Working With a Teenage Boy’s Voice Change

Weekly Teaching Tip – Oct. 24, 2011

I received an inquiry regarding how to work with a teen age boy whose voice is changing. Here are some thoughts.

The “old” school of thought is that a boy should not do any work vocally while their voice is changing. I am convinced that this is becuase nobody knew how to work with a voice while it was changing so they just started saying that you shouldn’t work with it during that time.  I  have worked with two sons through their voice changes and they were able to continue performing through the voice change and came out beautifully! I have also worked several boys through this difficult time with the same satisfying results.

Having said this, getting a young man through this period can be quite an effort and very frustrating, not only for the young man, but for you the teacher as well! Young children’s vocal cords are about the length of a dime (U.S. currency). When the female voice “changes” it goes to about the length of a penny so although there is a vocal change it is not super significant and a girl can usually slide right into her “woman’s” voice without a whole lot of problem. She will just feel her old voice deepen up and become richer and fuller which is usually quite satisfying. Incidentally, many experts feel that a female voice reaches vocal maturity about the age of 23 and that a woman is at her peak physical singing condition at the age of 28.

The young man on the other hand is an entirely different story! The length of a mature male vocal cord is about the size of a quarter (U.S. currency). The change from the size of a dime to a quarter is quite significant. The nervous system isn’t used to big, heavy vocal cords, it is used to smaller, thinner vocal cords. While the nervous system tries to adapt to these new, thicker vocal cords the cords often suddenly “pop apart” causing a “flip” or “crack” in the voice. The body usually fights this embarrasing sound by applying additional pressure or “squeezing” the vocal cords trying to keep them together. This is one of the reasons it is difficult to get a man to release into his head voice without flipping, becuase he either hangs onto everything (pulls chest) or lets go of everything (flips into falsetto).

Even with the most ideal situation most all boys will have some problems making this transition from boy to man voice as the nervous system needs some time to accept the new, thicker vocal cords. However vocal training before the voice change is beneficial since the student begins accepting the feeling of the vocal cord moving from a thicker to a thinner condition (although this change is not nearly as dramatic in a boy’s voice as it is in a man’s voice). Vocalizing during the vocal change can be beneficial as well although it can be frustrating. The vocal cords are going to flip around for a while as the change in vocal cord stature takes place and as the nervous system accepts this new size. It is important for the young man to not squeeze and push to keep the cords from flipping. Some flipping will naturally occur and they should not fight this. However, try to continue to smooth out the transition as much as possible by selecting good vocalises.

I have found “hooty’ sounds work very well when working with boys whose voices are changing, particularly hooty “gee”, “goog” and “gug” as well as the lip trill or bubble and the tongue trill, but other vowel/combinations work as well. It is also helpful to vocalize from the “top down” at first instead of from the “bottom up” for a while so that a boy can feel some of the “lighter” feeling coming down into his chest as opposed to trying to pull the new, heavier feeling up into his head. Eventually he will be able to go both directions well. Also, if a boy decides to take some time off while his voice changes, chances are he will completely lose the connection he once had to his head voice and when he starts lessons again it will be much more difficult to build the connection from the chest to the head again.

It might be interesting to note that usually the earlier a boy’s voice changes the easier time he will have getting through the voice change. Also, most experts believe that the man’s voice is at its optimum at the age of 35 so help your student to be a little patient with all of this knowing that they have many years of the voice continuing to develop and strengthen.

When young men need to sing and their voice is still in the process of changing, select songs that are in a comfortable key in their chest voice where they don’t need to push or force the sound. It is necessary for them to continue vocalizing through their bridges however so that they can continue to get comfortable with the vocal cords making adjustments to move from chest to head voice. As the body settles down after the voice change is complete the young man will have retained many of his high notes (and in some cases picked up even more) while picking up well over an octave of low notes.

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