Dr. Don L. Collins

The approach to the changing voice that has received the greatest exposure, acceptance, and application world-wide is the Cambiata Concept researched, devised, and promulgated by Irvin Cooper, Professor of Music Education at Florida State University 1950-1970. This is true for two reasons. First, Cooper supported his ideas with a choral literature of octavos and booklets that were used by thousands of adolescent singers in middle-level and high schools throughout the country during the 1950s and 1960s. Since that time a specialty publishing company, Cambiata Press, has received wide acceptance nationally by producing music based on the tenets of the Cambiata Concept.[1]  Second, Cooper trained several disciples who have been prominent in providing workshops nationally since his death in 1971.[2]  They have kept his concept alive by promoting its use in secondary schools and churches as well as by seeing it promulgated by various universities throughout the nation. The concept has been a part of the music education and church music scenes for fifty years or more.

Born in England, Cooper came to Canada after college to teach public-school music. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Manchester, then worked for fifteen years in Montreal as a high school choral and instrumental director. During his forties he became supervisor of music for the entire Montreal system and finished his doctorate at McGill University, where he later taught as director of the McGill University Orchestra and the University Choral and Operatic Society. During his years as supervisor of music; he became involved with early-adolescent singers and changing-voice problems. While supervising middle-level classrooms; he became aware that most of the boys were not singing but instead were having a study period during music class. This lack of involvement in music by the young singers led him to investigate ways in which their participation could be improved. Ultimately he engaged in an in-depth study of early-adolescent voices.

He soon determined that the young men could sing completely throughout vocal mutation as long as they sang music written in accordance to their unique range and tessitura limitations. He felt that no attempt should be made to make the voice fit already existing music but that the music should be made to fit the voice.

Cooper devoted the last thirty years of his life to dealing with the early-adolescent voice. Beginning with an intense study of the adolescent voice, he was ultimately to see his ideas promulgated throughout thirty states, Canada, England, France, and Hungary. His publications include twenty-two books of song collections arranged for changing voices; Letters to Pat, a professional book for middle-level school music teachers; Teaching Junior High School Music, a college textbook;[3]  The Reading Singer, a sight-reading method for adolescents; and a sound-color movie, The Changing Voice, which was a blue-ribbon winner at the American Film Festival. At the time of his death in 1971, he was chairman of the International Research Committee for the Study of Changing Voice Phenomena with the International Society of Music Education and he was establishing laboratory studies in England, Russia, and Japan. His tenure of twenty years as professor of music at Florida State University has produced students and disciples who are spread throughout the United States, Europe, and South America.

He took the term cambiata from the theoretical terminology cambiata nota; meaning "changing note," and adapted it to cambiata voce; or changing voice. In the United States the term cambiata concept is recognized as a method of dealing with boys' changing voices and originally it was indeed limited to that area. However, since Cooper's death, it has grown to encompass much more than that. It has been fashioned into a comprehensive philosophy and methodology of teaching choral music to adolescents.[4]   The changing-voice portion of the concept is covered in this chapter. Other aspects are dealt with throughout the book.

Cooper worked with and classified over 114,000 adolescent voices in his lifetime.[5]   From his research, the research of many of his disciples, and that great wealth of practical experience contributed by him and his disciples, the following tenets pertaining to adolescent voices have emerged.

Cooper believed that adolescent girls should not be classified as sopranos and altos but should be considered as having equal voices. He called them the blues and the greens to achieve this equality.

He indicated that there are four types of boys' voices in middle-level schools: (1) boys' unchanged voices, whom he called sopranos; (2) boys in the first phase of change, or cambiatas (the plural form of cambiata is cambiate; but it is accepted practice to refer to a group of these boys as cambiatas); (3) boys in the second phase of change, or baritones; and (4) boys with changed voices, whom he called basses (he considered the adolescent bass voice to be rare, appearing only occasionally at the middle-level school age).[6]

Ranges for these voices are: Girls and Boy Trebles, Bflat (below middle C) upwardly to F (top line, treble clef); Cambiata (1st phase of change), F (below middle C) upwardly to C (third space, treble clef); and Baritones (2nd phase of change), Bflat (second line, bass clef) upwardly to F (above middle C).

He warned that it is a gross error to assume that every voice in each category precisely fits the prescribed range boundaries. It is safe to assume that 90 percent of the singers in each category can maneuver vocally within the appropriate ranges designated above.

He further restricted the vocal parts by indicating that the music to be sung by adolescent singers should stay within a more comfortable area, which he called the singing tessitura. Tessitura is that portion of the vocal range in which it is comfortable to sing for a considerable length of time without tiring. He indicated that brief vocal excursions outside the tessitura can be very effective, but if the general line of any song lies outside the tessitura, vocal strain results. The following shows the tessitura within individual part ranges: Girls and Boy Trebles, D (above middle C) upwardly to D (fourth line, treble clef); Cambiata, A (below middle C) upwardly to A (2nd space, treble clef); Baritones, D (third line, bass clef) upwardly to D (above middle C).

Cooper discouraged unison and unison-octave singing in middle-level schools. When one examines a composite of all the ranges, it becomes apparent that in order to have successful unison or unison-octave singing one must choose a song with a compass of D (above middle C) to A (second space, treble clef) if the singers are to stay within the comfortable singing area of the voice.

Cooper avoided individual voice testing on the basis that if given the opportunity, a young man will choose the most comfortable singing area of the voice; thus literally classifying himself. Cooper believed that another important reason for not using individual voice testing was that it was vitally important for the student to have an exciting singing experience on the first day of class or in the first meeting period. Time did not allow for individual testing. He wanted the students to leave the classroom after a thirty to fifty-minute session having experienced four-part singing, which would certainly excite them about singing for the rest of the year. Through a special group-classification procedure and by rote teaching of melodically oriented songs, he was able to achieve that goal.

To classify the voices quickly, he met the students at the door as they entered the classroom and told them exactly where he wanted them to sit. This not only placed the students properly for classification purposes but also established teacher authority and control at the first meeting between the students and their teacher. He placed the boys at the front of the room and the girls in the back, always ensuring that there was enough room for him to move among them.

He began the class with a brief explanation (no more than three minutes) about the voice types that were present. He explained that in most classes in middle-level schools, there were four types of voices: boy sopranos, cambiatas, baritones, and basses. (The bass voice may not have been present particularly in sixth and seventh-grade classes.) Then he told the boys that he would determine quickly the type of voice of each boy present. He assured them that they would not have to sing a solo but only sing together as a group. He told them he would pass in front of each of them while they were singing together. If he tapped the boy on the shoulder, the boy was instructed to stop singing. If he passed by him, he was to continue singing with the remainder of the boys.

During the years Cooper was classifying voices, he used the `song "Way Down Upon the Suwannee River" (Nowadays, students are not acquainted with that particular folk song, so usually either "America" or "Jingle Bells" is used.) The boys were instructed to sing in the area of the voice that was most comfortable. (When "Jingle Bells" is used, choose the key of D or D-flat the first time through and have the boys sing only the chorus over and over.) As Cooper moved among the boys listening to them sing, he heard three things: boys singing in the octave above middle C (beginning on F or F-sharp in "Jingle Bells"), boys singing in the octave below middle C, and some boys who were unable to sing in either octave (uncertain singers). When he passed in front of a boy who was singing securely in the octave below middle C, he tapped him on the shoulder to indicate he was to stop singing. If the boy was singing in an uncertain fashion or definitely singing in the upper octave, Cooper passed him by, indicating that he was to continue to sing. After he had eliminated all boys singing the lower octave, he asked the remaining boys to stop singing. He placed all those boys who had been singing the lower octave together on one side of the room. These were the baritones and the basses. Then he asked the remainder of the boys to sing the song once more but in a different key (if "Jingle Bells" is used, change the key to A-flat.) This time as he passed among the boys he listened for those boys who were definitely singing the upper octave. These were the boy trebles. He placed them together in a group near one of the girls' sections where they could sit with the boys but sing with the girls. Through the process of elimination, by finding the baritones and the boy trebles, he determined that the remaining boys were cambiatas or uncertain singers. He placed the uncertain singers with the cambiatas until a later period when he would have time to determine exactly which part they should sing regularly.

He divided the girls arbitrarily by assigning the number "one" or "two" to each girl, then grouped the "ones" together and the "twos" together in the back of the room. He placed the cambiatas (and the uncertain singers) in one group and the baritones in another group, both in the front of the room.

At that point he was ready to teach a four-part (soprano I, soprano II, cambiata and baritone) song to everyone. Each part was taught by rote from a song chosen from one of his melody-part style song booklets. In no more than forty or fifty minutes, he had classified all the voices and taught the group to sing a four-part song successfully. This usually proved to be an exciting time for the young singers. Often they were unable to believe that they could be singing four-part music so easily and quickly.

To describing the timbre, or vocal quality, of the cambiata voice, Cooper used the term wooly. He said cambiata voices are rich, undeniably masculine almost to the point of belligerency, and truly beautiful if the sound is controlled in volume and not permitted to become strident from sheer vocal exuberance. A perfect example of this sound may be heard in the very early recordings of Wayne Newton, the popular singer.

Cooper was concerned that teachers might misclassify the cambiata voice because of an aural illusion of its sounding an octave lower than is actually the case. He called this the octave aural illusion, which is due to the richness and depth of the tone quality. If cambiata voices are misclassified and required to sing a bass part, which actually will sounds one octave higher than written, the resulting sound is quite unpleasant.

Cooper warned against placing the cambiata on a tenor part in Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass (SATB) music. In his view, the tenor part is too low, just as the alto part is too high. The cambiata needs a special part written specifically for him.

In providing a literature for young adolescent singers Cooper used a technique he called melody-part style writing. If one is particularly partial to harmonically oriented music, an approach favored by many of the composers and arrangers of music used in American schools, one may object to Cooper's style because of the cross-voicing, equal female parts, and contrapuntal voice leading. Cooper's style ensures that each part will be interesting for the singer, but more important, each young singer will be able to take advantage of the melodic characteristics of the music to remember the part and be secure in four-part singing. Often in harmonically oriented music, students attempting part singing finish the song by singing the original melody instead of their intended part. If the students have a part to sing that is, in fact, a melody, their ability to stay with it to the end is greatly increased. Cooper was willing to sacrifice a typical, homophonic sound for what to him was a greater educational purpose in writing.

Another significant consideration was the importance of choosing music appropriate for the young baritone voice and some cambiatas with their inability to articulate at an increased tempo. Melismatic passages should not be chosen for these boys to sing. Further, any part that requires an inordinate amount of articulation at an increased tempo should also be avoided.

Finally, and most important, it was imperative from Cooper's standpoint that middle-level school singers perform music written specifically for them. As mentioned, he discouraged placing cambiatas on a tenor part, because the tessitura was too low, or on the alto, because the tessitura was too high. He adamantly discouraged choosing SAB music for these young singers because, he maintained, there was no part for the cambiatas to sing. Adult female parts are often too high or have a compass too wide for comfortable singing by adolescent females, and the same application can be made to bass parts for young baritones, particularly in the lower extremities of the voice.



In the spring of 1979, eight years after Cooper's death, the Cambiata Vocal Institute of America was founded and incorporated as a nonprofit, state-chartered educational institution.[7]  The primary purpose of the institute is to train music educators in the comprehensive philosophy and methodology of the cambiata concept by providing a sound basis for teaching vocal music to adolescents. Following are the basic tenets of the concept promoted by the institute:

* Music is a discipline and should be taught as such. Through structured curriculum individuals are taught (1) to understand and respond to the written language of music, (2) to sing with ease and beauty through proper vocal-choral technique, and (3) to communicate the message of the text and aural musical sound in an artistic and stylistic fashion.

* Vocal music is a gift or an innate ability of all humans and through discipline it can be developed into a meaningful art form that heightens one's ability to judge the aesthetic value of certain life experiences.

* The four ingredients in music -- melody, rhythm, harmony, and form (particularly harmony) -- should be experienced as an aural art before one learns to deal with them in written form.

* The study of music not only prepares one for professional service but also, more important, develops sensitive, artistic individuals with a greater ability to deal with life situations successfully.

* Americans have an extensive music heritage that is disclosed in many facets. Vocalists should be able to experience and express themselves in as many of these as possible.

The term music educator immediately brings to mind training of teachers for service in the public schools. The scope of Cambiata Vocal Music Institute of America encompasses more than public schools. It administers in five major areas:

*  PUBLIC- AND PRIVATE-SCHOOL MUSIC EDUCATION: This is the traditional teacher-training area.

*  CHURCH MUSIC EDUCATION: The safeguard of the country's church music heritage lies in teaching adolescents to express their faith in song. Ministers of music, church choir directors, organists, and so forth hold the key to that security, and they should be trained to cherish that responsibility and carry the torch high.

*  PRIVATE VOCAL STUDIOS: Because of the increase of privately funded elementary and secondary schools each year, the trend of the twenty-first century will be toward each family's funding their child's education. One will see more and more private music studios being founded.

*  THE BOYCHOIR TRADITION: There are very few institutions of higher education in the United States that specifically train directors of boychoirs. It is part of the American choral tradition that is becoming less and less active and it should be preserved.

*  PROFESSIONAL EARLY-ADOLESCENT CHORAL SINGING: This area includes the training of choral directors so that they may develop their adolescent choirs to such a high level of performance that they may serve the needs of private business and entertainment on a professional basis.

Specific activities of the institute since its founding include sponsoring over 100 vocal-choral music workshops in thirty-one states throughout the United States and overseas.


1 Cambiata Press may be reached by writing P.O. Box 1151, Conway, AR 72032; or by calling a toll-free WATS number: 800-643-9967 or . The music is distributed by J.W. Pepper. ( Contact

2 Among others, these disciples are Don L. Collins, founder of Cambiata Vocal Music Institute of America, Inc. (1806 Bruce St., Conway, AR 72032), managing editor of Cambiata Press, and professor of music at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway; Wesley Coffman, dean of the School of Music at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas; Eva Adcock, professor of music at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina; and David Riley, associate professor of music at Ithaca College in New York.

3 Currently distributed by Cambiata Press.

4 Don L. Collins, The Cambiata Concept, a Comprehensive Philosophy and Methodology of Teaching Music to Adolescents (Conway, Ark.: Cambiata Press, 1981), 3.

5 Ibid., 12.

6 Irvin Cooper and Karl O. Kuersteiner, Teaching Junior High School Music, 2d ed. (Conway, Ark.: Cambiata Press, 1973), 188.

7 Don L. Collins serves as founder/director of the institute. He was a student of Cooper's at Florida State University from 1967 to 1970 while working on my doctorate. Near the end of Cooper's tenure (he retired in 1971), he was chatting informally with him and another graduate student and the subject of the future of the concept surfaced. Almost as if he were moved by divine guidance, Cooper somberly stated, "If the concept is to remain alive over the next several decades, it may well be left up to one of you." Mysteriously door, after door has opened over the last thirty years that not only has kept the concept alive but also has allowed it to be proliferated to thousands of music educators and church musicians throughout the world.

See Music for Changing Voices - A Cambiata Repertoire

(Printable version)


Copyright 2002
This page was last modified on 03 January 2007