Music education website


Breathing, Vocal Ranges

Posted on September 11, 2011 at 3:10 PM

Teaching at a boys' school means I'm regularly dealing with voice changes. Having shown my 5th and 6th grade boys how singing is an immediate way to connect to music in the "real world" (whether singing in the shower, singing for fun with family, karaoke, at a religious institution, a community choir, the National Anthem at a ball game...) it is important to see the voice as an instrument. We started with breathing. An exercise I use is one a singing friend of mine shared with me - the boys lie on their back, knees bent, and breathe in by "inflating the balloon" of their stomachs - that helps them understand how the diaphragm is in charge, not the shoulders. I usually mention something about filling the lungs from the bottom first (like a jug under a running tap). We’ll then stand this up and make it part of our regular warm up.

I try and check voice ranges about three times a year – or whenever I hear a change – and have tried different, time-efficient ways to determine vocal ranges. As in years past, this year, I’ve had the boys say “hi, my name is [their name]”, then do it again in slow motion. This usually provides a fairly accurate placement of their low-end. In contrast to other years, I tried a similar thing for their upper range, but had them glissando up to a note they feel comfortable singing. When they reach that note, the say “hi my name is [their name]” at high speed. The boys seemed to find this entertaining enough. Some maneuvering was necessary, but it has proved a pretty reliable method. I also showed the boys where their voices “fit” (I use Treble, Cambiata 1, Cambiata 2 and Baritone). The range chart is available as a download on the “Assignments and Handouts” page.

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