Compass Of The Child-voice

There is the greatest diversity of opinion upon this subject among those

who have any opinion at all. It might be supposed that, among the

thousands of educators who are interested in school music and in the

singing of children generally, many might be found who have given the

subject careful attention, but such does not appear to be the case. If

we consult the musical literature published for children, the prevalence

f songs suited to the contralto voice is noticeable, indicating

apparently that the compass of infant voices at least is about the same

as that of the adult contralto. If there is any generally recognized

theory upon the subject, it would seem to be this; but from a

physiological standpoint the voices of children are totally unlike the

woman contralto, and especially is this true of children of from six to

eight years of age whose songs are usually written so low in range. An

error, started anywhere or at any time, of theory or of practice, if it

once become incorporated into the literature of a subject, is liable to

be frequently copied, and enjoy a long and useless life. So with this

treatment of the child-voice. The error is in supposing that it consists

of a limited number of quite low tones. It has its origin in the sole

use of the so-called chest-voice of the child, and when the evident

strain under which a child of six or seven years labors to sing up is

observed, the conclusion seems safe that they cannot sing high. While,

on the other hand, they manage with apparent ease to sing down even as

low as

[Music: a]

This conception has in divers ways so imbedded itself into the musical

literature for little children, that all efforts to uproot it have so

far been apparently futile. There are, however, very many supervisors of

school music, and the number is growing, who have recognized that this

treatment of little children's voices is a vocal barbarity, and the

device of pitching songs higher than they are written to overcome the

difficulty is more common than might be supposed. There can be no doubt

that in a short time the practice of carrying the tones of little

children three and four notes below the first line of the staff will not

be tolerated.

The common, even universal, tendency of primary classes to drop in pitch

when singing with the usual thick tone might show anyone that the voice

was being used in an abnormal manner. Furthermore, the intonation of

children of any age is something horrible when the thick voice is used.

Even carefully-selected and trained boy choristers, if they use this

voice, are frequently off the key even when supported by men's voices

and the organ. So in addition to other reasons for using the thin

register may be added this, that habits of faulty intonation are surely

fostered by the use of the thick voice.

Picture to yourself the short, thin, weak vocal bands of a child of six

or seven years attached to cartilaginous walls so devoid of rigidity

that in that dreaded disease of childhood-- croup-- they often collapse.

That is not an instrument for the production of tones in the contralto

compass. No wonder the pitch is wavering. If infant classes are to sing

with the usual tones, the common advice to make the singing-exercise

short is extremely judicious. It would be better to omit it.

The intimation that the last word can now be said on this subject is not

for a moment intended, but experience has given some tolerably safe

hints in reference to the compass of the child-voice in the thin

register at the ages mentioned, and it is advised never to carry the

compass lower than E first line, nor higher than F fifth line of the

staff, and the upper extreme must be sung sparingly. The easiest tones

lie from

[Music: f' d'']

The injunction to sing very softly need hardly be repeated.

Passing now to children who range in age from nine to eleven years, who

are found in the fourth and fifth years of school-life, it may be

observed that there is quite a marked increase in the evenness and

firmness of their tones. It is quite possible, especially at the age of

about eleven years, to extent the compass to G above the staff and to D

or C below; but if it does no harm, it serves no particular good end

either, and unless care is taken, the children will push the highest

tones. All of the necessary music drill can be kept within the suggested

range, and it is just as well to keep on the safe side. Then again, the

extremes in age between children of the same class grow farther apart as

we ascend in grade, and the compass must be kept within the vocal powers

of the youngest, and, from a voice-standpoint, weakest pupils. Protect

the voice, and nature will attend to its development.

From the time children pass the age of twelve years on to the period of

puberty, the child-voice is at its best, and if the use of the thin

register has been faithfully adhered to in the lower grades, the

singing-tone will now be both pure and brilliant. It will be found not

at all difficult to carry the same voice as low or lower than middle C

without any perceptible change in tone-quality, and G above the staff

will be sung with absolute ease. How much higher, if any, the compass

may be carried is open to discussion. It is not at all necessary in

school music to go any higher, for, even where it is deemed best to

raise the pitch of the song or exercise to avoid too low tones, the

pitch of the highest note will seldom be above G-- space above.

Still, it is the practice of choirmasters to carry the tone of soprano

boys much higher in vowel-practice, as high even as

[Music: c''']

and although that is a pretty altitudinous pitch, there are very few

choir-boys who, when taught to breathe properly, etc., will not take it

occasionally with perfect ease. The head-register, even in woman's

voice, is capable of great expansion, if good habits of tone-production

are followed. But again it is well to be on the safe side; and

choir-boys, who are selected because they have good vocal organs, and

who are drilled far more than school children, are hardly a criterion to

go by.

It must not be forgotten that the thin voice can be pushed and forced.

Good judgment must be exercised in controlling the power of voice, or

children will strain the vocal mechanism in trying to outsing each other

on high tones.

The question, How high may boys or girls sing who have passed twelve

years of age and whose voices show no signs of break, is not so very

important after all, for if they have been well trained in soft tone, no

danger of vocal strain need be feared even if an occasional high A or B

flat is struck.

The reason for the ease with which children sing the high head-tones is

found in the structure of the vocal bands. They are thin.

Consequently, there is, compared to the entire substance of the vocal

bands, a larger portion proportionately set in vibration than for the

production of the head-tone in woman's voice. And when the child-voice

is so used that no strain of the laryngeal structure is occasioned, that

is, when the vocal ligaments are exercised in a normal manner, it cannot

but happen that the muscles controlling the vocal bands will increase in

strength, and that the bands themselves, composed as they are of

numberless elastic fibres, will improve in general tone and elasticity.

The suggestions made in regard to the compass of voice are, be it said,

simply suggestions based on experimental teaching and are such as it is

believed may be followed with safety in school singing. If they do not

square with the music of books and charts, why, as before said, it is a

very simple matter to give a higher key for any exercise, than the one

in which it is written. A supervisor, by marking the exercises in the

desk copy, can ensure the use of the key he desires. If it is objected

that the tones then sung will not represent the real pitch of the

written notes, why that is at once admitted. What then? The idea of

teaching absolute pitch is a chimera. Pianos are not alike in pitch,

neither are tuning-forks. Classes will often for one cause or another

end a half tone or a tone lower than they began even if the pitch as

written is given. It may not be desirable to sing in one key music that

is read in another, but it certainly is less objectionable in every way

than is an unsafe use of the voice. The correct use of the voice must

transcend all considerations in vocal music, and no sort of practice

which misuses the vocal organs can be excused for a moment.