Working with children’s voices – Part 2

Weekly Teaching Tip – March 13, 2017
by Piotr Markowski

A lot of children between the ages of 12 and 15 signed up for my classes recently. They started their career as vocalists in the same children’s choir. Each and every one of them came to me with a specific goal – to learn a different kind of singing than what they were taught before. What they had in mind was popular music. I was surprised by the amount of errors they made. I assumed, since they had experience with choir singing, they would have mastered the higher notes at least. As it turned out, their higher notes were really bad, backwards. The culprit – their teacher – insisted such notes must be produced with larynx as low as possible, tensed soft palate and used a lot of support (all of which required tremendous effort). Lower notes were no less problematic, as the teacher paid them no heed. He basically ignored everything between C4 and G4 (sadly, a common problem among choir supervisors). As a result, the children tensed their entire bodies too much, had high larynxes (producing nasal sound), uttered vowels incorrectly etc. All exercises involving higher notes ended with their voices breaking and coming to the back. Since my students have never felt such notes in different areas, this sort of reaction was not only automatic, but also one that felt “natural” (sic!). How did I cope with that? For starters, I gave up on fixing the larynx. In case of my students, lowering the larynx was associated with elevating the soft palate even higher, which deepened the problem. Heavy upper jaw and loose lower jaw – YES. I needed to find something in their voices that sounded good. As it turned out, they found it easy to perform glissando from bottom to top (imitating the siren). This became the basis for our exercises. The sensation helped my students realize they didn’t need more support, and taught them that trying too hard might bring them more harm than good. Moreover, and more importantly, it enabled them to feel sounds at the right places. Their progress was slow at first, with little dynamics. The effect was quite good. Their vocal cords began to function properly, and their external muscles gradually stopped interfering. We’ve done a lot of „zzz” and „zeee” exercises. All in all, this method put an end to excessive support.☺ I would like to underline the positive influence of thinking about loose tongue and heavy lower jaw. My students’ vowels may not have been perfect, but they were coming out okay.

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