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No transistion between Falsetto and chest voice

I teach 7th and 8th grade. I have boys whose voice has completely changed, and grasp the concept of falsetto and head voice. They can do a head voice, and then totally drop an octave. It's as if they have no ability to sing the notes in between E two ledger lines above the bass staff, and the D on the third line. And that's where all 7th and 8th grade music falls for baritones.
 
Rather than... "Just let him sing an octave lower," what excercises or instruction can I give him to help him find this range. I've done calling, and I've done opening his tone with yawns.
Replies (5): Threaded | Chronological
on November 15, 2013 5:32pm
Try a hollow hoot like an owl from top to bottom, lightly.
Try light, but engaged with support, lip trills up and down.
Sighs from top to bottom. 
 
Check out Henry Leck's book on the changing voice as well as Helen Kemps videos on pitch matching and range exercises. Mrs. Kemp's use of ladder steps to help with matching pitch is life changing. 
on November 15, 2013 10:16pm
If we look at this anatomically, the vocalis muscle within the vocal fold is in charge of determining register. It is activated during chest voice and inactive during falsetto.  The cricothyroid is in charge of determining pitch. It does so by stretching the vocal folds by varying degrees. The longer the vocal fold the higher the pitch. The vocalis and the cricothyroid are complementary muscles in that they pull against each other in opposite directions.
 
From your question, it sounds like the vocalis is fully in charge in the low register when the cricothyroid has little pull, and the cricothyroid is fully in charge in the head voice or falsetto when the vocalis has little pull. The problem is the area in between where the tug-of-war between the two is in full swing. Caught in the middle of all this are the interarytenoids which are in charge of keeping the vocal folds together when phonating. Any pull from either the vocalis or the cricothyroid is directed toward keeping the interarytenoids from doing their job.
 
Each of these muscles is relatively weak at your singers’ age and each need to be strengthened before they can work efficiently enough to balance each other.

In order to strengthen the vocalis, have your singers sing sustained chest voice notes. Once you hear the voices begin to strengthen you can have them sing ascending-descending 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, etc. which will begin to equalize the tug-of-war. In order to strengthen the cricothyroid, have your singers sing 5-note ascending-descending scales in falsetto. In order to strengthen the interarytenoids, have them sing staccato passages on one-note or 1-3-5-3-1 patterns ascending by half-step.
 
These exercises need to be done every day. Tell your boys that these are vocal weight-lifting exercises, which they are in a sense, if they balk.
 
Good luck, and let me know how they come out.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on November 16, 2013 5:48am
This is not uncommon with boys developing voices. As Ray noted, this is a physical development problem that will resolve over time with some work - the important thing is to keep these boys singing comfortably, and to help them understand that the issue is one of physical development.  I used to tell my middle school boys it's analogous to when they have those growth spurts and all of a sudden a very physically coordinated adolescent suddenly finds themselves completely uncoordinated because their brains and bodies haven't had a chance to catch up yet. 
 
Knowing about boy's vocal development and teaching them about their vocal development will help them understand what is going on.  I also agree wtih Chris  on the Henry Leck video. I found that if I kept the boys singing in the upper register and sing descending 5 note scales, and keep the air going, but lighten up on the technique and sound as they go over that shift that it helped them negotiate through this. As Ray noted, the voice is weak at this one spot, so it shouldn't be stressed, but rather, developed through specific exercises. The boys need to be reassured that it will pass.
 
Finally, repertoire selection is really important. Try to find music that fits what they are able to sing comfortable rather than allow them to get frustrated singing music that they struggle with vocally. 
on November 19, 2013 8:57am
Thanks for all the help. And thank you, Ray, for the insight on the anatomy of the situation. I'll stay the course.
on November 20, 2013 8:33am
Sometimes you can't do anything about this--it passes with time.  I find that the main thing is to assure them that this phenomenon is a normal stage many boys go through.  I continue to teach good HABITS (good posture and breathing, musicianship, etc.) with whatever notes they are able to sing that particular day.  It can be frustrating not to be able to produce the "product" you want at a given time, but I think this focus on the process of singing is better in the long run.
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