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Programming for the Changing Voice



Dear All,

Many thanks to those who responded to my posting. As these responses have
come in, I have been doing further research on my own and a mentor of mine,
Dr. Kathleen Shannon at West Virginia University (not where I went to
college) has given me additional insight and resources. Much of what you
say is consistent with her guidance. Since so many of you asked for
compilation of responses, here they are. Warning: this is LENGTHY.
----------------------------

As the director of a Middle School/Upper School program, I agree with you. I
teach at a smaller private school (350 students, 6-8 and 600 9-12) Here's
what I have, and why I have it that way: I have 2 choirs at the Middle
School. My Treble choir is all 6th graders, male and female. I label them
"Part I and Part II" making no mention of soprano and alto, tenor or bass.
This is for the very reason you describe. Each of the parts has equal
amounts of males and females, mostly based on equally dividing vocal
strengths, and ocassionally swapping people among the parts. Before I came
to the school, there was only *1* choir, and the boys were labeled soprano,
etc., and the drop out rate from 6th to 7th was ghastly. Now I retain almost
all of my 6th grade singers (so far!) My Symphonic Choir is all of my 7th
and 8th graders, where we do mostly SAB music (and some SATB as the year
goes on, as I do have some true baritones,even in 7th grade). All boys sing
the mens part. We do some octave shifting for some of the boys who just
don't have the lower registers yet,but none of them sing alto or soprano. I
find this suits the boys very well, maintains their sense of identity as
male singers, and has significantly boosted morale in the program. I would
never label a boy in the middle school age a soprano or an alto. There was a
day in age when you could get away with that, but in the real world, you're
exactly right. I'm in my 5th year of teaching, and this all works very well
for me. :)

-----------------------------------------
This is what I have done myself. I have one boy soprano and the others are
evenly distributed between: sorta high, and sorta low. (Those are technical
terms, don't ya know?) I actually deal with each piece of music separately.
My boy soprano is delighted to keep his high notes as long as possible, but
I have noticed lately a little huskiness in the tone, so I've asked him to
"help" the other boys on a certain song. He's doing great...but is singing
soprano on the rest of the music. I think the key is to try to find where
each is most comfortable, one day at a time!

-----------------------------------------

It's a very important part of your job to deal with the voice changes that
both boys AND girls go through with puberty. Prepare them all for the fact
that there WILL be changes, that they are perfectly normal, that you
understand and will help them, and that it can be pretty exciting because
nobody can predict how their voices will turn out.

If you have boys who are sopranos, for heaven's sake have them sing soprano,
but CALL them trebles and call the girls sopranos. If they're altos, or if
they sink to alto, move them down a part

You're not talking about voice parts, you're talking about chest and head
ranges. It's important that you get them ALL singing in head
voice,definitely including the boys, and a lot of unison work is important.
This hits home, because my wife was made to sing alto in high school because
she could read music, and it wasn't until she got to college that a voice
teacher discovered she was a very good soprano!

I agree 100%! But be aware that there will be some girls who really do seem
to be potential altos. Their head voices should be developed, but they
shouldn't be forced to sing in a range that strains their voices. Likewise,
potential sopranos should not be forced to sing in a potentially damaging
low range. All voices are NOT alike, and you have to be flexible and
creative. (And you will be, as your questions show!)

>>I guess what I amsaying is that>it is not so much making the students fit
>>the music, butfinding music that>is not only quality, but fits the
>>students' voices.

Aha!!! That insight is worth 2 semesters of classes!!!

>>As of right now, I think the bottom line isto remain>flexible with who
>>sings which part.

ABsolutely! But there's one more thing you should think about. In my wife's
youth choir at church, she did a lot of unison and 2-part treble music. But
when she had a boy who started slipping, she kept track and wrote a new part
for him (or them) to add to the arrangement. True, she was a composition
major, but any music graduate ought to be able to do the same thing, and
getting their own "special" custom-tailored part can help make the voice
change a positive thing rather than a negative one. One more warning. Some
boys' voices simply crash and burn, and there's nothing you can do about it
except warn them matter-of-factly that sometimes that happens. My wife had
two brothers in her choir. One of them sank slowly, gaining low notes and
losing high ones. But the other one simply lost the ability to control his
voice and had to stopsinging for several years. Eventually they both became
low basses like their father, but by very different routes. Our own 2 boys
did the opposite. They continued singing with the trebles as well as
developing their new lower voices, and both ended up perfectly able and
perfectly happy to sing counter tenor!

-----------------------------------

Have you ever read "Letters to Pat, Concerning the boy's changing voice?" It
was written back in mid-century by Dr. Irvine Cooper who was on the Music
Education Faculty at Florida State University. His work was carried on by a
fellow in Arkansas who owns a company called Cambiata Press. His name has
escaped me as I type (I have occasional "senior moments"). Cooper divided
his boys into four groups an I remember it--Soprano, Alto, Cambiata, and
Baritone depending on timbre as well as range of the voices. Good luck as
you search and reason this out. Let me know what you finally come up with.
The boys will love the extra attention and will not attach a stigma to
singing a high part if their voice handles it well. If you get their
attention, praise them and let them know that you are interested in their
vocal welfare rather than just getting them to cover a part,they will
respond.

----------------------------------------------

Dear Jessica, I am a high school choral director who conducted choirs in
grades 5, 6, 7, 8, & 9 for 15 years before I moved to High School. What on
earth college did you go to that you did not specifically study and research
the boys changing voice? I had much of an entire secondary methods class
dedicated to that. We brought in boys, we watched films, read books by Irvin
Cooper, who did much research on this stuff. I urge you to do some research
and find some great middle school choirs that use the cambiata concept. Did
you know that it is actually easier to teach well written 4 part music to an
8th grade choir than it is to teach 3 part? Why? Because these wonderful
cambiata voices have something to latch on to that is closer than stretching
too low for baritone and too high for alto. Look at Jr. High all county and
festival programs. Get private recordings. Go to an ACDA or state
conference. Most importantly don't fall into the SAB trap. Good luck.

-------------------------------------------

i agree--labeling middle schoolers with voice parts is very wrong. it's also
somewhat absurd. as you know, people's voices change their entire life and i
know from teaching middle school that giving them part names such as
soprano, alto etc.. almost builds a diva-like attitude at a very young age.
example: "oh, i ONLY sing soprano". this coming out of a 12 or 13 year olds
mouth is ridiculous!!! and yes, what do you call the guys? they are not
basses. they certainly are not tenors either. i found the only way to
eliminate this problem was to not use the soprano, alto, tenor, bass names
at all. my parts were simply part 1, 2, 3, 4, etc... this way, you can
suppliment your boys part (if you're lacking in numbers) with extra girls
and neither one is going to feel intimidated by the gender- imposed name!
hope this helps--good luck!!

--------------------------------------------

Hi Jessica! You have such a typical problem facing you, and yet you have
been articulate in expressing what you perceive are the challenges that lie
ahead, and for that, congratulations are in order! Without addressing those
issues just yet, I wanted to make you aware of a group of people who may
collectively and individually bewilling and able to help you solve some or
all of these issues. The group is called Boychoirmasters, a group of 33
people around the world, who have to deal with some of these challenges on a
daily basis. I think you might fit right in! Please let me know if you have
an interest and I will make the necessary arrangements for you.
Cordially,Douglas Neslund
California Boys' Choir (retired)
justusla(a)earthlink.netBoychoirmasters (Owner and Moderator)

-----------------------------------------------

Dear J.: You sound like you've been pretty well prepared for teaching vocal
music! Where did you do your degree?I have been teaching m.s. vocal music
for 4 years now, and have learned COMPLETELY from the ground up. I was not
as well educated on many of the matters facing this age group, and simply
had to learn on the job. That said, I must say that I have learned QUITE A
BIT!!! And, fortunately, we have received positive affirmation of that as
well (festival ratings, etc.). By the way, if you'd like to check out our
department, visit
www.nhusd.k12.ca.us/chavez/borges/department_of_vocal_music.html.
There is even a repertoire listing there from the last several years.
Perhaps it'd be of some assistance! Now for your questions:
I have generally stuck to 3-pt mixed/SAB (you probably know the difference,
but let me know if not) music with my 7/8 graders (although this year we
have begun doing very carefully selected SATB stuff), and SA music with my
6th graders. For the 7/8 kids, I had boys who sang Baritone and Alto. I have
never really had any problem with the name ("alto", "soprano", etc.)--but
the problem exists with their perception that the boys who are "most
developed" are baritones (or the lowest part, whatever you decide to call
it). They figure out VERY quickly that the lowest part is where the peer
pressure pushes them to be. Not sure why, but it does, whether, as you
mentioned, you call them 1s, 2s, and 3s, or S, A, B. In my 6th grade
classes,I have in years prior to this year called them 1s and 2s (and 1As
and 1Bs for divisi,etc.). However, this year I have simply called them
sopranos and altos, and none of them seem to care anyway. As 6th graders,
they can virtually ALL(one boy is an exception in 115 6th graders in my
choir) sing in their head voice. I also remind them that just because
they're singing the "soprano" part now, doesn't mean they're necessarily a
soprano (I like to joke that the smartest students sing alto because it's
the toughest--but just a joke!!!). Anyway, I have not found the boys to care
one way or the other--soprano/alto/tenor/bass. The 6th graders REALLY
don'tcare, because they don't rehearse or perform with the 7/8 graders
anyway. As I said, I think you will have a greater challenge defining the
higher male part as being just as masculine/manly/whatever they want to hear
as the lower male part. I should add that this year I have the 7/8 girls in
one period and the 7/8 boys in another. The girls sing S/A and the boys T/B
or just B if it's a 3 pt mixed/SAB piece. Additionally, labeling boys as
altos/sopranos is not,in my opinion, damaging. It hasn't discouraged ANY of
my boys from being in choir, and it has only reinforced the idea for them
that their voices move from the "girl" range of notes to a lower range. The
idea of who's moving when will be your biggest challenge.

I simply RARELY let them even belt, and they are constantly singing unison
passages or entire songs that consistently use the head range. This is a
MUST for repertoire selection. You cannot select repertoire the same way you
do with adults, period.

This is true, but there's a bit of a logistical problem to that(moving
around/and/or switching parts). Let me know if you ever find it TRULYworking
in the classroom, as it has not been my experience (but I may just not have
tried hard enough!).>

3 part mixed music often works very well for this age. You're
right,many/most of the 7/8 boys can sing the low F (or almost, and then just
have them leave out the notes they can't sing if they're too low, and are
being reinforced by the "lower" voices anyway). One problem to be aware of:
sometimes the tessitura can ride consistently at middle C/D, and this CAN BE
very hard on your "changed" boys. I often tell my boys to "carry eachother".
When one passage rides into the C, D, and E range, I remind the tenors to
"carry the baritones" through that (incidentally, I don't call them
basses--as I think they're not they're yet. conversely, when they're
younger, they literally ARE sopranos or altos in terms of range), and vice
versa. It usually works quite well, and they learn to work as a team also.
And you're right, there usually are at least a few boys (7/8)who are still,
basically, sopranos. However, I just have them sing the tenor/and/or
baritone part, and, again, leave out the notes they can't sing. Although
this doesn't always give them the chance to sing in their best range, it
DOES help them begin the transition to the lower notes. Additionally, the
bottom line is that you gotta make a choir out of them, and they need to
sound GOOD. So you do what works. That's it. And you're right--selection of
repertoire is a fine art. It is VERY difficult to find quality stuff that
really works. Go to reading sessions, pick up octavos at a sheet music
store, and keep searching. Finally, I would just like to let you know that
this issue of boys in middle school choir has always been a big one, and too
many people simply DON'T figure out what works. I have 35 7/8 boys and 47
7/8 girls. They sing alone(S(S)A, T(T)B) and together (3pt mixed, SAB,
SATB). As their voices change, for some, there are months where their voice
is in such a highpoint of change that they literally have NO falsetto at
all. However, the falsetto is usually there for almost all of them, and must
be exercised at this age (even for those lower-voiced boys, who think
they're hot). I've found that my boys even like to show off how high they
can sing (and I'm talking the ones whose voices have changed). Another thing
I've learned is that the average boy will have 10 times harder a time
singing on pitch in high school (say, as a freshman) if he doesn't sing
through jr. high/puberty. I have a high school choir at my church, and 100%
of the incoming freshman do NOT sing in jr. high. And, at the beginning of
the year, virtually 100% of them can't match pitch above an E or so below
middle C. Eventually, they make it, but what a loss!!! My middle school boys
can sing better than mine at church, simply because of PRACTICE. So make
sure they sing LOTS, in both high (falsetto, upto a girls' high C even!) and
low ranges, and that you are adaptive. Rearrange a voice part if you know
that all the boys you have singing "tenor" can't sing below an F and they're
supposed to sing unison with the lower voices. Be creative. Find what works.
But don't let them sing OUT OFTUNE!!! Seriously. They will know that they
sound bad, and that is the WORST thing any of us can do for these boys.

------------------------------------------------

I use traditional labeling. I find where a student's voice breaks (even if
it is very subtle). A break around B and C (octave above middle C) denotes
alto. Break around E-F (third above) denotes sopranos. I explain to all
about the traditional names and tell them they might switch from one part to
another depending on their vocal development. I also bringin lots of tapes
of boys singing (and soaring!) on soprano lines. For changing
voices...sometimes I'll take good 2-part literature and have the "new
baritones" sing an octave lower than the soprano line. Sometimes I'll refer
to them as cambiata voices (changing voices-Italian). It's hard to find good
SAB stuff...sometimes I re-write stuff. I also bring in a real baritone to
demonstrate where their voice will end up.

------------------------------------------------

Hi Jessica, I have been teaching middle school chorla music for 15 years,
and 6 years of elementary before that. I can tell you that from day to day,
the voices of middle school boys change. I have no problems labeling them as
alto or soprano, because we discuss in advance that boy sopranos and altos
are common at this age. I even had an 8th grade boy who sang a featured role
in "The Magic Flute" at the Met 2 yrs ago as a soprano, and now in the 10th
grade is a wonderful tenor. They know that it is a voice part, not a gender
thing. Having explored for my Master's thesis boys voices and many of the
theorists, I have found that once classified, they will know when they are
ready to change to the next lowest part, and it is then your job to check
and re-check so that their voices are not hurt. Sometimes, they only have
those 5 notes, some days, they are singing the alto part on one piece and
the baritone part on another. Some days you are lucky to get the part an
octave lower than it is writ!ten. I have found that the change is encouraged
by regular singing.

----------------------------------------------

Dear Jessica- Welcome to the Middle school world- you will have to make up
your own mind and you will try many solutions before you determine what is
"right" for your choir" You will also search many hours for music that suits
your group and will many times have to compose your own arrangement. As with
all choirs,much of the success of your program rests on the repertoire you
choose.Repertoire that is challenging enough for this age group is also
difficult to find. Many publishers in the quest to write "simple boys parts"
create music that is too easy for the choir intellectually and too low in
pitch for the girls, sopranos especially. ( Be cautious of music with a
soprano part that is never higher than d2) You will find that indeed you do
have true soprano(male and female) , alto (male and female), tenor, and bass
at this age as well as developing voices with no clear direction yet. It is
important to teach sight reading and harmony skills at any age. Check your
advanced treble literature- the second alto part is often identical with a
tenor part. I do caution against putting boys voices into tenor too early
-just because it is a "man's" part. If this boy is an unchanged soprano it
forces him to sing either at the lowest notes possible for his voice or
beyond where he can match pitch. - No voice part, SAT or B develops well if
the larynx is falsely depressed in an effort to match a low pitch. Also if
you have a true bass- the SAB literature often has them singing at the
highest parts of their voice which they cannot achieve for long periods of
time at this age of their vocal development. Just as it is causes tuning
problems etc to have soprano boys singing at the lowest part of their range,
it also causes problems to have the bass voice singing at its highest pitch.
Your first year of teaching will guide you. You may have to start with
someone else's system and adapt it to yours gradually. GOOD LUCK

-----------------------------------------

I taught middle school music (grades 5-9) for many years and faced much of
what you describe. I found that calling all young men 'cambiatas' and
labeling them 1 or 2 (or 3 sometimes) depending on whether they were hi or
lo, was readily accepted by them since the term has no pejorative
connotations. Cambiata 1 were those relatively unchanged male voices who
cover the rangeof a normal female sop/alto - (B-flat below middle 'c' to an
octave 'f'above). Cambiata 2 were those who were changing but could still
sing from about a 'g' below middle 'c' to an octave above. Cambiata 3 were
those young men who had lost the ability to shift well into their new voices
at about amiddle 'c' - you can hear the uneven thickness of the vocal folds
and cutting in and out of a sustained sound around that point. They still
had their head voices but refused to use them since they sounded so female.
These young men worked well as long as I kept them in about a one octave
note pitch range from low 'c' middle 'c'. By the end of the 8th grade, this
began to clear up. By 9th grade, almost every male voice had changed to
something more closely representing a limited tenor or baritone range. When
there were three parts, ALL FEMALES sang on the top -soprano or alto (and
you're right about trying to label them in grades 5-7. You can wait until
grade 8 to even think about it.) Cambiata 1 & 2 would cover what might be
designated in the score as 'alto'(just don't try to explain to the boys what
the REAL word means- just tell them 'alto' is an Italian term for the type
of voice they represent . The minute you mention the word 'high' it won't
make any diff to them whether this applied relationally to an all male group
500 years ago or not (alto meaning boys voices who were higher, NOT female
voices who were lower.) All they'll hear is that they are high voices males
and you DO NOT want to get into that bag of worms with that age group!
Unfortunately, the hard part comes in selecting repertoire. I found it
faster and better for my kids when I rearranged something or transposed it a
bit to keep all voices in their proper range. And I am perfectly willing to
discuss the legal merits of this as soon as publishers wake up and smell the
coffee for this age voice, but not until then. In the rearranged scores I
used the terms 'female' voice or 'male cambiata 1' (or 2 or 3) on the left
of the staves. No gender misunderstandings ever presented themselves as a
result. The REAL challenge was finding warmups - very hard to do since many
of the changing male voices were confined to about an octave range unless
they popped into head voice, which they hated to do. Best of luck to you!

---------------------------------------

I primarily teach boys in high school, but I also have an Eighth Grade
Chorus. In my training, I have studied the changing voice quite a bit and am
familiar with much of the work espoused by John Cooksey. He was one of
several presenters at a summer workshop at Southern Illinois University at
Edwardsville that I attended. Much of Cooksey's work is physically and
musically sound. This winter while attending the Missouri Music Educator's
Conference, I attended a workshop given by Henry Leck(Indianapolis
Children's Choirs). He had a new approach to the boy's changing voice.
Though very different from Cooksey, the demonstration was very effective and
convincing. I certainly hope during your search, you will include this novel
approach. It may prove to be another valid way. I hope you find a way that
will work for you and your students.

-----------------------------------------

I have 3 middle school choruses. In the largest mixed chorus, I have 13
boys, whose voices range from sop. to baritone. I use mostly 3-part mixed
voiced music, and have modified some of the parts for some of the boys. I
know the range of each boy, and customize his part for him, and then group
the boys in mini-sections. I never label them as Altos,Sops or Tenors. I
just call them the men's section.....they love that......and ask them to
sing WITH the altos on certain parts. I also praise them often, as they are
in the minority. The girls LOVE when the guys have a solo part, and cheer
them on. In my Mixed Ensemble, I have only 8 boys. Their voices are all in
the lower range, but once again, I modify the music to fit their needs. In
this group,we do choreography also, so it is a real challenge to get them to
sing and move at the same time! We just created a 6th grade chorus 3rd
quarter this year. My biggest problem with them is their immaturity. The
boys are usually the discipline problems. Their singing is good, when they
behave. I only have one boy who's voice has changed....the rest are still
sops, so right now we're only singing 2-part music at best. Much of it is
unison, as some students are still mastering staying on pitch! It has been a
real challenge. My own personal philosophy is that perhaps maybe it is best
to stick with gender- based choruses for the majority of students. I am
thinking of suggesting to my principal next year that we move to a
Girls'Chorus and a Boys' Chorus, and then a select Mixed Ensemble. That way
we could better accommodate the needs of every changing voice.

--------------------------------------

I would say that you have some very good ideas and are on the right track.
You are correct in saying that girls of this age all basically fall into the
same voice range and that giving them opporunities to sing the 1st and 2nd
part helps to develop them as musicians. A lot of the answer to your
question simply depends on the environment in which you are working. In my
middle school choir, it is actually a point of pride for the boys to sing
soprano - many have sung with ACDA events in the boychoirs and are proud of
it. Rather than trying to sing like men, they hang on to their soprano voice
as long as they can. I have alternately used designation by numbers (part 1,
2, etc.) and voice classification (soprano, alto...)depending on the mind
frame of the boys in the group. It is imperitave that you keep the guys
singing through the changing voice. Listen to them individually often and
help them understand their own voice and what is happening to it. Help them
take notice of the change and be able to adjust to it. I have had boys come
up to me almost on a weekly basis and say, "Mr. Wright, I think my voice has
changed somemore, would you listen to me?" I then listen to them and help
them adjust to the demands of the music. I would encourage you to be very
careful of three-part music. The boys part in this music is usually too high
for the baritones and too low for the cambiatas. I use four part music
designed for the changing voice as much as I can, or two part music. I also
do a LOT of re-arranging to make the music suitable to my specific needs.
Please don't try to force their voices to do something that is unnatural.
re-write the music or re-deistribute parts or have them not sing a section,
rather than force tone. Above all, make sure they understand what is
happening with their voices and help them deal with it. If they understand,
they will be more willing to participate - be it singing soprano or
baritone. This year I have boys singing all four parts - although sometimes
I beg my soprano boys to lend a hand to the alto or cambiata part from time
to time when it is something within their capabilities (believe me, some of
them do not want to leave that soprano part). Best wishes as you embark on
your career. You will find it very rewarding!

--------------------------------------

I think the idea of giving the 1, 2,&3 label is a good plan. It doesn't have
a stigma and the kids are usually open to it. I do it with my community
children's chorus and my church youth choir (both of them only sung 2 parts
and are younger, but it is never too young to get this idea). Since I am
usually the 1st vocal teacher my community group has had, there is no
problem. My Church Youth Choir is another story--most of them sing in the
local children's choir (my chorus is in a different community) and I have
had to convince them that singing "part 2" is okay. And you are right, when
you have more experience, you will know what is right for you and your
groups.

---------------------------------------

First of all, I want to tell you that I am not a voice teacher nor a
childrens or boys choir director but boy choirs are among my favorite genre
and I have had the pleasure of producing several concerts for a boys choir.
This has put me in a position to get to know the boys in the choirs and what
they think. The choirs that I have produced for are not church choirs but
community boy choirs, right here in the heartland of the good old USA that
sing in the SSAA area of the scale. One big difference that I can tell you
from church boy choirs and community boy choirs is that the latter tend to
be much larger groups then the former, very often approaching numbers like
85 to 250 boys in any particular organization. The church choir may have 11
to 30 boys tops. Thats quite a stunning difference and I think revealing
too. It demonstrates that boys, given the opportunity LOVE to sing. This is
hard work too. Some of the boys that I just produced for have their parents
drive them at least 1 hour each way to rehearsal twice a week. Now to your
exact question. DO boys mind be called sopranos or altos. Well, actually,
no. In fact, there are actually very few alto boys before the beginning of
voice change. It is really rare in fact to find a true boy alto...you know
it when you hear it though. Most altos are former sopranos that are cabiatta
(changing voice). The director of the choir that I recently worked with had
no qualms nor did the boys about being referred to as soprano or mezzos in
the case of second sopranos or altos 1 or altos 2. That has been my
experience with any of the boys that I have observed. In fact...many non
choir boys who have been in a position to observe any of these practices are
sort of envious of what they are seeing and hearing. See? It's all
perception of the activity. In the course of just watching them walk by on
the street, most boys would be un-impressed. Upon hearing the choristers
sing...now you have their attention. Often times, if I know the kid..he
wants me to tell him if he's a soprano or alto...I just refer him to the
director.... Bet he's a soprano though.

---------------------------------------

In my former high school teaching years, I frequently visited/helped the jr
high feeder programs. One director set up her choirs in this way: 7-grade
girls, 7-grade boys, 8-grade mixed, and 8-grade girls, surburban
school,large program. She placed the 7-grade boys in 3 sections at the
beginning of the year, depending on their range with the instructions that
if their voice ever felt strained or it hurt to sing in that part to let her
know, and she would re-listen to them. It's a great approach to the changing
voice, and was no problem to sit in a new section when change occurred,
unless it was around concert time, and she would ask them to wait until
after the concert. This also takes care of the self-consciousness and fear
of being a fool around girls. When 8th grade comes, they're ready to sing
with the girls, and they've been positively re-enforced throughout 7th grade
about the changing voice. A different feeder program had 7-grade choir with
combined boy/girl, placing the changed voices in the 8th grade mixed choir.
So that's an alternative. As for soprano/alto, you're on the right track.
Usually, the better readers get placed on alto, and remain there because
they can hear it. Working the upper range during warm-ups is a good way to
help them discover and/or keep the upper head voice. Hope these thoughts
help your process. Feel free to ask me questions if I've not been clear!

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Basically, you have the right approach "get them to sing correctly,
divide into several parts, call them part 1, 2, and 3 and let them
switch around as it suits them.
Often times, a three part arrangement you can take the 2nd "soprano"
part down an octave to get a harmony part that is not too low for the
changing voice.
John Cooksey has an excellent book on the changing voice and Kenneth
Phillips' Teaching kids to sing offers a framework. What is more
important is good posture, good breathing and lots of flexibility.
Feel free to re-arrange parts to fit your singers, transpose when you
need to, reinforce with a trio of clarinets, whatever to have the
music fit the students. Keep the singers, boys and girls, vocalizing
in their high voices and the low notes will develop substance.

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The booklet "Working with Adolescent Voices" by John M. Cooksey is available
from Concordia Publishing House at $9.00. It is an invaluable reference
thatprovides super answers to all of your questions!

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on January 27, 2005 10:00pm
I need ideas for encouraging 5th grade students to join our Middle School choir.
on December 8, 2006 10:00pm
Rachel,
I apologize for the erronious response. I had just read a number of responses to a different question and wrongly assumed that the "submit a response" was for the previous question. Best wishes on your query.
on December 8, 2006 10:00pm
I totally agree that boys and girls should sing parts that fit their voice ranges during the middle school/jr. high years. I have a seperate grade 6 chorus and a combined grade 7 & 8 chorus. In grade 6 we generally sing 2 part music. The grades 7&8 group sings mostly 3 part music (SAB, SAT, 3-pt mix). However, rather than using voice distinctions (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass) or voice parts (part 1, part 2, part 3), I divided my grade 6 students into 2 equal groups (with some boys in each) and the grades 7&8 chorus into 3 groups (all boys are generally in one group). Because our school mascot is the wildcat I then have each group vote on a specific wildcat name for their section. Therefore my sections in grade 6 this year are the cheetahs and the pumas. Each section sings part 1 (sop) on certain songs and part 2 (alto) on other selections. In the grades 7&8 chorus the 2 girls parts are called leopards and cougars (again, each part rotates the actual voice part being sung on each selection) and the guys are the panthers (they always sing the lowest part). I find that they really enjoy coming up with their own "identity." One other added benefit is that there are rarely any problems with switching between the alto and soprano parts since I do not use that terminology. One problem I do sometimes encounter is that boy who simply cannot sing the lower notes in certain songs. In these cases I have them either sing another part (typically alto) or have them sing a combination of the lower part (when it is in their vocal range) and then switch to the alto part when the notes get too low. I also have some boys who do not want to sing in the same section as the lower part because their voices have not dropped yet. The beauty of using the "wildcat" names is that these students can sing in a section that consistently sings a higher voice part which is more appropriate for their vocal range. The main goal for both the boys and girls is to have them using as much of their vocal range as possible and keeping them on voice parts that they can be successful singing. This leads to happier, healthier singers and the retention rate is generally much higher because of this.