When a boy’s voice is transitioning into a young man’s voice it can be unsettling. It is also normal, and can also be a really, really fun and special time. Here are our thoughts on the boy’s voice in transition:
Your job is to educate your young singer, anticipate what’s happening, or going to happen and enjoy the journey. It’s not unlike explaining puberty and adolescence. It is better done sooner, than later to avoid any misunderstanding. When a boy understands how and why his voice will be changing there is no fear and no surprise, just life happening.Singing is not primarily a strength-related motor task like much of what goes on in football, basketball or soccer. Instead, it depends on efficiency, coordination and precision in the motor function of the larynx, respiratory system and articulators. That takes, maturity, fitness and discipline.
In their early teenage years, both boys and girls are still very much developing and should not push their voices beyond what the instrument can easily do. These young singers should, however, be working to perfect their posture, breathing, basic tone and musicianship.
Some of my favorite students are those in vocal transition. Leading them through this period of vocal instability and on into victorious stability is a delight. The main issue is that the vocal folds will almost double, sometimes within a few months. This leaves the voice unstable and flipping back and forth between their child voice and their new adult voice. As the vocal folds become thicker and more rectangular, different muscle patterns need to be developed to control the vibrations. It is not unusual for a boy to start a school year as a soprano, be an alto by Christmas and a tenor by the end of the year.
For the boy, learning to control the changing voice is partially a trial-and-error process. There are, however, several things that can be done to smooth out and speed up this process.
Here are several powerful and proven exercises, not only for the voice in transition, but, for all singers. They can be found on the Complete Expanding Your Range CD, but I thought it was worth explaining here.
Exercise 1: The Descending Hah. Begin doing a descending ‘Hah’ sound. It can be on a continuous slide or on five tone scales (GFEDC etc) This should start high in the light falsetto, or “child” voice and continue down into the lower, speaking register without allowing it to change into the new, lower speaking sound. It will resemble someone imitating Mickey Mouse. The goal is to literally overlap the registers by taking the falsetto, or child sound into the lower notes. Ultimately, this will begin to eliminate the flip, or crack in that area between the registers. The ultimate goal is that there would only be one, long and fully connected range.
Exercise 2: In my mind this is the singly most effective warmup and range-smoothing exercise there is. The sound is similar to what we hear babies do. Even horses are a great example when they allow their loose, floppy lips to flutter. Listen to this audio demonstration
Exercise 3: The other great exercise for bridging that new and unfamiliar, in-between area is the siren exercise. Here are the siren and lip trill exercises used together:
Finally, when it comes to any young singer, please remember this: Don’t allow any singer to sing in a range that is clearly uncomfortable and invites pushing and straining. This can injure the physical voice and make the whole idea of singing unattractive… for ever.