The Adolescent Boy’s Changing Voice

Published on 05/11/18

Upon reading the title of this article, if you are a piano or instrumental teacher, you may be tempted to turn the page and zoom past onto other topics. You will probably ask, “why is this topic relevant to me?” Many music teachers are involved in church, school, and community activities that involve children and teens singing. Understanding this complex and challenging time for boys who sing is therefore important to voice teachers and non-voice teachers alike.

Over the past few years I have had an increasing number of boys going through their vocal change seek lessons from me. While I have a music degree in Vocal Performance, this topic was neglected in my vocal pedagogy classes and music courses. So out of necessity I began to do my own research and seek out information.

During puberty, the larynx (voice box) grows larger and thicker in both boys and girls, but a boy’s vocal folds grow significantly longer and thicker. The boy’s facial bones also grow so the cavities in the sinuses, nose, and throat grow larger and create larger resonators. Adjusting to these changes may cause vocal cracking, squeaking, or “breaks.” The vocal change in boys typically occurs between the ages of 11 and 14 ½ and often follows a growth spurt. Some voices change gradually, while others change rapidly. The change often occurs downward in half step intervals. The vocal pitch changes anywhere from one to two and a half octaves.

Theories about boys singing during the voice change have evolved over time. The rule used to be: “do not sing during the voice change.” However, since the 1950’s the vocal change has been studied and researched and this is no longer the rule. Current theories encourage boys to continue singing during this time. The Cambiata Concept was created by Irvin Cooper, and Don L. Collins is the founder of the Cambiata Vocal Music Institute of America. Cambiata means “change.” This concept classifies the changing voice ranges as: male treble (B flat below middle C to F above high C with a boy-soprano quality), cambiata (A below middle C to A above middle C with a limited range and wooly vocal quality), and baritone (low D to D above middle C with possible blank spots where the voice will not sound and trouble accessing falsetto). Throughout all stages of the change boys lose high notes and add low notes as their passaggio (vocal break) gradually lowers in pitch.

Here is some practical advice for working with boys during the change. Always do a range check by having boys sing warmups or songs in different keys to see where their vocal range lies. Use music websites to transpose songs into singable keys. The boy may need to sing the song an octave lower than written. There are a few published vocal anthologies for the boy’s changing voice that may be helpful. Look for songs with an octave range – this is challenging! When a female is demonstrating a song for boys, she may need to sing an octave up from the written note to get the boy to sing the correct pitch. Emphasize that vocal changes are a normal masculine transition. Vocabulary is very important at this age, so avoid referring to boys as “sopranos” or “altos.” Most importantly, encourage boys to keep singing!

By Suzanne Rohrbach, KAMTA Voice Teacher

Pedals, Pipes and Pizza 2017

Published on 02/18/17

On Saturday, January 14, KAMTA teachers, their students and several parents took part in a workshop, at First Presbyterian Church, Kalispell, learning about the organ, led by Lee Scifers, organist at First Presbyterian and former KAMTA member. There were about 25 in attendance.

We first learned about sound, how sound is produced, how an instrument makes sound, and then compared the piano and the organ. Mr. Scifers showed us a pipe from the organ and discussed how the different sizes of the pipes help make high and low, loud and soft sounds for the organ.

Students and teachers were able to play a piece they had previously practiced on the piano, on the organ, noting the difference in touch and the color of the keys. The organ has black and white keys, but they are the opposite of the piano! The organ also has foot pedals that are set up like a keyboard, but played with your feet.

After the workshop, attendees enjoyed pizza and fellowship among other students. It was a very educational and fun workshop and we should do it again!

2016 MSMTA Conference Highlights

Published on 11/12/16

The conference this year was held in Great Falls, hosted by the Great Falls Music teachers, with guest artist, clinician Dr. Jody Graves. Her recital engagements as a soloist and collaborative pianist take her across the United States and abroad, and has performed concerts in Austria, Norway, France, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Japan and has toured in the Persian Gulf serving as a Cultural Ambassador for the US State Department. She is currently Professor of Piano at Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA.

As Dr. Jody Graves led our sessions, she gave us much to ponder in working with our students. Here are some quotes gleaned from her presentations:
What we do must have purpose. Remember your purpose; play for the people who cannot play.
Fear creeps in mostly due to what we are thinking. Confidence through competence, casts out fear.
What you think of me is none of my business.
Educare – to draw out (that which lies within), not to put in.
Don’t teach to our limitations, but to their possibilities.
Motivation vs Inspiration – motivation has an external impetus, but with inspiration the desire comes from within.
Bring the music out of the piano, don’t put it in. Don’t fight the piano, join the instrument.

She conducted a master class with two students, a ten-year old girl and a sixteen-year old boy. It was a joy to watch her masterful art of working with these students. As we watched, Jody put these students at ease while they performed in front of a room full of music teachers, and gave them each ideas, on their particular level, to further enhance the performance of their pieces.

Friday evening Dr. Graves performed in a concert for us. What a fabulous performance of Debussy’s “La Cathedral Engloutie”, “Ce q’ua vu le vent d’Ouest” and Liszt’s “Consolation in D-flat” and “Vallee d’Obermann”. Following a brief intermission we enjoyed some selections from the Sapphire Trio (Margaret Baldridge, violin, Maxine Ramey, clarinet and Jody Graves, piano). Of particular interest was a piece composed and arranged for the Sapphire Trio by our commissioned composer, Greg Bolin, “Corundum”. Their fine musicianship was an inspiration to all.

KAMTA’s own Diane Volkman was named teacher of the year by MSMTA. Congratulations, Diane, we are proud of you! Two of our teachers received their 40 year awards, Betty Hanzel and Marcy Holston, and Suzanne Rohrbach received her 15 year award. The Kalispell chapter was well represented at the conference, having eleven members in attendance.

Workshop with Ken Christensen

Published on 11/07/16

On October 8, 2016, KAMTA, together with FVCC, presented a workshop featuring nationally certified teacher of music and pianist, Kenneth Christensen. The two-part program included “A Study Guide for Preparation, Practice, and Performance”and “Playing Your Best When It Counts.”

In learning how to prepare for performance, Ken gave us practical suggestions on how to study a piece from beginning to end with musical intention. We learned helpful preparatory exercises enabling us to play the technical challenges necessary to play the piece.

Learning how to develop a performance mindset included courage, trust, and acceptance and how to develop each one of these.

The skills covered in this workshop were aimed to both improve our ability to perform and aid us in teaching our students to play their best.

Why Teach Music?

Published on 10/07/16

Music is a science. It is exact, specific; and it demands exact acoustics.
A conductor’s full score is a chart, a graph which indicates frequencies, intensities, volume changes, melody and harmony all at once and with the most exact control of time.
Music is mathematical. It is rhythmically based on the subdivisions of time into fractions which must be done instantaneously, not worked out on paper.
Music is a foreign language. Most of the terms are in Italian, German or French; and the notation is certainly not English – but a highly developed kind of shorthand that uses symbols to represent ideas. The semantics of music compose a complete and universal language.
Music is history. Music usually reflects the environment and times of its creation, often even the country and/or racial feeling.
Music is physical education. It requires fantastic coordination of fingers, hands, arms, lip, cheek and facial muscles, in addition to extraordinary control of the diaphragmatic, back, stomach, and chest muscles, which respond instantly to the sound the ear hears and the mind interprets.
Music is all these things, but most of all, music is art. It allows a human being to take all these dry, technically boring (but difficult) techniques and use them to create emotion. That is one thing science cannot duplicate; humanism, feeling, emotion, call it what you will.
Not because we expect our students to major in music
Not because we expect them to play or sing all their life
Not so they can relax
Not so they can have fun
BUT – so they will be human
so they will recognize beauty
so they will be sensitive
so they will be closer to an infinite beyond this world
so they will have something to cling to
so they will have more love, more compassion, more gentleness, more good – in short, more life.
Of what value will it be to make a prosperous living unless you know how to live?
Auburn (New York) teachers