How do you sing high tones softly
How children's voices develop healthily Get out of the chest voice trap!
Bright and crystal clear - that's what children's voices sound like. Mostly. Chronic hoarseness and functional voice disorders are also not uncommon in children. The roots often lie in early singing in the nursery or kindergarten.
Image source: Nadja Pfeiffer / BR
"Adults tend to sing too deeply with the children," says Andreas Mohr, professor for children's voice training in Osnabrück. For decades he has been concerned with the peculiarities of the children's voice. In purely anatomical terms, it differs from that of an adult: In children, the vocal folds are shorter - the voice sounds higher. "That is why the correct singing position for children is simply a little higher than the singing position aimed at by adults," explains Mohr.
Already in kindergarten: a choked sound
When children sing in the lower register, they automatically use the so-called chest voice. This vocal register can be used to generate deep, loud tones. For high notes we need the so-called head voice. In terms of voice volume, it also sounds a bit slimmer. Both vocal registers are important for singing - and the transition between them. If children only ever sing in their chest voice, that is not good in the long run.
So the vocal range cannot develop fully.
Children should also exercise their head voice. If that doesn't happen, it threatens to wither, says Mohr: "The children then lose their attitude towards the higher notes. They no longer know how to do it and only sing in the lower register." The problem is obvious: "This way the vocal range cannot develop completely."
Andreas Mohr sees it as particularly critical when the songs are underpinned by accompanying instruments with a very strong rhythm: This also induces the children to "blare". Rock music is therefore poison for the child's voice: "Because of the brutality of the sound generation," says Mohr. A loud, boisterous sound can often be observed in kindergarten.
Possible consequences: voice damage
Children today often only use the chest voice. | Image source: Nadja Pfeiffer / BR Singing in the lower register can also damage the child's voice in the long term. Michael Fuchs from the University Hospital Leipzig is a specialist in the treatment of children's voices and warns: "The exclusive use of the chest voice register can also mean that the speaking voice is often burdened with far too much force in the lower register," explains Fuchs. "And in not so few children this can lead to the anatomical structure of these small vocal folds simply being mechanically overwhelmed at some point."
This can lead to voice disorders. The delicate skin on the vocal folds becomes blistered. "It reacts like a skin on the foot when we wear shoes that are too tight," says Fuchs. Water-like deposits form, which are later transformed into connective tissue. That is, vocal cord nodules form: "And that is the dysfunction incarnate."
The small vocal folds are mechanically overwhelmed at some point.
Get out of the chest voice trap!
To prevent it from getting that far, Paul Nitsche, the great pioneer of children's voice training in the 20th century, recommends singing with children in the so-called "good position". This is the range between f1 and f2 - often unusually high for adults, but just right for children between the ages of seven and ten, says Andreas Mohr: "If we sing with children in this position, they are not tempted to isolate the chest register. " Mohr calls this the so-called "chest voice trap". Once a child has sung into the lower register, it takes practice to be able to use the head voice register again. In the "good position" the problem does not even arise: high notes like the f2 can only be sung with the head register.
Tip to educators: listen to the children!
Children's voices must be handled carefully. | Source: Nadja Pfeiffer / BR For singing in the crib, Andreas Mohr recommends an even narrower range: "not lower than e1 and not higher than d2". Because the vocal range of the very young is not as large as that of older children. That is why it is no coincidence that many children's songs only have a range of five or six tones, explains Mohr: "Little little boy" for example or "All my ducklings". Incidentally, the full vocal range is only available to children from around the age of 12 or 13. Until then, one should be careful.
You don't need special training to sing with children.
Nevertheless, Andreas Mohr wants to encourage parents, educators and teachers to sing with the children. "You don't need any special training," says Mohr. "Best of all, the adults would just listen to the children using their voices when they are all alone." If it is still difficult for an adult to sing in the high register, he should also make sure to sing a little more softly and loosely in the lower register. Because the children imitate the sound.
Changeable children's brain
Singing is very important for children and their development. And the earlier you start, the better. "Singing is actually a pre-training of language and language acquisition," says Eckart Altenmüller, neurologist and musician in Hanover. Even the babies' screams are already characterized by "melody contours".
The child's brain works differently than that of adults. For example, in the first few years of life, the areas responsible for speech and singing are not yet separate, but identical. "They are created twice - in the left and right hemispheres," says Altenmüller. Only from the age of about eight to ten years does the separation take place, as can also be found in adults: speech processing on the left, recognition of melodies on the right. This early synchronization has a great advantage, explains Altenmüller: "Children who for any reason acquire damage to the left hemisphere before the age of six can actually retain perfect language skills and perfect music skills."
Children who sing are better at capturing other people's emotions.
Singing is the pre-training of the language. | Source: Nadja Pfeiffer / BR When singing, there is a lot going on in the brain. In addition to controlling breathing, the larynx and the entire throat and mouth area, the auditory regions in the temporal lobe are also active. But also the emotion centers and - when singing together in a choir - also the social connections in the brain. "They then program our classification into the group and our perception in the group," says Altenmüller.
Does singing make you smart?
The subject of emotion is particularly important. Because feelings are communicated directly via the human voice. And children perceive that very early on. "Children who sing can grasp other people's emotions faster and more precisely," says Altenmüller. "That is part of the emotional competence." However, the neurologist cannot confirm the rumor that singing is supposed to make you smart: "There are a few studies where there is a very slight increase in spatial-mathematical skills in children who sing," says Altenmüller. From a statistical point of view, however, this is negligible: "The effect is only very small."
Phenomenon "humming" - incurable?
Probably every music teacher and choir director knows this: children who simply can't find a note. Often they stay in a kind of chant with a few notes that has nothing to do with the song. Why do some children find it so difficult to properly sing a tune? And how can you help them?
"This is often a matter of training," says Andreas Mohr. The voice education professor has developed some methods. In the so-called "gap method", for example, the children sit in a circle and sing a song that everyone knows. However, each child sings only one note in turn. "The trick is that all children have to silently sing along to the song inside, so that when it's their turn to catch the right note," explains Mohr.
Breathy children's voices - a warning sign?
Parents have been singing to their children for thousands of years. The attachment hormone oxytocin is released in the children. | Source: Nadja Pfeiffer / BR In principle, the warning bells should ring if there is hoarseness or background noises in the voice. But if you listen to children singing, you will quickly find that most of them have somewhat breathy voices. And to a certain extent that is quite normal - and only changes when a child receives professional voice training.
Gabriele Kaiser is a voice trainer at the Regensburger Domspatzen. She knows the phenomenon from the boys who join the boys' choir as beginners: "As with almost all untrained singing voices, the boy's vowels are breathy and thin in the vowels," says Gabriele Kaiser. Changing that is one of their main tasks. "The aim of the training is to close the vocal folds - as the basis for a professional vocal tone." The natural voice of a child is preserved, explains Kaiser, and is merely "refined".
If the voice of a girl suddenly sounds much more breathy than before, this can also herald the start of the voice change. Similar to boys, girls also have a kind of "small voice break". In this phase the voice becomes about a third lower. "And you can hear that when your voice is breathy," says Michael Fuchs. "Nevertheless, she is capable of performing well in the time."
Choir directors, voice trainers and medical professionals are now in the fortunate position of knowing much more detailed information about vocal technical details than they used to be. So there is a great chance of getting it right when it comes to training children's voices - ideally right from the start.
The music feature on BR-KLASSIK
"Of Angels and Mutants"
How children's voices develop healthily
Friday, May 24th at 7:05 p.m. on BR-KLASSIK
(Repetition on Saturday, May 25th at 2:05 p.m.)
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