The Adolescent Singer
When teaching middle school or high school choir, most schools take part in some kind of vocal solo contest or festival. Many young music teachers have not been taught about the special needs of adolescents in singing. Basic vocal pedagogy courses and texts focus primarily on the training of collegiate/adult voices, and elementary music courses focus on young singers. Often missing in the curriculum is discussion of the physiology and unique needs of adolescents. Care and training of the adolescent voice is of utmost importance. Teaching proper vocal habits will give singers healthy technique and the ability to better negotiate the voice change. Helping students understand that what they are going through is perfectly normal will help them continue to enjoy singing.
WORKING WITH ADOLESCENT SINGERS
Tell the student to “Sing quietly” or “just mouth the words”
“Hide” the changing voices
Encourage students to continue singing through the change
Provide support and instruction
Monitor vocal changes
TEACH THEM ABOUT THEIR VOCAL CHANGES
- Change is normal during puberty
- Range may be smaller for a while, or a hole may develop – this is normal
- Music can be adjusted to fit the changes
PHYSIOLOGICAL CHANGES IN ADOLESCENT MALES
- The onset of puberty begins around ages 12-14.
- Speaking voice descends first,
- The larynx grows about 10mm (that is a lot!) and the voice may drop an octave.
- Breaks in voice may occur – this is embarrassing, but NORMAL.
Male Voice Change Events
- Voice drops to bass range very quickly, leaving no treble range
- Voice lowers gradually while retaining the treble range
- Voice retains treble range, adds pitches in the bass range but is incapable of singing in the middle range
- Voice retains treble quality and may also comfortably sing in baritone range (rare)
PHYSIOLOGICAL CHANGES IN ADOLESCENT FEMALES
- The onset of puberty begins around ages 10-13.
- Speaking voice lowers 1-2 steps.
- The larynx grows about 3-4 mm.
Female Voice Change Events
- Increased breathiness, huskiness, hoarseness
- Insecurity of pitch
- Voice may crack, and register breaks are noticeable
- Decreased and inconsistent pitch range
ADOLESCENT VOICE TRAINING
- Keep exercises simple, beginning with slides, triadic figures, and five-note scales; expanding to an octave.
- Use all vowels, starting the vocalese in light mechanism, working down easily into the heavy mechanism at moderate dynamic levels.
- Moderate tempo is advisable, and melismatic exercises must not be executed too fast.
- Work for clean onset (avoid glottal attacks)
- Watch breathing for signs of outward tension (shoulders, neck)
- Watch articulators (jaw, tongue) for any visible tension
- Work for ease of production in the entire body
- Work for ease of production.
- Remain in a comfortable tessitura at all times.
- Sing at a moderate level to avoid strain.
- Do not allow a forced belt voice, or falsetto pushed too low.
- Concentrate on building basic technique first (posture, breathing, articulation, resonation), and diction.
- Explore registers, but do not weave in and out of different registers suddenly and expect to blend them until the voice has settled.
- Avoid range extension until basic technique has been established—work on developing the middle voice first.
- Take breaks from singing during lessons, and use that time to teach other things such as music literacy, expression, and performance presentation.
- Encourage healthy use of voice in daily life.
- Look for songs with appropriate tessitura and range. Use optional notes to avoid strain.
- Choose short songs that are tuneful and contain shorter overall phrase lengths.
- Avoid songs with awkward interval leaps and rhythms.
- Avoid melismatic settings on sustained vowels; syllabic texts with moderate tempo work best.
- Piano textures should be light and double the melody when possible to support the singer.
- Texts should interest the singer and be in a language the student understands.
- Suggested literature may include, but not be limited to folk songs, hymns, collections for young singers. The Brilee Publishing series for changing voices is quite good. Hal Leonard and Alfred Publishing have pages dedicated to literature for adolescent singers. (see links below)
RESOURCES FOR TEACHING ADOLESCENT SINGERS
- Williams, Jenevora. Teaching Singing to Children and Young Adults. Oxford, England: Compton Publishing, 2019.
- Phillips, Kenneth. Teaching Kids to Sing. 2nd Edition. Cengage Learning, 2013.
- Gackle, Lynn. Finding Ophelia’s Voice: Opening Ophelia’s Heart. Heritage Music Press, 2011.
- Freer, Patrick. Success for Adolescent Singers (3 DVD Set). The 3rd DVD discusses changing voices.
RESOURCES FOR PURCHASING VOCAL SOLOS
Hal Leonard Publishing has online catalog pages for Teen’s and Children’s Vocal Music. This is a great resource for literature – includes classical and musical theatre. Many books offer online audio resources – be sure to check the book description before purchasing to make sure you have the online resources if needed.
Alfred Publishing also has online pages for vocal music. However, there is not a special page for adolescent voices.
Brilee Publishing specializes in music for changing voices. Their collections include pieces by popular choral composers who write for adolescent choirs.
SELECT LIST OF VOCAL COLLECTIONS FOR ADOLESCENT SINGERS
15 Easy Folk Song Arrangements, high/low voice. Hal Leonard Publishing.
American Folksongs & Spirituals: 75 Songs of the American Heritage, Hal Leonard Publishing – A good, inexpensive collection for the young beginner.
Folk Songs for Solo Singers, Vol. 1 & 2 (compiled and edited by Jay Althouse), Alfred Publishing – Vol. 2 is better for young men. Available in medium-high and medium-low. I find the high key book too high for young singers.
International Folk Songs for Solo Singers (compiled and edited by Jay Althouse), Alfred Publishing. – Good selections for more “mentally” mature singers
Ready to Sing Folk Songs…(compiled and edited by Jay Althouse), Alfred Publishing. – Includes reproducible song sheets. Good for beginners. Includes some of the same songs as Folk Songs for Singers, but easier with a more moderate range.
Easy Songs for Beginning Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Tenor, Baritone/Bass – This collection includes art songs, folk songs, spirituals, and vintage popular songs. For middle school and younger.
The First Book of Solos for….Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano/Alto, Tenor, Bass/Baritone (compiled by Joan Frey Boytim) Hal Leonard Publishing. A collection of art songs in English, Italian, German, French and Spanish. For high school and college.
Hymn Solos for All Seasons (arr. by William Cutter), Alfred Publishing. 10 hymn arrangements.
Pathways of Song, Vol. I, II, III, & IV, (compiled and edited by Frank LaForge & Will Earhart) Warner Brothers Publications, Inc. A Best of Pathways collection is also available.
Popular Solos for Young Singers, Hal Leonard Publishing. – Includes traditional favorites.
MUSICAL THEATRE SONGS
21st Century Musicals for Teens, young women’s/men’s edition. Hal Leonard Publishing. Online audio is available.
Broadway for Teens, young women’s/men’s edition, (compiled by Louise Lerch), Hal Leonard Publishing.
Broadway Junior Songbook, young women’s/men’s edition, Hal Leonard Publishing. Modified arrangements for middle school.
Broadway Junior Collection, musicals edited and modified for middle school performances.
First Book of Broadway Solos, Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Tenor and Baritone editions (compiled by Joan Boytim), Hal Leonard Publishing.
Musical Theatre Anthology for Teens, Young Women/Young Men’s Editions, (compiled by Louise Lerch), Hal Leonard Publishing. – Excellent theatrical collection of songs for teens.
Teen’s Musical Theatre Collection, young women/young men’s editions. (compiled by Louise Lerch), Hal Leonard Publishing. – Another excellent resource of musical theatre literature.