys and girls, with unchanged voices. A good example is found in one of my other books. The award winning work of Alison North at Lindley Primary School in Huddersfield is an excellent example and is featured in Contemporary Choral Work with Boys. Alison understands the “lift point” to which Joanne Rutkowski was referring in the extract above. Here she describes in her own understanding of how this relates to her work at Lindley:
Chest voice is a powerful voice we use here on the lower notes. It disappears higher up when it becomes the head. We use head voice more than anything else. That’s what we do. I don’t use the terms much. I say this is how I want it and I demonstrate.
A crucial point here is “I don’t use the terms much. I say this is how I want it and I demonstrate.” Absolutely! The video below is of another talented teacher who gets unchanged voices (boys this time) comfortably above the lift point through imitation.
Here’s an example of the singing voices Alison achieves
If you really need to understand the difference between the primary school “chest” or speech quality voice and the “head” voice of a child who has learned to sing above the lift point, listen to this. The boy is Y6 – before and after a singing lesson!
You may have notice that the tone of Alison’s choir, though good, is child-like. Well, since nearly all the singers are children (i.e. pre-pubertal) you’d expect that! To produce the kind of tone you will hear from a cathedral choir, at least some of the singers need to have “weightier” voices resulting from pubertal onset. Some years ago I produced this interesting mixture of boy chorister voices from a cathedral choir and a primary school. The cathedral boys are all post-pubertal (Y7 and older) whilst the primary school boys (all pre-pubertal) have not learned to cross the lift point. The “chest voice” sound should be obvious. Perhaps less obvious is the fact that the older boys are above their main lift point and have learned to lower the pitch at which the “lift” or “break” occurs. There is much to ponder in this!
So, how do you get children into their singing voices? Herbert Wiseman’s seminal 1967 book The Singing Class received several mentions in Singing in the Lower Secondary School, but I omitted to included the answer he gives here:
Let the class leap to, or start on, some note high enough to be quite out of the chest register (D,E, or E flat), and let them sing in this head voice a descending scale or passage, using the vowel sound of the word “on,” the object being to draw down the head voice as far as possible. Quite slow practice of a few such exercises will give a pure and beautiful tone, and will preserve the voices against the time when they begin to change.
Downward vocalization is the vital key here.
One of the problems you will have working with Y7 is dealing with all the bad habits that will have been acquired from (probably) many of the feeder primary schools where the singing will have been pitched too low and the children will not have learned to access their singing voices. Is it too late for you to start? I answer this important question on the next page.