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!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

How To Conquer Adolescent Male Vocal Strain

Nope... It doesn't have to feel OR sound like this!
NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear.  
Available also on iTunes, Google Play and Android podcast apps

If you are a teenage boy, you've undoubtedly felt and/or heard the change in your voice. You probably have had your voice crack or otherwise feel uncontrolled. You may find it impossible to sing as high as you easily used to. I hope you are keeping a sense of humor through this, knowing it has happened to your male friends, but you may also experience embarrassment and worry. I hope this post helps you take this era in stride. I especially want you to know that you can come through it without straining your voice!

First, be careful what you read on the internet. Here are some tips I found on the web that, from my experience working with teen boys as a vocal coach, may not help you much:
  • Understand why you're experiencing vocal problems.
OK, it's all well and good to know you're going through a very normal process for your age, that your changing hormones are causing your larynx to grow so fast it's destabilizing for the operation of your voice. But like understanding that your body is aching because you have the flu, or that you're scared of spiders because you have a arachnophobia - understanding that you're going through the voice change stops short of telling you what to do about it.
  • Breathe from your belly.
Actually, this admonition is better than saying 'breathe from your diaphragm' but it still doesn't help you power your voice in a way that won't strain it.
  • Speak in your normal voice.
If you normally speak with a tight throat channel, then speaking normally is the last thing you want to do.
  • Relax.
Hmm. Right. But your voice needs to be powered from somewhere, so you need to know what parts to relax and what parts to tense. 
  • Warm up your voice.
If you don't know how to do vocal exercises, you can just tighten your voice up even further by doing them. Argh.

So what should you do?

I have helped many teenage boys successfully through the voice change era. I've discovered what can help you sing through this frustrating period safely without straining your voice. Here is what my students have done that worked:

  • Change your songs and keys

Yes, understand that this is a normal challenge for teen boys, and give yourself permission NOT to sing as high as you used to for a while. Learn easier, less rangy songs and sing them in lower keys. Don't worry... you're growing into a vocal range that includes low notes you've never sung before and your high notes should come back beautifully if you avoid straining your voice through this period.

  • Know how to power your voice

If you tense your pelvic floor to power your voice, you can relax at your throat and upper chest. Your posture should be tall and flexible, which requires strength in your spine to hold the bottom of your ribcage flexibly wide. 

  • Pull, don't push, your voice.

Now more than ever your changing voice needs you to back off your breath pressure and learn to 'pull' instead of 'push' for controlled, confident compression power, again centered from the pelvic floor. You can think of it as what boxers call 'pulling punches', controlling their power. Here are three vocal exercises to help you sense what I'm talking about.
  1. Sing with a pad of paper right in front of your face. If that pad of paper was a glass window pane, sing as if you don't want to leave a breath mark on it. That should focus your breath into more of a laser beam than a flashlight beam, which will vibrate your vocal cords without making them feel 'blown'. And your resulting tone should become richer instead of thin and pushy or breathy.
  2. Blow on a candle about 5 inches from your face; make the flame dance but don't blow it out. See how long you can blow. 
  3. This is the best one, but you may have to swallow your pride: Get a bottle of kid's bubbles and try to blow the biggest bubble you can, instead of a lot of little ones. You'll notice that you have to 'pull the blow'. That's the sensation you need to control your air pressure to your voice. 

  • Articulate clearly

When you're worried, stressed or not feeling confident, you tend to form words at the back of your jaw and mouth. This tightens your throat, and leads to vocal strain. Instead, try loosening your face, jaw, tongue and activate your eyes. Communicate your message like your talking to the deaf. And speaking of talking...

  • Watch abusing your speaking voice!

Speak like you sing... with your new singing techniques! Open your mouth, ribcage and eyes. Sense your speaking voice being powered from the lower part of your body, not the upper.

  • Don't stop singing! 

I don't recommend that you stop singing, except for temporary voice rest for swollen, diseased (laryngitis) or damaged vocal cords. Just like for any muscular effort, 'use it or lose it' is true of the voice. But as is also true for any muscle, the vocal apparatus must be operated wisely and with correct form. The best practice is to keep singing through the voice change, carefully, consistently and with good technique, never challenging the voice in a way that causes it to strain. Wait for it. Your full, adult voice will come!

A Word of Caution: 

It can be very hard for a singer to let go of counterproductive effort in the voice. Very much a catch-22, when you have trouble reaching notes and controlling your voice, the natural instinct is to try harder. This reinforces the things that make it even harder for your voice to work such as pushing, tightening and straining the voice. For help with these techniques, consider a Power, Path and Performance vocal training course. Or contact me for private lessons, in my office, over Skype or by phone.

What about you - have you had some experience with adolescent voice change? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]