When a bass sings an Octave too low
Thank you to everyone who replied. The responses are very helpful and
Here are the compilations:
I had the exact same experience and with some coaching expanded the
man's range greatly and got him singing on pitch. I would give it a try.
I have the same thing in my church choir. I just let him sing the lower
octave. I would think that getting him to sing would be the first thing and
then gradually try to get him to sing the notes as written. In my
experience, if they think they need to "fix" something immediately they tend
to not try. That's just my opinion. I'd try talking to him and get him
back in the choir first and then gradually make light suggestions later.
Justin W. Durham
By all means, do encourage him!! We've had a couple guys like that in our
gospel choir - it could happen anywhere from 15 to 65! They can learn to
find the right octave with a little work, and occasional reminders. I think
this starts in puberty - they don't know where their voice will come out,
and give up unless encouraged to keep trying. It might help to have a male
model the right notes - sometimes the female voice difference just adds to
Perhaps you could try a couple lessons, then have the other basses mentor
him. Good luck!
Judy L. Greenhill
I have a similar situation with a man who I inherited in my choir---a
wonderful guy who is also my librarian. He's in his 80's now.
When the bass part goes above the staff, he generally goes down, esp. if he
has to start a phrase up there. He can match the pitch in the correct octave
if I sing the pitch to him an octave higher. It works every time. Part of it
is due to an unawareness of the energy it takes to sing. It's easier to sing
low---one doesn't have to exert oneself down there. So breathing will be an
important exercise. Also yelling (a virile "Hey!" is a good one---have him
pretend that someone's stealing his car across the street). You can turn
that into an musical exercise---after he finds a pitch on, say D, he can go
down 5 steps ( or up) from there in a pattern.
Good luck, and if you hear any other good ideas, let us on the list know!
If your bass is singing the right pitch (even if it is an octave lower),
you're in good shape. I suspect that he is not experienced, so he:
1) isn't used to hearing his own voice except at the "speaking range"
2) doesn't have the support to maintain a comfort level at a higher octave
3) doesn't have the experience of having to blend in an ensemble.
If these are the case, then you can overcome them. Give
him some solo pieces (for practice at home and in lesson
with you) that use a higher range. They doesn't have to
be extremely high, but should be consistently above what
he's used to singing and in your "desired range."
Exercises for developing support (breath support) will
help tremendously. After that, the experience of singing
in ensemble (and getting used to singing in ensemble)
will help him progress.
I have experienced the same situation and, as long as
the singer can match pitch and is willing to work, the
problem is not insurmountable. Best of luck.
I have a new bass (mid 40's) who also sang an octave lower when he joined
choir. He wasn't used to singing in a higher octave, so just grumbled in
the sub-basement for a while. I worked with him for about 30 minutes, to
help him get used to the higher octave - which meant we started at the
octave he was in and worked our way up note by note. He just wasn't used to
hearing himself sing "that high". That and some basic breathing tips helped
a lot. He's now singing in the correct register.
Richard A.A. Larraga
I had a high school bass singer who sang an octave lower. He could sing
extremely low! The situation was different; this was while rehearsing "The
Wizard of Oz," and the following year, "The Music Man." I just re-wrote his
part so I could take advantage of his low notes. Everyone ooh-ed and ah-ed
to him about his wonderful low notes, so he ended up with a great deal more
confidence in himself. Meanwhile, we had a booming basso profundo!
I know that sacred music is different, but are you sure having one voice
doubling at the octave below is such a bad thing? If it is, do you have the
time to write out an alternate part for him? I'm not sure raising him up an
octave is fair, as people should sing at the ranges that are most
comfortable for them, which, I imagine, is why he drops the octave in the
first place. It seems to me that you have an asset, not a liability, but of
course, I don't have all the details. Best of luck.
That's hard to fix. He needs to sing LOUDER so that the pitch will raise.
We have one at church who sings soprano three octaves lower.
Work with him.
Approach it as an experiment that might help or might not. It could be an
ear that missed all the "readiness" periods as he was growing up, but can be
trained. It could be poor vocal habits that can be corrected. It could be
a voice that really does lie in that low register and has never been
exercised to stretch the range. (Which means you should look for Russian
I have helped such singers, however it will indeed take some individual
sessions. It is always a good idea to let a potential student know that you
cannot guarantee success, since it is the student who needs to have the
desire to learn, not the teacher to teach. Achieving vocal flexibility in
the upper range is definately possible, just as it is possible to achieve
improvement in all muscular and ligament flexibility throughout the body at
any age. A person's ability to hear pitches properly can also improve, but
I have found that hearing is not always constant. There are good days and
bad days. So when this singer is more comfortable accessing upper range
notes, and he can have more confidence in hearing the pitches, he will
improve. Help yourself, too, and seat him next to a singer with a good
focussed tone; he will hear pitch in his voice much easier than in a
I have 2 suggestions:
When you sing with him, as a woman, don't try to sing in the same octave --
always sing one (or two) octaves higher.
If he is singing an octave lowered than desired, have him sing a major scale
until he gets to the note you desire him to sing. (Sometimes basses like to
"grovel in the basement" of their voices, without realizing that it feels
different to sing in their higher register.)
Lynda A. Maccini Pavloff
While I personally have not had your issue, I have observed it through my
father. He is older also and when he joined an area community choir (not
mine -- he was afraid he could not keep up with the difficulty of music), he
too sang and octave lower than all the other basses. After getting over the
initial shock of being told he could not do that -- he had to work very hard
to stay in the correct range. Further, he just had to accept that certain
higher notes -- he just has to lip-synch. But after a while, his range did
increase and he is quite happy. It took about 2 years for all this to
occur. He still cannot sing above middle C - but on the other hand -- he is
dynamite on the low notes!
Actually - the Director of that choir did look for a few anthems with really
low notes for the Bass IIs and made a fuss over him in rehearsal because he
was the only one who could sing them -- the rest of the basses were no
Thank you again!
Webster Presbyterian Church
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