Alan Davis from Portland, OR writes:

How would you approach working with a 9th grade girl, in beginning choir, that has a very small and low range?
Here are a few factors to consider:
1) This is the second year (having sung in eighth grade) that this girl has been singing.
2) She does not have any medical vocal “issues.”
3) She speaks in a lower register than is found in MOST 9th grade girls.
4) Her tone is breathy, in speaking and in singing.
5) She is really passionate about music and loves singing, but she gets frustrated with her voice and range.
So, how would you approach working with such a voice?

My answer

  • Breathiness
    • This is a result of the vocal folds not coming together all the way.
    • In adolescent girls, this comes from what is called the “mutational chink”, or developing interarytenoid muscles that don’t close the vocal folds completely, leaving a small space during vibration.
    • Adolescent girls have very developed thyroarytenoid muscles (the ones responsible for the chest register), and a developing cricothyroid (the ones that elongate the folds for higher pitch singing), also resulting in breathy tone.
    • This remains that way until about 14-16 years of age. Your student make be
    • Some exercises that work for this would involve glottal stop sounds, involving works that are staccato and start with vowels, to bring the folds together.
  • Focusing the tone through nasality
    • “Minging” exercises do a nice job in moving the sound high and forward.
    • Be sure the student is producing the tone without joining the soft palate and back of the tongue. That would not be the kind of nasality we want. That kind of nasality is called “nasalance” and it’s no good. To check to make sure this is not happening, have the singer hold her nose. If she’s not able to produce a sound (or breathe for that manner) she needs to lift the soft palate and lower the tongue, creating a more space in the back of the throat.
  • Upper register (cricothyroid) exercises 
    • For the upper register. I prefer “hooting” like an owl to access a healthy head tone. I also do a Mrs. Doubtfire impression  and have the kids imitate me, if they forget what that head tone is supposed to sound or feel like.
  • Pitch level of speaking,
    • Have the child read some sentences in an overly excited manner, or in as if she were a an announcer for a sports game or three-ring circus. The overly exaggerated tone will likely raise her voice to the appropriate speaking level and allow her to move into an more forward and resonant tone.

Give these exercises a try and see what kind of results you get! Hopefully she’ll begin to feel accomplished and you’ll see a boost in her morale!

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