Children's vocal range?
  • rogue63
    Posts: 410
    Suggestions for different age levels, anyone? The general music education press seems to think that children should frequently sing as low as D4, C4 and even lower, while keeping the upper limit at C5 or so. Justine Ward suggests starting at (in her words from Music First Year) "...about an A-flat", and then shows her suggested Vocal Exercise I, running from A4 up to Eb5 and back. These are two very different approaches, and Ward's makes a lot more sense to me. Any thoughts?
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Commercially available educational materials generally cater to the skill of the teacher, not the child. There's nothing about simple accompaniments with poor voice leading, for instance, that makes a song easier for children to sing. Look at some of the compositions for children by Benjamin Britten to see how one can write an accompaniment that is both sophisticated and practical. As for vocal range, I would say you can't go wrong between F and C. Until students have a command of the upper range (up to E, F, even G), I wouldn't let them sing anything that sits below the staff. That is, if you're interested in the long-term development of the voice. If you want to please teachers and parents, have them shout in unison on a low A.
  • Viva Voce at puts the kid's tessitura up where it belongs and you will hear the immediate results the first day.
  • from the perspective of an elementary music specialist: most of the material is pitched between d below the staff to d in the staff (treble clef). Older kids (10 -12) have tunes that might go up to F at the highest . . .

    but, one thing to remember about music in public schools - no one is turned away from the class, so materials are pitched in the range that is singable by "the majority" of the students that walk through your door. I have 620 students in my school and I don't get to choose who sings and who doesn't, so I find this range to be very "doable" by most of the students. If you can pick and choose your students then you may be able to go higher, but I probably wouldn't go much lower than middle c.

    just my $.02
  • ps., I've read about the Ward method, but the books seem to be out of print, and nobody I've talked to who is "in the biz", that is, certificated elementary music teachers, have ever heard of her (I've talked to many in my state at conventions and such). Without readily available materials, it's viability as a music curriculum is severely hampered. I would seriously look at the materials by Zoltan Kodaly if you are interested in vocal pedagogy at the elementary level. Orff is also good though it focuses a little more on instrumental musicianship.
  • rogue63
    Posts: 410
    All of Ward's method books are available as a free PDF download on the sidebar of the homepage of MusicaSacra. Just scroll down and look on the right side. I have also experienced that nearly no one has ever heard of her (except Richard Bunbury, who just wrote a dissertation on Ward---abstract available here
    Anyway, that doesn't deter me, since I teach in a Catholic school (although believe me, that's no guarantee of angelic little singers).

    P.S. A certificate in elementary music education is a meaningless scrap of papyrus; it conveys no information about its bearer other than that he was patient enough to sit through modern educational philosophy classes without slitting his own wrists in agony or hurling blunt objects at the lecturer. I will soon be a certified teacher, but learning the difference between the Proper and Ordinary or learning how to read neumes or discovering the great wealth of the Church's sacred music has had a much greater impact on my musical life than the teaching certificate.

    Incantu: interesting comment about catering to skill of the teacher. That would certainly explain the omnipresent silliness exemplified in music education product catalogs, as if the teachers themselves were bored to tears and needed bright colors and yapping dogs and hand puppets and scarves and all that just to stay awake. Your suggestions for range sound reasonable to me----the trick is getting those little boys to trust themselves to sing "that high". I can't quite imagine what possesses commercial composers/publishers to put out stuff written in a range that sounds so barky and hoarse. Maybe they know that quality doesn't matter? That Mom and Dad and Grandma are just thrilled to see Junior on the stage, squawking through his part?
  • This is a subject that is extremely close to my heart and at the same time stirs strong feelings within me. So, I shall strive to be kind, polite and civil while being bluntly forthright.

    I am a 52 year old professional musician (choirmaster, organist, violist, composer and TEACHER - both vocal and instrumental music as well as General Music,) with over 30 years of experience in all these fields. I was originally trained to sing by Sister's of Charity who taught the WARD METHOD and I remember it well. Later, I grew up in several extremely fine Anglican Men and Boy Choirs singing everything from plainsong chant to Brahms, Palestrina, Mozart, Kodaly, etc. I have known many music educators and teachers in primary, secondary and post school settings. I also know the text and materials that are in the "biz." Most of them are pure garbage! Published to make money off of an educational system which does not know how to teach vocal and General music.

    Most music teacher of the USA in primary and secondary schools have NO earthly clue as to how to teach children how to sing correctly and what their true and factual vocal range is. I do not mean to offend, I merely state what I and others have observed in 30 years.

    I have taught thousands of children from grades pre-K to 12. I have studied with Dr. Helen Kemp, Dr. Doreen Roa, and Sir David Willcocks and Sir Guest Guest of Cambridge University UK among many others. So, I assure you I KNOW this subject well! I have spent years in both research and practical experience.

    A child's vocal range is general divided into three categories. 1) Chest voice which is usually F3 or G3 to C4 middle "C" or D4. 2) Mid-Register is usually E4 to E5. And 3) Head Voice is usually E5 to high C6. Some overlapping is of course to be expected based on several factors like a child's muscular development. Also, a child's ethnic background plays an important role in range AND color. Generally speaking, children from Anglo backgrounds have a very slightly lighter color to their voice as oppose to children from Latin and other backgrounds. Children of African descent have stronger and slightly even more dark color to their voice; generally speaking. Slavic children seem to have both lighter and darker colors and strength levels to their voice. Much of all this about their voice is related to muscular development, genetics and environment. Oddly enough, choirmasters in Europe for over a thousand years have noticed this and that dark haired boys tend to have darker colored voices as opposed to lighter haired boys; generally speaking. Environment plays a role as well such as colder climates.

    Also, there are some people, including vocal teachers in the USA, that believe that children in grades K to 3 can not sing well or technically correct. This is simply NOT TRUE! I have had many children in this range sing as well as any boy or girl chorister in any European cathedral or choir school. All of my children start learning the "Alleluia" from the Exultate Jubilate by Mozart in grade 2 and they LOVE it! I am so sick and tired of the "dumbing down" of American children in all aspects of music in this country. They deserve better! And for those critics who say that children should sing "age appropriate music," I agree with them! I use Nursery and Folk Song with all my pre-K to 2nd grade students to help instill a love for singing; just like what Kodaly and Orff would expect in their day. But I do NOT expect children in grades 3 and upward to still be singing as their main diet, THIS OLD MAN! By the time children reach the 3rd grade, the musical high point of their life should not be "KUM BAH YAH" or "ON EAGLE'S WINGS."

    Again, I do not mean or intend to offend anyone. But its time to speak up and out and STOP the dumbing down the American vocal music scene. If a 5 or 6 year old Suzuki violin student can play and enjoy good quality music and even a piece by Vivaldi, then vocally why not the same. It's no wonder why congregations in this country either can't sing out or are afraid to and that's the subject for another thread.
  • rogue63
    Posts: 410
    Ken of Sarum,

    could you send me an e-mail? Thanks.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    I would be careful before suggesting, with or especially without scientific evidence to back it up that a child's race or ethnicity has an effect on their singing voice, although I do think culture certainly does. I remember reading a treatise on the boy's changing voice from the early 20th century which suggested that American boys' voices changed earlier than English boys because the former were "prone to ruckus play." National education system trends as well as cultural aesthetic ideals certainly play a role. The bottom line is, in most cases if you rehearse a song about a perfect fourth above where written, although some voices might get light and whispy toward the top, it will be nearly impossible for children to shout their way through. They will have to find a different way, likely the correct one.
  • Maureen
    Posts: 671
    It's well known that a person's language has some effect on the vocal quality, and I'm sure head shape, muscle shape, etc. does too. I'm sure there's a concatenation of other factors that can lead to some kind of "ethnic vocal difference" seeming to appear, or perhaps actually appearing. I know opera people love to go on and on about the characteristics of this or that nation. Shrug.

    Anyway, this is pretty interesting stuff about kids' vocal ranges. The thing that annoys me is that a lot of music teachers don't actually have the kids sing along with a piano or other live instrument, but only with recorded music. (Usually in some kind of horrible karaoke arrangement that would make the most perfect kids' choir on earth sound like crup.) Now that you mention it, though, they do seem to sing nowadays in a weird range, too.
  • @Rogue
    thanks for the info on the PDF files. Believe it or not, I don't have money in the budget to print out a bunch of PDF files for use in class . . . sad but true, and I certainly cannot teach classes walking around with a laptop in my hand . . . oh, the tragedy.

    I also know that the degree or certification by itself only amounts to what you implied. I've sat through hundreds of hours of "classes" that are mind numbing to the extreme and completely irrelevant to what I do on a daily basis ("Math Assessment in the Middle Level" anyone?). What I was inferring from my comment about the number of certificated teachers that I've talked to is that these are people who have been "in the trenches" for 10, 20, 30 years, and that with all of that "credentialed" experience, experience you would never get with out the certificate, the Ward method is still very obscure to the people teaching our children to sing.

    @Ken, thank you for your frank response to the posts in this thread. I entered the music education business with the goal of being a band director at the middle school level, even though I was a string player (double bass). My first job turned out to be teaching middle school Orchestra (yea!) and elementary general music (what in the world?). Over the years I gradually began to appreciate the elementary job more than I ever dreamed I would, and now I teach elementary general music full time. I will be the first to tell you that I have a lot to learn - what I would do to study with the people you have studied with, but alas, I am sure it will never happen. I learn on a daily basis how to teach singing to kids of all ages, races, socio-economic groupings and every other demographic we can come up with, and I have a lot to learn. What I can tell you is, I do my very best, I improve every year and that's about all I can offer. I don't dumb anything down, I don't have kids sing to karaoke tracks (i write all of my own arrangements) and if I could get away with an "Alleluia" without pissing off a bunch of parents, I'd have the kids sing that without a doubt.

    Anyhow, thanks for contributing to the discussion. I really liked your info on the 3 different ranges - I'm going to put some time into exploring that in class.
  • tdunbar
    Posts: 120
    There is an outline of the music curriculum at the Madeleine Choir School in Salt Lake City at:
  • AngelaRAngelaR
    Posts: 268

    I agree that our children should not be deprived of truly great music. However, the problem that I run into as a parochial school music teacher for a school that has not held a music teacher for longer than two or three years at a time (and I'm not sure how many were certified) is the lack of exposition to good music and technique. I can pick out quickly in classes the kids who come from musical families; they have the exposure, and they sing in tune even at a very young age. However, there are others who don't get anything except the pop and hip hop from the radio, and are utterly clueless how to use their voices.

    Also, it is true that it takes time developmentally for kids to develop a familiarity with how to place their voices according to different intervals. Half steps are much harder to place than thirds, and take much more work to tune in the beginning. My kindergardeners haven't been exposed to good music classes until this year, and so the idea even of matching pitch is entirely new to them.

    What frustrates me most of all is that I have some very talented kids in my classes, and I'm so strapped for time that I can't take an afternoon a week to build an auditioned school choir. I know we could do some really fine music with them, and they would want to do it. As it is, talented and challenged are all grouped together into a class, and I am forced to slow down and dumb down quite a bit so I can keep the majority of them on track. For harmony, singing rounds is as far as I've been able to get so far.

    I echo your sentiments about not withholding the truly great music from them, however. I went to a Pueri Cantores conference this summer, and was so happy to see that there is an international organization that holds the same viewpoint and is really doing something about it!

  • G
    Posts: 1,391
    There is a school of thought that as we as a species are becoming larger the average vocal apparatus is getting larger.
    And puberty, whether because of better nutrition, worse nutrition, or hormones in the food supply has on average come measurably earlier over the past half century, which surely is affecting the average vocal range.

    But I think the problem with the greatest impact on these matters, (and it is a problem, not a situation,) is the gradual coarsening of standards for popular singing, both as to range, ("belting" and using the chest ever higher,) and pitch.

    Being "pitchy" is now just a quirk, possibly unfortunate, but not enough to disqualify you from being a successful pop singer, (or even an "Idol,") where once decent intonation was a sine qua non.

    There was a car commercial a few years ago, (for Mitsubishi maybe?) that used to drive Himself crazy, until it became a joke, a young female voice singing "people everywhere just wanna, (or "gotta"?) be free" where the singer couldn't be bothered putting any expression into her singing; actually using the energy to form any consonants; or quite singing any pitch in particular.
    And I hear that "style" with increasing frequency amongst pop, rock and alternative singers, (and eight graders who want to be cantors ) -- utterly affectless, with novocaine diction and a cheerful indifference to pitch.

    It's going to be a long road back.....

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    When I started my first job at a Catholic school, I tested every child in each class (from 1st to 4th grades)and divided children into different groups, not necessarily telling them that one is the group who can match the pitch and the other who can't. and there's another in between, sometimes match. soemtimes don't....(I give each group a name, like sparrow, blue bird, cardinals..., )
    This is what I learned to do from Ward method. I know it sounds 'politically incorrect', but it worked. (actually when I think about it, it's not too bad, because I know schools divide children into different groups according to their reading ability too.) Most of the time the group who can match the pitch will sing, and the other listen. And I check on their individual singing once in a while, simply having them sing short echo singing. By the end of the school year, every single child was in the Cardinal, the group who can match pitches. (God bless little Francisco, I still remember him after 20 years, who was so eager to sing but sounded hopeless for a long time. But when he finally sang with a beautiful head voice, I was so happy and he was so happy.)
    I don't do dividing groups any more, but I try to give those who can't match pitches more listening opportunities, like send him to the board and point the words as we sing.

    If we keep the children who sing out of pitch sing all the time, they don't learn to sing in tune. They really need to learn to listen first.
  • Mr. Z
    Posts: 159
    Ken of Sarum.

    Spot on with common sense thrown in to boot.. Incantu, I would think that it is fairly obvious, at least in a broad general sense, that there are vocal different tonal characteristics inherent in the different ethic groups/races, tone color especially, just as people of different ages, gender, size make different sounds, no controversy there. That can be observed easily, no need for "empirical" research. I would say, to whatever extent this difference factors in, it comes more into play as the child gets older - probably, as well, fairly obvious.

    You may be quite right in suggestion culture/environment also plays a role in the sounds a singer produces.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    "and if I could get away with an "Alleluia" without pissing off a bunch of parents, I'd have the kids sing that without a doubt."

    When I was growing up, people were generally tolerant of religious music, as long as it was in a foreign language (e.g. Latin). Is that different now?
  • Mr. Z
    Posts: 159

    Historically, the vocal music of Western civilization is the music of the church, the important music, that is, and that is why it has been universally accepted within the realm of public school teaching. Of course, I realize this has been constricting along with people's brains and common sense, but overall, you should be on terra firma introducing this. One simple looks at a "Sister Act " to see a competition among schools depicted, including public, (to my best recollect) that are singing religious music, but as an academic exercise. So maybe an "Alleluiah" without stature might be questioned, but as to the pillars of Western music, I would have thought that argument had long been settled. Again, I am not presently teaching, so I am aware that those realities can adjust, but just to give some perspective.

    Also, I would think that this forum would frown upon PO'd as being an acceptable mode of expression.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,787
    Jam, I went to my state's ACDA conference this summer and found that the public-school choir directors are indeed using religious music along with secular music. It might be worthwhile to contact that organization to find out how to deal with the issue of religious music in public schools.

    There's probably some advance work required: e.g., mentioning religious music in official course descriptions; proposing a policy if the school doesn't have one; getting buy-in from officials; and communication with parents and students.
  • @Jam

    I've lived and taught in some areas where parents complained if there wasn't _enough_ religious music, and now I'm in an area where, due to the particular demographic of my schools boundries, religious music is frowned upon. The problem in this particular district is that there is no approved music currriculum, so if someone doesn't like what I program, i can't fall back on the argument that "the music has already been approved by the district so call them and complain." I have to be very careful, and as the new guy in the building, I don't want to step on any toes.

    @ Mr. Z - sorry if my potty mouth was offensive. It sometimes slips through. I wasn't cautioned by the official moderator of this forum however, so I assume I am under the radar.

    Your points on Western Music are surely correct. The only problem I've run into is a high population of parents who did not complete or take any college whatsoever, and therefore no nothing of the history of western music . . . music programs then become not only an education of the children, but an education of the parents as well, and when the government signs your paycheck, it is a tight rope to walk. anyhow, it's still the best job i've ever had, and the kids make it all worthwhile, so I keep showing up on a daily basis :-)
  • I apologize for my earlier rant and rave, but this is just one of thus subjects that is so dear to my heart. I am usually a very quiet, monastic, serene and mild mannered soul. Most always reluctant to enter into any conversation; even in print or on a blog. I guess I am getting more bold in my old age. LOL It is an absolute miracle that any music teacher, in any school, can get anything successfully accomplished these days with all the factions, parents, administrators and hoards of other problems and schedules facing us. Our hands have become tied in so many ways obvious and subtle!

    I promise you that the research I am others have done over the decades about ethnicity and vocal color, stamina and such is quite true (GENERALLY speaking). What is also extremely interesting to me, is to listen to recording of boy choirs going from now to the begin of recordings. There also seems to be two very odd and curious markers concerning vocal quality in recordings of boy choirs for example; World War I and World War II - before and after. If you listen very carefully, there seems to be an actual loss of innocence in the voice after major world wide cultural changes and upheavals. I have a 78 recording of the Boys of Temple Church in London and the the Boys Choir at Hereford Cathedral in UK before WW II and then afterwards. It is VERY striking in these two cases. Of course half of the boys are different (newbies). Most of these boys had been sent off to Canada. Girls, generally seem to show very little differences vocally and thus seem to be immune to these world wide social events. However, we all know that emotionally this is not true; children are affected regardless of their gender - they just show it in different ways.

    I am a student of the dark boy treble sound. I say this because many organist who manage to acquire church positions don't really trained boys correctly either; vocally speaking (the Adam's apple down and relaxed - master YAWNING first before singing)! I would recommend to you all to listen in / download the choral services from St, Thomas Episcopal Church - NYC. Dr. John Scott is the Music Director and he, like myself, was a student of Sir George Guest (St. John;s Chapel - Cambridge University - UK). It is one of THE finest boy choir in the world. Of course they don't have the great problems that many of us and especially teachers have in that they rehearse four hours every week, each student practices and plays an instrument and . . . well its just an exceptionally rare situation. But please, I urge you to listen / download a service and listen carefully. Its very revealing!

    @darth - I believe you are doing a wonderful job - you actually seem to care and there are those that don't. My beef is with the institutions that are suppose to be educating music education majors.

    Anyway, if I have said anything offensive, I deeply apologize. As one of my teachers once said to me, "Ken, the voice is NO playground!" For some time I have thought of writing a book of this subject - a compendium of knowledge on children's voices from many many different sources,teachers and choirmaster spanning centuries. Then again, I hate the idea of adding one more book to the already voluminous materials for us poor musician to digest.
  • AngelaRAngelaR
    Posts: 268

    No worries, I didn't take offense. I assumed you were talking about a different can of worms than that of a school music teacher. As it is, it spurred me on to look more carefully at my repertoire again, and I'm feeling a bit ambitious. I think I can teach one of my grades Cherubini's "Veni Jesu Amor Mi"; they already raised the bar last year when they sang "When Jesus Wept" by Billings last year at Ash Wednesday, and I think they can raise the bar again. All the other grades were jealous when they heard my third grade last year singing that round, and it helped spur them on to learn some harmony themselves!

  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,132
    Having come to this late in the discussion, most music for children written of late is kind of a lowest common denominator in terms of range. Having been around some of the same folks as Ken of Sarum (RSCM camps,etc), I gladly second the notion that children are way undercut in terms of ability and range.

    For me, there is no longer "music for children", its just "music sung by children". Opens the repertory up quite a bit.

    Lastly, if you are a male teacher, sing in their range, not yours. Develops the countertenor range really well. :)