Navigating the Voice Change, Repertoire

“Now that we know our boys’ voices, what do we do?” ask Janice N. Killian and John B. Wayman. “Select music! Remember, range is more important than anything else in selecting music for boys.”

  • Range, range, range—range is everything!
  • You can’t select music if you don’t know your singers’ ranges.
  • You can’t know your singers’ ranges without listening to them individually. (Read part 1.)
  • Out of range = out of tune.

Killian’s rule of thumb

  • Tenors: Avoid pitches below A (below middle C)
  • Basses: Avoid pitches above B (below middle C)

Unison or 2-part music (TB) may seem easier, but that’s not always the case. Try 3-part (TTB) music. “Often you’ll find that the boys are more successful with TTB music,” says Killian, “because the ranges are more appropriate.”

For mixed groups, try two parts rather than a unison men’s line, or consider SATB rather than SAB (where the boys’ part is too low with too many leaps if you have beginning tenors) or 3-part mixed (where the boys’ part is too high if you have beginning basses).

Avoid large leaps—they’re difficult for young singers.


For challenging range issues, Wayman suggests writing in alternate pitches for individual voices. “Rewriting is better than asking individuals not to sing, and it’s certainly better than letting them sing out of tune,” he says. Small modifications that maintain the integrity of the music are fine, but if rearranging an entire selection looks likely, choose another piece. Arrangers and composers often provide alternate pitches for different parts.

Other Considerations

  • Some pop music works well because it has immediate appeal, lots of part repetition, and fun. Just be sure the ranges are right for your boys.
  • Lyrics count for guys—they’re romantics at heart.

Working with the changing male voice, say Killian and Wayman, “takes a careful hand, an open heart, and a keen ear.”

Find examples of repertoire that are successful with adolescent boys, sample pitch changes, and a comparison of SATB and 3-part mixed arrangements in “Range Is Everything! Success with the Adolescent Male Voice,” by Janice N. Killian and John B. Wayman, in the February 2010 issue of Teaching Music (p. 26)—the source of information in this article.

Killian and Wayman prepared an annotated list of recommended sources on the male changing voice.

Janice N. Killian is the chair of music education at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and the editor of the Journal of Music Teacher Education.

John B. Wayman is a doctoral candidate in music education at Texas Tech University.

—Linda C. Brown, originally posted August 25, 2010, © National Association for Music Education (