I am always at a loss for words with how many young boys are trained with a thin, straight tone because their choir master (plenty of whom have no idea about the voice) wants them to blend with the other kids. This week I thought I would leave you with some short videos this week to illustrate the way in which a young male voice can be healthily trained without having to sound like a choir boy.
The young male voice can, and I believe should be taught with free vibrato and should not be forced to sing with a straight tone in order to ‘blend’ with the rest of a choir. This can result in a lot of tension as the child may unconsciously lock or raise their larynx. The child should always be taught the fundamentals; a good posture, free vibrato, raised soft-palate free tongue, relaxed jaw, release (relaxed breath) followed by correct support (co-ordination of abdominal, back and rib muscles), an open throat and an ‘ng’ placement.
What is the ‘ng’ plaement?
The ‘ng’ placement is the area of the face or ‘mask’ that you feel a vibration in when you sing an ‘nggggggg’. It is the placement that allows singers to be heard over an orchestra. Imagine an open mouthed hum with the back of your tongue against the roof of your mouth. An easy way to sing the word ‘sing’ on a comfortable pitch. When you get to the ‘ng’ part of the word, keep your tongue where it is and keep humming.
Children have more than one register too
Children should also be taught that they have a head register (which they will mostly use for choir) and chest register (where they would normally speak). This will allow them to make the passagio connection at an earlier age. The head voice will prevent ‘yell singing’ and the chest voice will give them a bit more vocal depth.
In defense of choral singing
Some young singers enjoy choral music and would prefer the finer voice encouraged in choir singing and that is perfectly acceptable. My disclaimer here is that the choir master should always encourage a ‘silvery’, whole sound as a result of excellent technique rather than a thin, straight sound. This may involve bringing in a good voice teacher to work with the kids individually.
Gaten Matarazzo (Bring Him Home):
If we are coming from a purely protective stance here, I would agree that he has been encouraged to belt with too much pressure from around 2:34, however, I would argue that for the most part, this was a choice made by the singer. You can see throughout, particularly at 1:24-1:33 that he does have the mechanism of ‘head voice’, which is an extremely vital register for all children to learn. This is where the choral sound can come in handy.
You will also notice that the jaw motion is fairly relaxed, and the vowels are altered so that they benefit from the natural resonators of the face. For instance, the ‘i’ vowel as in ‘bring’ and ‘him’ are deep. They are not a wide ‘eeeee’ but a deep ‘iihhh’.
Joselito Canta: Granada
If you listen to Joselito, you can see the benefits of a traditional classical method on a young male voice. You will notice a tenorial quality through the upper parts of his voice as he moves to access a higher ‘head voice’ mechanism rather than pushing his chest voice up higher. Another example of how the young male singer can be encouraged, with good technique, to connect their bottom ‘chest voice’ (spoken) register to their top ‘head voice’ register.
Particularly at 1:59-2:01 you will notice that his “oh” vowel (as in “fiore”) is extremely noble. You can hear the “silver thread” of the ‘ng’ placement (which David L. Jones often refers to when quoting Kirsten Flagstad). The vowel has the space of a deep “ooooh” but the placement of a resonant “iiiihhh.”
Joshua Colley (If the World Only Knew):
At 13, young Mr. Colley has a fully connected voice that allows him to produce extreme power in his top notes. His vibrato is also extremely free. He has not been forced to recreate a thin, choral sound. As a result, the voice is blooming, natural and piercing.
Where is the choir boy sound?
These young voices have been protected due to an open throat technique. If you were to ask them to sing a pure “oooh” from top to bottom, you would hear a complete connection right through all the registers without any breaks. Any choir background they have will have allowed them to develop head voice for singing higher notes, which prevents them from ‘yelling’.
Do not confuse this with the tight, narrow, thin sound that a lot of choral singers are encouraged to use. If a child has a natural vibrato, then they should be encouraged to develop it rather than thin it out, as thinning it could result in too much muscular control from the neck area.
But why can they produce something larger?
With correct co-ordination, relaxed jaw (note Colley’s jaw is particularly relaxed) posture (tall spine) and vowel placement (pure placement), these boys have what most good choral singers have. On top of that, they have developed how to produce the ‘ng’ or ‘mask’ placement on top of their pure ‘oooh’ space.
Why are we analyzing their voices? Why not just let them be kids and sing?
When I stop seeing young singers with squeezed, tight voices as a result of having to sing on a high, locked larynx in choir, I will stop preaching on this topic. When dealing with kids, make sure you know exactly how vocal technique works. You are not ‘protecting’ their voices by making them sing on a thin, straight tone. You are also not helping them by telling them to ‘sing from the diaphragm‘. You can, however, help them by telling them to ‘breathe into their tummy’ as this encourages release of the diaphragm. But they need to be encouraged to sing from their lower abdominal area and they need to have good posture for everything to fall into place.
A child should also not be affraid to produce vibrato. Vibrato = a free voice. If they are clearly overdoing their vibrato (i.e. it is shaky and wobbly) then that is not a free vibrato. A kid should not be forced to sing straight tone if that is difficult for them. Similarly, if a child does not have a natural vibrato, they should not be forced to wobble their voice to gain a vibrato, it should come naturally and cherished when it does come.
Stop making young male singers sound like weaker versions of counter tenors (unless that is their calling) and start letting them sound like kids. Kids voices are meant to be piercing and powerful and can benefit from excellent technique. Let them use the full capacity of their instrument and make sure they learn how to use it correctly.
I still subscribe to David L. Jones’ opinion on this matter. Child voices need to be trained and coordinated correctly with absolutely no force before they can develop the piercing sound of the ‘ng’ placement.
Please refer to his article on protecting children’s voices for more information on the subject of teaching children.
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