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FAQ about Voice Changes in Boys – What is Happening to My Voice?

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Going through a voice change can feel disconcerting and forlorn for young boys.  Singing Consultant Jenevora Williams published a great FAQ for young male voice students to understand what is happening with their voices and what to expect.

Q What happens when your voice breaks?
A Firstly- don’t talk about breaking- there’s no damage occurring. Your larynx is growing bigger. In a boy, it grows by about 60%. A bigger larynx makes a lower sound.
Q How will I know when it is happening?
A The process begins at the same time as other changes. If you have had a sudden growth spurt, your larynx will be doing the same.

Q What age will I be?
A The average age for the start of voice change is 12.5. It can happen at any time from 10 to 15.
Q Can it happen overnight?
A Nothing can grow that quickly! It normally takes about two years but if it is happening gradually, you may not notice it for a while and then it could take you by surprise.
Q Can I slow it down if I carry on singing treble?
A No. It can only be slowed down by severe malnutrition, artificial hormones, or irreversible surgery; none of which are recommended! You can learn to use other muscles in the larynx to adapt to the growth and to continue singing high but this can be very damaging in the longer term. Don’t do it – go with the flow!
Q How will I know when to stop singing treble?
A There are lots of ways to tell: firstly, the pitch of your speaking voice will drop by a couple of semitones. You can test this by counting backwards from 20 to 1, quite fast, and getting someone to listen for the approximate pitch at which your voice settles. An average unchanged voice has a speaking pitch just below middle C. A newly changing voice will be more likely to speak at Ab or G.
Q What else may I notice?
A Your speaking voice may have got a bit husky, or your singing voice may change – the top range may be weaker, the middle may be weaker and the top stronger.
Q What happens next?
A Your voice will gradually drop in pitch. Your range may decrease overall. You will move into alto, then tenor then bass. Be careful how long you spend in the tenor section, tenor parts are written for adult tenors and the range may be too great for a young voice. If in doubt, go into the lowest part that you can sing, this is the “safe” option.

Q I can still reach the notes, I’m a good leader in my choir and I enjoy singing treble. Why move now?
A Sometimes it is OK to carry on for a bit when your voice is changing. However, if you can sing anything lower than F or E below middle C then you really are well on the way to becoming a new baritone and you should stop singing treble. It is possible that your treble voice is in fact falsetto [head voice]  singing (like a male alto). It is not recommended to use these muscles while your voice is in such a vulnerable state of change. Take the plunge, move part and if you really are destined to become a counter-tenor, you can try it again when your adult voice is more settled (17 or 18ish)
Q I suspect that my voice is changing but my choir conductor wants me to carry on as a treble, what should I do?
A Talk to him/her. Show him/her this article. If you still aren’t listened to then you have to make a decision yourself. Ultimately your voice is yours for life. For your choir conductor, even with the best will in the world – you are a disposable commodity. Be sensible, don’t over-react, talk to other people and then take responsibility for your own voice.Q What is the worst that can happen if I do the wrong thing with my voice at this stage?

A It is unlikely that you will develop a problem needing medical help. If you do, this can normally be cured; time and rest will help. It is more likely that you will develop bad habits from having to compensate. If you spend too long singing higher than is comfortable, you may end up with unnecessary tension in your voice; a problem that may take a good singing teacher years to sort out in the future.

Q When will my voice be settled, or when will I know whether I will be a tenor or a bass?
A The big changes should all be over in a couple of years, your voice will then continue to settle until your mid-twenties. You will have a good idea of your range by the time you leave school but you have to be open to the idea of further change and development.

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