Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The changing adolescent male voice

There is a rite of passage adolescent boys must travel called the "voice change". It's a strange and sometimes embarrassing time for them. What should they do vocally during this awkward time? Here is some food for thought:

An Internet article by Jenevora Williams states that boys' voices begin to change at around age 12-13, finally settling about 15-18 years old. Ms. Williams urges that boys should be encouraged to keep singing throughout the voice change years. I agree. I believe that singing and wise vocal training can help boys develop steadier, co-ordinated voices, as well as better senses of rhythm and pitch. This gives them a head start with their vocal abilities as adults.

In another Internet article, Christina Clark notes: "There is no vocal exercise that will help to extend or lower a range that isn’t there. However, training an unchanged voice is definitely not a waste of time. By getting the student comfortable with singing in his upper register, this can help to keep a nice, clear head voice when his body does begin to change".

The biggest issue I find with young boys is vocal strain! They try to "MAKE" their voices work, screaming through the hard places. I teach boys with unchanged voices to sing as high as they can without strain, and I take them as low as they can go without sounding "hooty" or dropping the larynx. My awesome little student Ike Hawkersmith landed a professional role as "Amahl" in "Amahl and the Night Visitors" this way. I coached him to sing with a confident, talking style, which helped him even out his tone and intensity. Not only could he sing clear, floating high notes, he could also get the lower notes of his part without loosing volume and tone. Like all my students of all ages, he learned to "Pull" instead of "Push" his words in all parts of his range. This way he kept consistent, lively tone production throughout this range - and he experienced no strain in practice, performance, or recording.

The boys and young men I've worked with after their voices have changed have different issues. They are sometimes afraid of their upper register. I teach them not only to sing in the new-found lower register, but also to vocalize in head voice, Pulling their words in all registers instead of Pushing any note. Though I am careful not to fatigue this young male voice in the passagio, or "land between the voices" range, I DO have them sing comfortable exercises crossing voices. This helps them develop the all important "mixed" voice. Grown men I've taught sometimes didn't even know they HAD head voices! They learn that singing in head voice and falsetto (a lighter head resonance vibrating less of the vocal cords) adds richer resonance to their lower register and lifts the ceiling off their ranges. After they get over the shock, they like it, and some use a bit of new found "falsetto" in their professional careers!

Adolescent girls have their own issues. We'll talk about them next time :)



  • At February 27, 2009 at 12:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Judy, I am obviously a late-comer to reading your article on the changing adolescent male voice, but wanted to agree with you (and others) that boys should be encouraged, if they are willing, to work through the change. As a man, I think I have more insight into the process, and want to add that typically, the thickening and lengthening of the vocal mechanism requires a couple of days rest every six or seven weeks, during the time of actual growth that can be identified when the voice becomes "foggy." Immediately after such a "growth spurt" the boy must learn to refocus his voice - the passagios are typically in a different area by a half step or so. This takes work and can be very frustrating for a boy who is used to opening his mouth and filling the world with glorious treble music! So it is not for every boy singer, but for those that desire to continue singing throughout, it is well worth the effort and struggle.

    I subscribe to the unified voice approach, which it sounds like you do, too. A boy should be able to sing a two+ octave scale with ease, with excellent legato, with no one note being allowed to be louder or softer than any other. This requires, of course, a knowledge of passagios (passagia?) and what to do when approaching such. What works particularly well with boys is to ask them what their favorite beverage is, then have him imagine he is drinking from a huge vat or bottle of the stuff (usually they will say "Coke") as they ascend vocally. Of course, this helps him by natural means to keep the vocal mechanism from rising.
    It would be nice to know that this is helpful to the few of us who take on preadolescent boy students!

  • At February 27, 2009 at 6:06 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Dear Anonymous.. The information you are contributing in your great comment is awesome and of great practical use! Thank you so much... yes, these are some things that are new to me. I much appreciate a man's insight indeed into the process. Please let me know who you are because I'd like to find your website and blog if you have one, too!

  • At May 28, 2009 at 2:28 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    On behalf of all boys born high sopranos, turned baritone-basses, thank you for this article.

    My elementary school choir teacher, Zelma Crider, nurtured my soprano voice as well as anyone could, I think, and the years singing for her from 2nd through 6th grade were magical for me.

    I never saw the Jr High School wall coming...

    Suddenly a new teacher "knew" that I was a baritone, with no room for singing any of the tenor parts which were so desirable to me.

    It was the first time in my life that I openly defied a teacher. Once I was convinced she would not budge I left the class and went directly to the school office and dropped choir.

    For 7th, 8th and 9th grades I only sang in Church, where I was encouraged to sing the part that felt right to me. Slowly, at my pace, I began to flirt with the bass notes my brother sang so beautifully.

    When Philip Greene came down to the Jr High from the High School to audition voices for his concert choir, I showed up, and he immediately knew I was my brother's brother. He announced on the spot that, if I would commit myself fully, he would take me into concert choir AND the madrigal vocal ensemble in the fall.

    Standing by his side, the Jr High school teacher was flabbergasted.

    "Why haven't you been singing in MY choir for the past three years?"

    It was satisfying to remind her that I had indeed been one of her students for a short time.

    The story doesn't end there though.

    Over the years I tended to sing popular music in my head voice (I'm a huge fan of Marty Robbins, Roy Orbison and Burton Cummings) while in choir, musical theater and opera buffa, I would sing either "Broadway baritone" (Don Quixote) or baritone bass (Don Pedro/Il Commendatore)

    It was Halbert Blair in L.A. who first surmised that I might have the instrument of a Heldentenor. Unfortunately, that was at the end of my classical voice training at BIOLA, and I never seriously committed myself to discovering if that was so.

    I know I've gone on and on here, but I'm going to leave this intact with the hope that sometime in the future a young soprano turning to baritone might read this and seek out the teacher who is best suited to guide him as he discovers his true instrument.

    Thank you, Judy.

  • At May 28, 2009 at 6:23 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    You are so right, Gordy, unfortunately busy choir directors often mis-read a voice and do it harm by their 'placements' and categorizations of voices-in-transition. Thanks so much for your contribution to this discussion!


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