How to develop Head Voice

This week, I have dug out one of my earliest blog posts on Head Voice from my old Posterous blog. I posted this in 2011 and although my teaching has changed a lot since then, many of these tips hold fast.

I focus slightly less on voice development these days and more on enjoying singing. Having said that, children who are not able to access their head voice are much less likely to sing in tune and therefore enjoy singing. So it is important. Voice is the most personal of instruments and care must be taken to preserve its positive connotations/feelings above all else.

Let’s start with this topic as, for me, it is the biggest single factor influencing attainment in Primary Music. After all, if kids can’t sing an interval or song in tune then there are difficulties in fully internalising concepts and in demonstrating them.

Here are some tips and tricks. Do you have any to add?

1.   Warming up, practicing and giving feedback at beginnings of lessons at the beginning of year especially

I focus on the voice the most at the beginning of the academic year.  This is when I have the most new students, when children are getting into the routine of my classes and when I set up expectations for the rest of the year.  In fact my colleague and I joined our classes together for 15 minutes at the start of each lesson for a few times.  He practiced the school song with the majority and I took a small group of those who were struggling with head voice.  This worked really well.

2.   Pitch of singing – err on the higher side to help those who might ‘slip’

When singing I try to sing a little higher than might be expected.  A s-m song would come out at C-A or D-B regularly.  I find that this helps those who struggle with the head voice as it makes a clear distinction from the lower chest/speaking voice.  Singing lower is fine but I find that the strugglers drop straight back into their chest/growl voices.

3.   ‘Wow’ voice. sliding, rainbows, ‘w’ words, ‘m’ words, sirens

Our speech therapist recommended that I use sounds and words beginning with ‘w’ and ‘m’ for head voice exercises.  This is because this focuses the sound at the front of the mouth and encourages an open throat and head voice.  ‘Wow’ is a great word to use because of this and also because we can refer to the head voice as the ‘wow voice’ with positive connotations.

4.   Elevator story – voice going up and down

I have many elevator stories that I use during warm-up.  Basically as I tell the story the children illustrate the height of the elevator with their voices.  This is particularly great because you can make things up to suit the circumstances.  Always start with getting in the elevator at the top and coming down – children find it easier to start high and descend rather than low and ascend.

My favourite elevator story is where Willy Wonka gets in and the elevator becomes the ‘Great Glass Elevator’ and bursts through the ceiling for a tour around the city.  I tell the children to cut the elevator ropes (no one has been traumatised yet!!) so that they can go higher.  I tell them they have to ‘let go’ of their voices at the same time.  This has helped a number of students.

5.   Other pitch related stories

There is a book by John Feierabend called ‘Pitch Explorations’ which has been recommended.  I haven’t read it yet – have you?

6.   Don’t allow children to move their heads with their voices

Some children try to move their head to go higher and it doesn’t work and actually ‘locks’ them in their chest voices.

7.   Children should never be straining their voices or becoming tensed up

I sometimes use the parallel between ‘controlled screaming’ and singing really high to get children to realize what is needed.  Some children seem to need to just produce a sound in the correct register to understand what is needed.  However the speech therapist at my school warned me that this may lead to throat tension and should be avoided.  

Do you have any thoughts or tips to add?”

2 thoughts on “How to develop Head Voice

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