FACTS: The Grass is Green, Two Plus Two Equals Four, and Best of All — Boys in Fifth Grade Sing High!

  By: Patti Bjornson         

           Yesterday, I planned a quick vocal assessment with my fifth grade students.  A few boys in the classroom “rolled” their eyes with the anticipation of the task.  These boys usually have wonderful attitudes and participation toward all music activities, but I noticed over the last few weeks that they were struggling with wanting to sing lower than the girls.  I knew it was time to give my “famous speech!”  In short, I basically told the boys that physiologically their bodies were still designed to sing like a child and not like a man.  I stated, “It was a scientific fact just like the grass is green and two plus two equals four, a boy’s voice sings high.”  Furthermore, I swayed them that any person who teases a boy for singing like a girl is simply uneducated on this topic.  For the majority of my boys who have developed proper singing voices in the primary grades, this speech (along with some quick and simple vocal explorations of high tones) works, and they produce in my opinion one of the most beautiful sounds ever heard – young boys singing in their head voice.  A college student who observed this discussion in my fifth grade music class told me that he was going to quote me on Facebook.  He liked my comment.  This future music educator led me to reflect more about the topic of singing in tune with my students.  I am dedicated toward all my students successfully “singing alone and with others,” which is a National Standard in Music.  This blog entry will discuss effective strategies that I have employed toward this goal.

            First, as a music educator, we must understand the development of a young child’s voice.  Their range is different from ours.  Students in the primary grades have a small range and find difficulty singing low notes.  A note around f and g above middle C is a great place to start.  It is not until third through sixth grade that students can sing low notes below middle C and sing high notes above c’.  Music educators need to start with songs that have two to three pitches.  Songs with the Kodaly tones of sol, mi, and la are age appropriate and provide success.  Teachers should alter notes in songs when the range is not favorable for young voices.  Meanwhile, we can challenge our more developed singers to go higher and continue to develop their head voices.  The article, “Elementary School Children’s Vocal Range” by Sylvesta Wassum in the Journal of Research in Music Education provides two informative tables on the vocal ranges of students from the first through sixth grades.

            Second, music educators should teach and correct singing in the early grades.  Many students enter school with limited exposure to music.  Others have been silenced by their parents who haven’t wanted to hear them sing or been teased or laughed at by a sibling or classmate when the child has attempted to sing.  In other cases, a student may simply lack confidence or motivation to sing.  This could be combined with the need to develop breath support.  These situations can be overcome easily by providing a safe encouraging atmosphere in the music room.  Basic techniques with posture, breath control and vocal warm ups can assist these developing voices.  Several practical examples are included in the Janice Smith’s 2006 Music Educators Journal article titled “Every Child a Singer:  Techniques for Assisting Developing Singers.”  This article even walks through specialized situations such as auditory processing difficulties, hearing impairments, and other physical problems.  Smith ends her article with numerous remediation techniques for students who need more individualized attention to be a successful singer.  I recently found success with one of my first graders by not requiring him to match my pitch.  I made myself match his pitch.  This young boy now understands what it sounds like and feels like to match a pitch.  His range is still limited, but he is having success with a few tones.  His smile and confidence assures me we will continue on a wonderful musical journey this year.

            “Singing is the most basic musical expression…beyond that, singing—like all music—can be a source of joy, comfort, and emotional sensation.  Singing is the birthright of every child with a normal speaking voice” (Smith, 2006).  Music educators need to stay committed to the fact that all children can learn to sing.  I will continue to learn more about the development of children’s singing voices and good strategies to teach primary and intermediate voices.  By continued research, I can add more to my “famous speech” to future fifth grade boys.  I can tell them that they should sing like the “Bee Gees,” and I can play famous recordings of the Vienna Boys Choir.  Boys can be proud that their voices are preferred to women’s voices in some cathedral settings.  Their voices are unique, and they can take pride and use them wisely (Stene, 1969).

References:

Stene, E.J., There are No Monotones,  Music Educators Journal, (Volume55, Pages 46-121)    

Smith, J., Every Child a Singer: Techniques for Assisting Developing Singers,  Music Educators Journal, (Volume 93, Pages 28-34)

Wassum, S., Elementary School Children’s Vocal Range,  Journal of Research in Music Education, (Volume 27, Pages214-226)

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie K.
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 03:35:57

    I am a new choral director, and I found this post very interesting. It is a rare occasion when I require a student to sing alone, especially if the student is male. However, I often give students opportunities to sing by themselves in my general music classes, if they choose to. A few days ago, I asked for student volunteers to sing a solo during music class. I was surprised to see both girl and boy hands raised. I was even more surprised when the two boys I selected sang on pitch with beautiful, high voices! I made sure to complement their voices and mention how impressed I was. They seemed pleased with my praise, but I realize now that your “speech” might be a good one to have on standby. For one thing, I think all choral directors and music teachers fight the stereotype that it is “uncool” for boys to sing.

    I found your second point very interesting, and I would like to add to it. While it is true that some students do enter school with a limited exposure to music, other students enter school having been exposed to “bad” music or “bad” singers. What I mean when I use the term “bad” is an example that teaches our students the opposite of what they should actually be doing. One of the biggest mistakes I hear as a result of these bad examples is scooping or sliding into pitches. Even young children with limited ranges have a tendency to do this because they have heard “pop” singers or their favorite cartoon or animated character do it. Another big mistake more common to males is that of scream-singing. While there are “good” examples out there, even for boys, they might not be the singers our students choose to listen to. Because of such examples, teachers really do to have to “correct” singing in young children.

    I really appreciate this post and your dedication to young male voices. You have made me more aware of the situation, and I will now be better equipped and prepared to address the issue in the future. I believe that we can help our young males learn to use their voices correctly and enjoy singing while doing so.

    Reply

    • patti b.
      Dec 05, 2011 @ 04:19:06

      Yes! The articles I read on singing did talk about the development of bad habits in singing as well! You are correct! We must provide a good model of singing for our students. I have recently been more careful about the use of my chest voice too. Students will mimic me, and I believe that they should sing in the head voice. Another thing that the articles that I read mentioned (that I left out of this blog) is that matching the human voice is better for students than matching an instrument such as the piano.

      Reply

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