Working with Middle School Boys


Working with Middle School boys in singing is both fun and challenging.

They are not as sophisticated as High School guys and have a lot of enthusiasm.


When it comes to dealing with their voices, this is where the challenge comes.  Unlike girls whose voices simply deepen in quality with very little change in range from their child voice, when boys go thru puberty their voices not only change quality but go thru a gradual (usually) change of dropping about an octave.  An excellent website (particularly for the boys themselves to read) is:

Many Middle School teachers are surprised when a boy who was an inaccurate singer in Grade School is able to sing in MS.  I believe this is because in MS we take their individual’s actual range much more seriously.  In GS we tend to think all kids have (or should have) the same vocal range.  This is a mistake that some GS teachers make.  Perhaps it is because in GS we deal with the the whole population whereas in MS we tend to focus in on certain boys who are interested in a chorus activity and thus give their range special attention.  I’ve observed that many boys in GS have a very limited vocal range unless given assistance.  I believe that if we seriously worked on Inaccurate Singing in the GS we would not be surprised in MS, as then the boys would sing in tune and progress normally. (See my topic on “Inaccurate Singing - Children & Adults”).

The most important key to working with MS boys voices is to know each individual boys’ range.  Some will have totally unchanged voices and may not be able to sing below Middle C.  Some may go down to an F below Middle C or D in the middle of the bass clef and some can go down to the F at the bottom of the bass clef.  You will not know until you test them.  And of course their ranges may well change through the year.


To test them, simply start at Middle C or the F above and have them count down on scale notes (1 2 3 etc).  Note when they don’t go any further and convert this numbers into the actual letter names.  Then do the same thing going up.  Of course, if they know “syllables” then use them instead of numbers.

I like to use the following

chart to keep track of each


Notice where Middle C is.

Notice also that I try to

observe both what they can

do with their modal voice

and also with their falsetto

by using Bottom & Top for the modal and low & high for the falsetto.

If you are working with a large group, you can have them all do it together and have them tell you when they conk out.  Do it 2 or 3 times to give them a better chance to decide.  But you can’t fully rely on them, so check each one out individually when you have the opportunity.  In the meantime you can group them according to what they determine and then check out each group by having them sing as a smaller group.  Probably you will end up with 3 groups: 1) the changed that can go down to at least a Bb in the middle of the bass clef or maybe way down to a low F, 2) the unchanged, probably not going lower than the A below middle C, and 3) the changing (sometimes called “cambiata” that can get down to about an F or D in the middle of the bass clef.


When it comes to holding a part all by themselves or even in a small group competing with other parts, there is a wide variety of abilities.  Here is where learning a sight singing system such is “Syllables” is so valuable.  Here’s a technique to develop independence:

  1. 1.With a “whiteboard” (modern blackboard) staff (notational or syllable) point to a note.  Then to the note above.  Then to a note below. etc.  Mix it up so they have to control their ups and downs.  Next divide the group into successive smaller group  and finally get down to the individual boy.  Give those who have a harder time more practice.

  1. 2.Divide the group into two.  With one hand (or finger) dictate one set of

    movements and with the other hand (or finger), dictate another set of

    notes for the second group.

Giving concrete names such as syllables to notes helps them to understand the difference between the different parts in barbershop and to even understand when their part goes up or down, goes up scale-wise or skip-wise.  It’s especially important that they learn the names and sounds of the 3 notes of the I chord (“Do”,”Mi”,”So”) for use in tuning up.


An efficient little technique I’ve used at a

moments notice is to use one hand to

represent a staff.  Each finger is a line with

the spaces in between.  Then use the other hand to show where a note is by pointing to a finger or the spaces between the fingers.  You can show where “Do” is positioned, do simple sight reading and (if your adept) even do two parts or triad sight reading.  You can also dictate to a less independent singer and let them compete with the others.


Here is a suggested sequence

for the very beginning work

with a Middle School group

starting Barbershop singing.

  1. 1)“Normal Tune Up”

  2. 2)“I, IV7, I Exercise”

  3. 3)“Sing Around the

                    Circle of 5ths”

4) “Warm Up Cool Chords”

I use this “Warm Up Cool Chords” at every session and as time goes by, we add the whole step lifts and drops.  It’s an excellent way to develop whole and half step understandings.


From there just go on to “Tags” and “Songs”.  On the next two pages are some Tags.  It’s good to start with Tags that are melodic like “Ring. Ring the Banjo”.  

The BHS (Barbershop Harmony Society) publishes a wide variety of song that can be done in MS.  Even though the guys like peppy songs they will accept even the simplest of songs.  I think they understand that even these are a challenge to them and they appreciate a challenge when they are successful.

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                                    I would love to hear from you. 

                          I appreciate any comments or suggestions.