My voice will never change!

The physical and psychological growth that children and youngsters in the choir undergo is determined by an interaction between their hormones and their brain development. Everybody goes through more or less the same phases. But the moment when these phases start is different for everyone. This is also true of extent to which the changes takes place and the length of time that is necessary for the body to adjust to these changes. The pace of bodily growth during the early years of life is gradual, but during puberty this pace increases dramatically. The start of this new phase is identified by the sudden development of big hands, big feet, long arms and long legs. This burst of growth can often be more spectacular in boys than girls, particularly in its speed and its extent.

The result of this growth process is that bones and muscles become bigger and acquire greater volume. For speaking and singing, the following developments are also of importance: the increased size of the lungs, the increased size of the larynx, the fact that the vocal folds become longer, wider and thicker and the increased size of the cavities in the skull, in which sound can resonate more fully.

The different phases of voice growth can be recognized by changes in the sound of the voice. The following summary gives details of the tell-tale signs for boys and girls separately. It should be used as a guideline to understand how voice change works and should allow choir leaders to set realistic objectives for their choir members during the period of voice mutation.

Girls (based on Gackle, 2000)

Phase

Age (years)

Voice characteristics

Pre-puberty

8-11

·       flexible
·       light
·       no voice or register breaks

Pre-menarche

11-12/13

·       lightly hoarse
·       uncomfortable feeling when singing
·       difficulty in producing sufficient volume
·       hard to hit the high notes
·       uncertain in the lower tone registers

Post-menarche

13-14/15

·       possible hoarseness
·       full pitch range in the chest voice
·       difficulty in singing
·       noticeable deepening of the voice
·       throatiness and breaks in the voice

Young adult female

14-15/16

·       less hoarseness
·       increased pitch reach
·       more variation in volume
·       richer voice quality
·       more stable voice

Boys (based on Cooksey, 1977)

Phase

Age (years)

Voice characteristics

Pre-mutation phase

10-11

·       wide tonal range
·       sometimes too much power in the chest register
·       very flexible voice

Early mutation phase

12-13

·       sibilance in the higher ranges
·       less flexible
·       less rich sound
·       sufficient volume

Main mutation phase

13-14

·       throaty
·       unstable in the higher ranges, stable in the lower ranges
·       voice volume increases
·       increased range of possibilities via falsetto
·       flexibility still limited.

Mutation climax phase

13-14

·       higher ranges: unstable, hoarse and a tendency to strain as a result of excessive muscle tension
·       tonal range shifts towards lower tones
·       greater breathing volume
·       light increase in voice volume

Post-mutation stabilization phase

13-15

·       purer, lighter voice, but lacking richness of sound
·       more stable in both the chest and head registers
·       still missing a degree of vocal flexibility
·       adequate voice volume

Post-mutation settling and development phase

15-20

·       voice folds reach adult length
·       resonance cavities are fully grown
·       flexibility increases through refinement of the (neuro-)motoric coordination
·       volume reach increases
·       reduction of tension through more efficient breathing and voice delivery techniques
·       increased flexibility

What a young singer does with his voice during these different phases of development is highly individual and is not only determined by bodily growth. The motivation to sing, the right support and encouragement, an appropriate repertoire, and the correct adjustment of voice use to reflect the actual circumstances are all aspects that help to determine whether the voice remains healthy and whether the singer will pass through the different growth phases without too much difficulty. Instead of simply looking at a young singer’s age to determine their progress through the voice mutation process, it is better to regularly chart their voice characteristics and experiences. It is also important that these finding are then discussed with the singer in question. If, during these discussions, the choir leader also devotes attention to the ways in which the choristers can deal with the changes and the temporary limitations they face, the young people will feel supported in their development. This will also reduce the risk that they use their voice incorrectly, which in turn helps to reduce the likelihood of voice problems. One thing is certain: during every phase of this difficult period the comfort and well-being of the singer is paramount.


EYSI BLAUWAlmost 40% of children and youngsters think that their voice will not change as they grow. There is a statistically significant difference between boys and girls and the way they think about the deepening of their voice. 76% of the girls think that their voice will not become deeper, while (only) 66% the boys think that their voice will become deeper.


Tip LAMP grootChildren need more information and a better understanding of the physical changes the voice undergoes during growth. Children have divided opinions about these changes. More than half of the young singers think that their voice will become more powerful and more stable. One in three thinks that their voice will become deeper. 5% believe that their voice will become hoarser. It is unclear why they continue to think all these things, since the questionnaire did not ask about the causes of change.


Tip LAMP grootWork together to design a ‘voice growth’ book and use this to note down fragments of the voice recordings and analyses throughout your personal growth period.