Sunday, March 9, 2014

What to do when the 8th grade boys voices drop the octave and they want to live there!

I answered this question on the Choralnet forum.

The questioner is struggling with 8th grade boys whose voices have changed and who sing down the octave because it is comfortable.  These boys have been in his class since 6th grade, but when their voices change, they fall into this octave-dropping trap.  The writer of the question asked us to share some of the ways we deal with this issue.

Here is what I wrote:

I am in my 22nd year teaching middle school, and I had the same experience you described for years.  They never responded well when I would try to work with them in front of the girls during class, so I tried sectionals.   Sectionals helped a little, but finding a time was difficult.  I couldn't develop consistency due to scheduling issues.  I wasn't able to solve the problem for good until I started separating my classes by gender for the 7th grade year only.  

6th grade is mixed, and we sing only treble music.  8th grade is Mixed Choir SAB.  Doing the gender split in 7th grade makes 8th grade Mixed Choir much more successful!

Having a full year dedicated to teaching singing to the boys has given me the opportunity to address their vocal issues to the fullest.  We talk about it openly from day 1.  They are less embarrassed when they aren't with the girls and experimenting with their voices.  When they enter 7th grade in August, there aren't too many changed voices, but we still address the topic early in the year.  By January, more of their voices have dropped.  It's awesome to get to address this change as it occurs because I can help them understand what is happening "live", and, most importantly, I can help them avoid the muscle memory that comes when they drop and start singing down the octave all the time.  If we don't address that octave drop early and get them comfortable using falsetto and working to open up and support the upper range, it's very difficult to get them out of that dungeon.  I never have that issue now that I split them by gender in 7th grade, and it's awesome! 

Of course, you have to work carefully with your counselors and administrators to help make this happen, but we must always do that if we are to have a flourishing program regardless of way we would like to  split our classes.  It can be tricky if you have 85 girls and 30 boys (like I do), but for me, it is totally worth the lop-sided classes to get the opportunity to help these boys understand their voices and use them properly.  Your classroom management has to be awesome!  The truth is that I find 85 girls easier than 32 boys in terms of classroom management.  :)   ...But again....the benefits are amazing!

My 32 member 7th grade Men's Choir is going to the Large Group Performance Evaluation Adjudication next week, and they are singing beautiful T/B music really well.  They feel tremendous pride at being a Men's Ensemble.  They are a wonderful example to other boys.  As a result, the gender split has helped raise the number of boys who take choir exponentially.  Last year, I had too many boys in my 8th grade choir.  The balance was off because the girls couldn't keep up.  What a great problem to have in middle school!  That is not the norm, but I really believe that giving the boys a year with you in the classroom is critical and incredibly beneficial for a multitude of reasons...including the vocal issues you raised above as well as for recruiting.

Good luck!

Link to the first lesson in my Sight Singing program for Middle School

Get started today with S-Cubed and solve your Sight Singing issues while teaching your students so many things that will help them avoid lots of typical middle school singing traps...including boys who drop the octave!  It's more than just a sight singing program!  It is a teaching philosophy, choral method and it's FUN!


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