One of the best things about being a voice teacher in Austin, Texas is my ability to work with so many diverse groups of singers. As you can imagine, many different people take voice lessons.
Sometimes the most driven (and frustrated) groups of singers are middle and high-schoolers. I love working with young people because their desire to learn and improve themselves is so earnest.
But many young people find singing so frustrating because their voices are changing so rapidly. Things they were able to do last year are no longer an option to them.
Compared with a 30 year old man, a 13-year-old’s voice is changing almost daily. Their range, the places where they connect their chest voice and their head voice, and even their tone is in flux.
Due to the influence of hormones (specifically testosterone) the larynx (voice box) and vocal cords are undergoing a huge transformation. It’s almost like leaving your acoustic guitar in the rain, the instrument is swollen one moment, and cracking with thinness the next.
Nearly all young men and women go through this transition and most of us come out on the other side with a new understanding of our bodies and voices.
However, there is a large group of young people that give up singing entirely during this period. Actually, there was a myth for a long time that students of voice should stop singing completely during this transition. Luckily, this myth has been dis-proven and lots of young singers continue singing through their break.
For those that are going through this transition, there are a couple of very important concepts to continue practicing, no matter where your voice is on a particular day.
- Be aware the your range will change daily–Again, due to the influence of hormone, your voice will thicken or thin more on any specific day and there will be little you can do to change this. Go with the flow, allow the voice to rest where it does and sing the best you can.
- The place where your chest and head voice connect, called the bridge or passagio, will also change–We hear this all the time when the voice “flips” or disconnects to “falsetto“. In time, this place of transition will become more stable also, but only with the correct vocal instruction.
- The most important thing to maintain in a transitioning voice is a sense of bottom and top, which correlates to thickening and stretching of the vocal cords–Since young people’s voices are transitioning to a larger, thicker instrument, making sure that the student is stretching their voice into the head register (even if it’s falsetto) is better than avoiding that area altogether. This is something I see in lots of young people. “I don’t sing high notes well, so I don’t sing songs with high notes”. This is why it’s so important that the voice teacher helps the student sing through their entire range, or else this fear of high notes will become a real inability to sing them.