Training the young male voice
Updated: Mar 1, 2019
There's nothing scarier, I suppose, than training the young male voice. More specifically, the young male voice in the midst of the change. While I can see why it could be daunting, there are many other adjectives I would use to describe this work: exciting, methodical, guided, and revelatory. I suppose I was very lucky, in that my first student was my son, Dillon. I will always be grateful to him for all that he has taught me both as a mother, and as a teacher.
My, very unexpected, teaching career began in 2006 when my son and I were cast in a production of the Beauty and the Beast with the Addison-Penzak JCC, at the Heritage Theater. Prior to that, I never saw myself as a teacher, or had any interest in teaching voice, whatsoever. After Dillon was cast as LeFou at the young age of 11, I felt it necessary to show him a few tips on how to use his voice properly so that he wouldn't get hurt. After all, this was a role for an adult male and Dillon's voice hadn't changed yet. He had a beautiful boy soprano voice that I had to make work as LeFou, with the aid of little transposition. The minute I started to work with him I knew what I had to do and, to my surprise, I enjoyed the work immensely. I credit my instincts to my difficult journey as a singer, and all that I had to do just to find my voice. I'm also a 'systems' person, so I naturally fell into a systematic approach for training the voice. Dillon became my first full-time student, and as I continued to work with him I experienced my first male voice change. Since then, I've worked with many young male voices in my private studio, and guided them all through the change, successfully. Here are some tips which I hope will help anyone embarking on this work.
-Don't panic and trust your ears
-Look out for the obvious signs: a sudden drop and deepening of the speaking voice, accompanied by cracks and squeaks
-Show excitement for the change and the world of new possibilities that it will open up for him
-This is a stressful time for any young male, so assure him that all will be well
-Use methodical and careful scale work to determine how the voice is changing, and where the new extremes (high and lows) of the voice are, in order to avoid going beyond those. This will continue to change until his voice finally settles, so it's important to document these changes in every lesson
-More importantly, use this methodical scale work to establish where his new middle register is, since this is where you'll now rebuild his new foundation
-Be sure to guide your student through his new range by determining what his new low, middle and high registers are, once his voice has finally settled
-Even after the voice has settled, nothing is set in stone. The voice will reveal to you where it wants to go from there, as you continue to train it. Keeping your student in a comfortable place is far wiser than being in a hurry to classify his newly changed voice
-Choose rep that is not too high or too low, which will allow you to focus on the middle voice and avoid strain
-Be very careful with his new high register, since it will have to be rebuilt; and also because males don't come into their top until much later. This will be a subject for another post, as it entails more specific technical aspects about the male passaggio and high register
Finally, this is a time of growth, not just for the student, but also for the teacher. Enjoy the process! It is also a time to show leadership, by providing a clear plan of attack and support for a student who will often feel distressed during this time.