Does puberty affect the voice? Are you – or is your child – approaching adolescence? If so, there are some significant vocal changes ahead.
Learning how to sing when going through puberty will prevent you from becoming frustrated and possibly even damaging your voice. Patience is key, but there are some exercises and things you can do to ease your vocals through this transformative process.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what you can expect, as well as explaining how you can sing through voice change.
How to sing when going through puberty
Whether you’re a parent, vocal coach, choir leader, or tween, it’s useful to understand the processes of puberty and how to work with it. You may have heard people talk about boys’ voices ‘breaking’ during puberty. This can be a worrying thought. But rest assured that nothing actually breaks during this period. A young man’s voice will go through five changes over a period of time. As these changes take place, the voice may sound hoarse, croaky and unpredictable.
Puberty can be tough on the body and mind, so being able to alleviate any anxiety about the voice, will make the journey easier. So will being able to do something practical to work through the change and focus on emerging as a better vocalist.
Does puberty affect your singing voice?
Can I sing during puberty?
Absolutely. As the change from child to adult can take time, you certainly don’t want to down your vocal tools for potentially years. It’s not the time for ultra-intense vocal training, and you may have a month or so where singing gets tricky, but there’s no need to stop. If you want to be a professional artist, the younger you start the better. If you watch TV shows like The Voice Kids, or Britain’s Got Talent, you’ll know that those of all ages can achieve incredible things.
Does puberty affect your singing voice?
The extent to which puberty will affect your singing voice will depend on your gender and genetics. Males – whose voices are generally much lower – will experience a more extreme change with their larynx (also known as the voice box) and vocal folds growing three times faster than that of a female. Whereas for girls, it’ll be very gradual and subtle – their vocal folds grown an average, by a quarter.
Hormones are the catalyst for adolescent changes, including the vocal ones. This redefines the length, density and so too, vibrational speed and even texture of the vocal folds. As you might imagine, this can be a delicate time, but with exciting emergent results.
Puberty voice change symptoms
It can be tricky to identify voice change, as kids have a tendency to copy their peers (be it consciously or unconsciously). So a deepening of the voice may be misleading and a result of ‘fitting in’. Instead, look out for visual changes. Because the larynx grows so much bigger in a boy, it becomes visible as the Adam’s Apple. Once this reaches full size, you’re through puberty voice change.
You shouldn’t experience pain or strain when singing through puberty. If you’re singing and this happens, you need to rest. Puberty is most definitely not a time to push through or force it.
The stages of male voice change
You can also tell what stage of puberty a boy is at, by getting him to sing and seeing where their range sits. This is an approximate guide to the five stages, based on a median male vocal range:
- First mid voice: Bb3
- Second mid voice: Ab3
- Third mid voice (Mutational climax): F#3
- New Baritone: D3
- Settling Baritone: B2
Meanwhile, in girls, the voice will be changing by a couple of tones. This is far less dramatic and barely noticeable. You may notice increased huskiness, inconsistency and altering range. Generally, girls go through the following stages of puberty and this follows in with the voice to some degree.
- Prepubertal. Average age 8-10 or 11
- Pubescence/Pre-Menarcheal. Average age 11-12 or 13
- Puberty/Post-menarcheal. Average age 13-14 or 15
- Young adult female/Post-menarcheal. Average age 14-15 or 16
Singing through voice change
Change means just that – it won’t stay the same. During the process, a richness of tone may be lost, then return. Hoarseness or squeakiness may arrive and then depart. So don’t panic as it will pass. Most teens welcome the overall experience as it’s a very tangible sign of growing up and maturing – a rite of passage.
While the voice will be beginning to settle in the lower ranges, be careful not to push it too far. It won’t yet have the power and consistency to belt in this register and can tire quickly if just kept here. Keep singing higher notes too, but again, stay comfortably within range and keep it gentle. And as always, stay hydrated and get plenty of sleep. This fuels healing and change.
Will I be able to sing after puberty?
Yes, you will. You may have heard people complaining about having problems singing after puberty. Usually, these issues arise when the voice is still undergoing change, or because it was pushed too far during the adolescent period. It can be unnerving hearing your voice change so much and not being able to do what you did before. But keep calm and trust that not only will it return, but it will also likely come back as a new and more interesting incarnation. But you may need to put in some work to develop this new instrument.
How long does it take for my voice to change during puberty?
Voice change usually begins at around 12 years old and tapers off at the age of 15. But nature isn’t exact with this, so you may see some variance. The changes take a few years in total, but voice ‘breaking’ usually only lasts a few months. You may notice your voice suddenly drop by as much as an octave in a short space of time. Expect your voice to have found itself by the time you’re around 16-18 years old. Meanwhile, if you’re struggling to manage your usual tunes, transposing will be your friend. There’s plenty of software around to help you with this.
Vocal exercises for changing voices
So how do you safely exercise a changing voice? Some people choose to stop singing altogether, but this can be as detrimental as overdoing it. Here are some strengthening techniques to use during this time. Bear in mind that as the voice changes, so may your approach. Experiment to see what works for you.
Fifth descending passages
Start on a top note with which you feel is within easy reach. Then descend speedily and steadily by intervals of a fifth. This helps to work on transitions within the voice and enables the slow build of power as you bridge the registers. You can also use this exercise with sixths and eights.
Practice your usual scales, but try them in a staccato rather than a flowing format. (Staccato is where each note is sharply detached/separated from the others). This helps you to build accuracy in terms of the epiglottis opening and closing, something that can slip during hormonal change. It’ll also give your singing an accurate and crisper quality.
Like fifth descending passages, these exercises will work on your ability to segue between your changing registers. It builds vocal agility (and enhances our musicality) which is always beneficial for a singer. This video explains more about intervals and shows you how to work through an exercise.
Sing with straws
This is a fun and quirky way to practice that’s ideal if you or your student is feeling a sense of pressure and taking it too seriously (to an extent that’s detrimental for progress). The exercise simply involves singing down a straw. This enables you to put aside many aspects of singing for a bit and focus just on the breathing and sensation. It moves the singer away from the quality of vocals and encourages them to play and have fun. Use this exercise during the potentially unnerving periods of croaky or squeaky changes. It also works well en masse, if you run a school choir for example.
Additionally, humming and sirens are always go-to safe exercises for warming up and working with a compromised voice – whether than be due to illness, prior voice loss or the changes of puberty. Avoid anything that tries to stretch your range too far – especially whistle singing, vocal fry, screaming and falsetto. Similarly, this isn’t the time to belt. There will be time for all of that further down the line. During puberty, we are aiming for accuracy in transitions, rather than increased volume or range.
How can I fix my puberty voice?
Don’t try to ‘fix’ your voice. There’s no point fighting the process. Rather go with the flow. Follow these exercises, treat your vocals gently and understand that it will take some time. You’re not alone, millions and millions of singers have gone through this before you and come out the other side sounding even better than before!
Very occasionally, boys can develop something called ‘puberphonia’ (also known medically as mutational falsetto, functional falsetto, incomplete mutation, adolescent falsetto, or pubescent falsetto). This is a disorder, whereby the male continues to speak or sing with a noticeably high pitched voice long after puberty has passed. It’s a psychological rather than physical issue and is treated by a speech-language therapist as it rarely goes away by itself.
Does your singing voice get better after puberty?
‘Better’ is a matter of opinion. A young, childlike voice is just different from an adult sound and both can be magical. Before puberty, your vocal folds will be small and thin, perfect for producing an airy, pure and often high sound. But after puberty, you’ll have more power and potentially, more dynamism to your vocals. You may also open up a whole lower range that you didn’t have before. That sometimes means you also lose notes from the top of your register, but with vocal training, you can keep these and even expand on them. The key to getting a better singing voice is effort and practice, rather than age. You get back what you put in.
There’s no doubt about it, puberty is a challenging time. But it brings with it a wealth of new potential. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself (or your kids) at this stage. It will be exciting to discover what emerges vocally, at the end of the process. But in the meantime, there is so much that can be worked on – including performance, instrumentals, mic technique and learning some aspects of music production. Once the voice has matured, it’s time to see where you can take it. In the meantime, it’s worth recording yourself at the different stages to monitor your progress.
Can you improve your singing voice at any age?
Yes! Singing isn’t an age-limited activity and you can improve even if you’re in your autumn years. But if you want to be a professional recording artist, the sooner you get started, the better. Do it at home using YouTube tutorials, join a singing group, or work with a coach to develop your voice.
How can I sing like a pro?
Take some tips from the top by investing in some quality equipment. A good mic and amp will give you a pro-sound. You should also be consistent, both vocally and practically. Practice, exercise your voice and know what your song inside out before a gig. Apps can be really useful for training.
Why do I sing flat?
This is a common issue among new singers especially and is down to imperfect tuning. You may be just under the note as you’re trying to sing beyond your range. Or you may not be hearing the accompaniment properly and missing the pitch. Read our article to discover how to rectify a flat singing voice.
Have you had problems trying to sing while going through puberty? Perhaps your voice got better – or worse – post-adolescence? Let us know about your experiences with vocal changes in the comments below.