Weekly Teaching Tip – February 26, 2018
by Dean Kaelin
Question: I would love some info/discussion on the changing male voice. I have a 15yr old male right now who can REALLY pull up to a G above middle C. It’s a very strained sound throughout the range and only works at a forte above a middle C, but is apparently good enough to get him lots of parts at school. When we work to stabilize his larynx he flips into an extremely light falsetto at a B below middle C and I can see his larynx still flying up. Sometimes in the scale a note will also flip down a full octave and then center back on the pitch. We make small improvements on extremely hooty sounds and start to move towards a light head voice on a repeated scale, but there is still this BIG flip at the B.
Is this just a matter of time for his voice to settle down enough that we can start smoothing out his range from bottom to top without such extremes? Right now I vocalize him focusing on the best ‘form’ possible – working on releasing the outer muscle tension – which gives us the flip – but once we get into songs we just try to fix the vowels, do semi occluded sounds on the melody etc to relieve as much pressure as we can because he is performing non-stop (he is a great dancer and actor so he stays very, very busy!)
So anyway, if there is an opportunity to address what happens physiologically during the voice change and best exercises – in a teaching tip or town hall or monthly training – that would be awesome! In the meantime I’ll keep taking baby steps and doing my best.
Answer: The good news is that you are working with your 15 year old male voice exactly correctly. It is just going to take some time for everything to settle down. Some get through the voice change easier than others, but some have a really difficult time. (The deeper voices tend to have a more difficult time than the tenors.) Basically, try to vocalize correctly, even if there is severe flipping going on. Try and help him start to feel the proper coordination. But when he is singing try and pitch the keys in comfortable areas of the voice if possible, and narrow vowels as much as possible even though he may still be pulling. Basically, try and help him vocalize correctly and sing ‘less wrong’.
Typically the best exercise for these types of voices is the ‘hooty gee’ or ‘hooty goo’. The deeper larynx and the sudden onset of the vocal folds without allowing the vocal folds to stay together for too long tend to help. Usually ‘mm’ and ‘nn’ allow too much weight on the cords and ‘oo’ and ‘ee’ by themselves don’t provide enough. However, occasionally a very narrow and ‘nasty’ ‘agh’ works (sursprisingly), especially if done with the tongue out. Yes, the larynx is too high, and yes, there is way too much vocal cord pressure, but it thins things out enough that sometimes the young male voice can feel some release with it while still holding onto the connection. Once the flipping settles down a bit I like to use ‘ng’ and then move to the ‘french nasals’ and eventually into more open ‘ah’ and ‘oh’.
Just keep building and alternating between getting release and a balanced larynx, and thinning out the vocal cords. And continue to reinforce with the young male student that it is ok to ‘flip’ for a while, and that things WILL settle in. I used to joke with my own son as he was going through this that his voice went from being a ‘squeaky clarinet’ to ‘squealing car tires’, etc. He also suffered the dramatic octave flips your student does, but he allowed them to happen and didn’t fight them or get embarrassed and as a result he came out of it quicker than he would have without the exercises and the flipping as a beautiful baritone with tenor range.
Gradually things will start to relax and settle in. Just keep trying, be patient and encourage him to vocalize often, be a little patient as well and ’embrace the flipping’.