This week we have been focusing on the importance of singing – and how we should make sure to provide enough quantity of singing in our lessons.
Now let’s talk about the quality of singing we should be fostering. In short, we must be teaching students to sing in their head voices. If you are unsure of the difference between head voice and chest voice, see this video.
Why head voice, not chest voice, should be taught to children:
- Head voice has a clearer, zinging, resonant tone, and has the potential of being more in tune.
- Head voice nurtures the young voice, since the beauty of the young voice is high.
- Chest voice tones tend to be breathy and do not have resonance. True resonant singing creates overtones.
- Chest voice limits range and styles.
- Chest voice can lead to vocal nodules (see physiology below).
Why head voice is often not taught:
- Teacher is uncomfortable with his/her own head voice and may feel vulnerable singing high. It’s easier to take the speaking voice into singing.
- Much music (yes, even children’s music!) is pitched too low.
- Pop culture doesn’t model the head voice.
When a person makes a sound, vocal folds (cords) vibrate against each other 100-400 times per second. When a person uses head voice, the vocal folds hit each other with less force and vibrate on the edges. With the chest voice, vocal folds hit each other head-on with more force and thicken, and can be damaging unless the person really supports correctly.
As a result, vocal nodules can form. Nodules are nodes which usually occur in women (men have thicker vocal folds). It can be treated with voice therapy (teaching proper breath support) and sometimes requires surgery.
Some ways to keep the kids singing in their head voices:
- Model head voice! Be aware of your singing – and speaking! – voice. Are you over-singing or over-speaking? Consider getting a headset microphone so you can sing and talk quietly. See this post about protecting your voice.
- Tell your students to limit yelling (i.e. cheerleading) and not to over-sing in a pop voice for long periods of time.
- I make a point to say, “I don’t like to yell; it’s bad for my voice.” (And when I have to call my kids for dinner, I use my “yodeling” voice – “Yoo hoo!” OK, when they were teenagers, they (and some of their friends) laughed at me…)
- Do not teach songs that go lower than Middle C. The natural range of children’s singing voices is between middle C and the C one octave higher.
- Stay away from pop songs, which encourage students to emulate their favorite pop singers (who are most likely singing in unhealthy ways). Tell them if they are going to sing with the radio to sing softly and don’t “belt” it out.
Oh no, if you can’t choose pop songs, then what will they sing? And the answer is: FOLK SONGS! They are catchy, fun to sing, and they don’t have a copyright! What’s not to love?! And what’s your favorite source for folk songs? bethsnotes.com! (OK, forgive me, I’m getting carried away…)
- “But my students are mumbling instead of singing.” OK, I know. Even some of the youngest students (especially boys) mumble in a low monotone. I will write more on this later, but suffice it to say: encourage students to “find their singing voices” instead of using their “talking voices.” Foster a safe and fun atmosphere in your class – where singing is fun, and no one will make fun of anyone else.
Famous people with nodules:
- I have gotten my information from the internet. Please forgive any errors.
- Also, a person who gets nodules is not necessarily singing “incorrectly,” but being a professional singer or talker can take its toll!
- Julie Andrews
- Kenny Rogers
- Rachael Ray
- Miley Cyrus
- Luciano Pavarotti
- Whitney Houston
- Matthew West
- John Mayer
- Margaret Cho (comedian)
- Justin Timberlake
- Mariah Carey
- Annie Lennox
- Rod Stewart
- Joni Mitchell
- Bette Midler
- Sarah Brightman
- Robert Plant
- Freddy Mercury
- Idina Menzel
- Amy Grant
- Linda Rondstadt
- Patty Loveless
- LeeAnn Rimes
- Kelly Clarkson
- Joss Stone
- Charlotte Church
- Steven Tyler (hemorrhage on his vocal cord)
- Stevie Nicks
- Bonnie Tyler
- Jordin Sparks
- Cyndi Lauper
- Hands-On Music – Lesson Writing Pointers
- Youtube video of what the singing voice sounds like with nodules
- Vocal Abuse in Children