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female adolescent voice change

Puberty sucks.

If you're reading this, chances are you already know that because either you are an adult that has endured its hardships and lived to tell the tale, or you're a young vocal student who is enjoying this phase right now. (Enjoying is likely not the right word, though, am I right?)

During puberty, our bodies undergo large and rapid changes. It can be a really uncomfortable time for adolescents as they adapt to their changing bodies and raging hormones. There's a lot of talk about the beginning of menstruation for females*, and a lot of talk (and some giggles) about the male* voice change and all the voice cracks that come along with it... but did you know that females experience a voice change, too? Sure, it is not as drastic as a male's vocal change, but for singers, it can be quite alarming when their trusty instrument suddenly behaves or sounds different than before.

*Note: In this article, I use the terms female and male in this article to describe estrogen versus testosterone influenced puberty. My studio is a safe space for all students, and I am always looking to adopt new, more inclusive language. Do you have a better term that you use? Please let me know!

WHat happens to treble voices during puberty?

Warning: science ahead.

Our vocal cords are two muscles that are housed inside of a bony structure called the larynx. Not sure what that is? Try this: rest your hand on your throat and swallow. Did you feel that movement up and down? That's your larynx! When singing, the vocal folds come together to vibrate as air passes through, creating waves of sound that bounce around in our heads to resonate before flowing in a glorious stream from our mouths and into the ears of adoring listeners everywhere.

During puberty, the larynx grows, and the vocal folds thicken. These two things together cause a deepening of the voice, which makes sense if you think about the difference in the range of a violin versus a cello, for example. For treble voices, there is a time during puberty where, because of this growth, the two vocal folds may not fully meet at the back of the larynx, allowing extra breath to escape around the sound, which can lead to a breathy tone quality.

If you peek at the image below, it shows three sets of vocal folds. The image on the far left shows the vocal folds at rest. Unless you're making sound, this is how your vocal folds hang out in your throat. The image on the far right shows complete adduction of the vocal folds, which in regular English means that the two muscles are fully meeting along the length of the vocal folds to create sound. Now, that middle photo? That's a photo of a incomplete adduction, where you can see at the back of the vocal folds there's a little gap where they are not vibrating together. That tiny space is the culprit of breathy adolescent singing... and it's perfectly normal and nothing to worry about!

What Can We Do About It?

"But ALIAH... HoW aM i SuPpOsEd To SiNg If My VoIcE iS aLl BrEaThY?"

As you can imagine, all of these changes can be very alarming to a young singer. Even the most confident singers can feel embarrassed by a voice crack, or disheartened by losing access to a full, powerful sound as their instrument grows. At this stage of puberty, it is really important for the singer, the vocal coach, the singer's parents and supporters to understand what is happening physiologically, and that a breathy tone is both normal and healthy. Airy singing at this age is not something that needs to be corrected - it improves on its own with time as puberty progresses. Knowing this can help a singer avoid "muscling" their way through singing in order to achieve a full sound, which can lead to vocal fatigue, painful singing and, in extreme cases, vocal damage.

Remember, puberty does not last forever, even if it might feel like it will when you're in it. So long as singing still brings you joy, there are many, many benefits to working a vocal coach who can guide you through puberty. Rather than worrying about "correcting" a breathy sound at this stage, a singer can focus on breath control, ear training, building their stylistic toolkit, self-expression, performance, vowel shaping and more. Building these other crucial skills means that, once a singer is through the thick of it, they will be ready to rock and roll with their new, bigger, adult sounds. (And, goodness, does that ever feel good!)

Make the most of it!

Airy singing still got you down? This would be a great time to explore some breathy singers like Billie Eilish or Selena Gomez and make the most of your voice as it is right now! Remember, breathiness is never BAD - it's just one of many tools we can use as singers to tell our stories.

Bonus fun fact:

We also have hormone receptors on our vocal folds. Once menstruation is regulated, some singers are able to notice changes in the way their voice feels and sounds throughout their cycle. This phenomenon and the way it presents itself is unique to each person - some people are lucky enough not to notice any changes during the month. However, at times where we have major hormonal changes happening, such as puberty, pregnancy and menopause, this uptick in hormones can cause the voice to feel completely different than the singer's "normal." Some people find the voice is dry or breathy or extra phlegmy, others find their range seems to shorten for a while, or that the tonal quality is changed.

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