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Basses singing octave lower

Hello All,
I'm working with a church youth choir (6-12) who regularly sings in SATB music.  Last year, there were many seniors who graduated, who really kept things on pitch and energized.  This is my first year working with the choir, and I inherited a great program, however, I have 2-3 basses that consistantly sing an octave lower than written.  They have been without some senior leadership - as the next larger class is the current sophmore group.  We have done several exercises in range and breath support - we do warm-ups each week, but I've still not figured out how to get those basses in the right range.  There are 6-7 of them (they don't all show up at the same time), and I've got half who will sing in the correct range & the other half who sing an octave lower.  The other week, I was asking them to sing octaves, and it was like they couldn't hear the difference between octaves.  I'm not sure if this is a range issue or a hearing issue.  Any ideas on how to correct this?
on April 26, 2014 5:33pm
Melissa, I expected others to provide good advice.  My rather limited experience is in children's opera, where I encountered the same problem.   One approach is to try to get all the males on the lower octave, then work it up scalewise in unison.    So you will be asking your better/higher boys to try to sing the lower octave, then lead all up ... use a simple vocal practice drill, like Do Re Mi, Re Mi Fa, Mi Fa Sol, Sol La Ti, Ti Re Do. 
on April 28, 2014 7:56am


Not knowing your exact situation it’s difficult to know exactly how to approach answering your question. How old are the boys, how long ago did they start the voice change process, etc.?

Having said that, two thoughts come to mind:
1. They are reveling in their new found low voice, and/or
2. They have not yet figured out how to get to the higher notes.

To answer the first possibility, I would suggest a combination of making sure they know that “real men can sing high notes, too” and giving them pieces that have low notes. You may consider trying a joint anthem with the youth and adult choirs so that the boys can hear adult men singing higher notes. I’m sure the Choralnet community will have more/better suggestions on this.

To answer the second possibility, there is a tug-of-war going on in every voice. The vocalis muscle within the vocal fold is in charge of register – chest voice when it is turned on (making a muscle) and falsetto (men) / head voice (women) when turned off. When it is turned on it shortens the vocal fold. The cricothyroid is in charge of pitch. As it contracts it lengthens the vocal fold thereby raising the pitch. In other words, each pulls in the direction opposite to the other. It could be that their cricothyroid is too weak to overcome the pull of the vocalis thereby limiting their ability to sing the higher notes. The answer to that is to incorporate falsetto exercises into your warm-up. I use a quick 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 falsetto exercise, rising by half-step, with the men in my choir. You can sing this on either an “oh” or an “ah.” One of my “pitch challenged” basses in my choir has dramatically improved his pitch since I started using it. I use this exercise with my men only although you could include your girls and ask for perfect blend to make sure the guys are truly singing falsetto. Another exercise you could use, also put in terms of blend, is to have all your singers sing an “oo” starting on the G above middle C and sing a two octave descending scale at a relatively slow tempo. Tell your guys to start in falsetto and bring that down as far as they are able before they gently move into their chest voice, and tell your women to drop out when it gets too low. You can also raise this one by half-step each time. This exercise will also let your basses explore and enjoy their low notes.

Good luck and let us know how things turn out.


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