Are you noticing changes in your vocal range? Are you concerned about them?
by Joanna Cazden,
Speech pathologist, singing rehabilitation specialist
Every voice changes over time. Teenage boys, of course, experience the most dramatic change, but adolescent girls’ voices also gain strength and depth, and may lose a note or two from the very top end, compared to their childhood voices.
In the early 20s, a healthy voice — like the rest of the body — typically shows a thrilling combination of strength and flexibility. Sadly, this peak of range and agility typically declines slightly by the later 20s to early30s, when the voice is considered to be fully mature at a biological level. Note that this is about the same time that the brain’s frontal lobe completes its development, offering you more reliable, thoughtful good judgment than your teenage brain allowed.
As you move from high school to college and beyond, how can you tell whether changes in your vocal range are normal or unhealthy, temporary or permanent? And is it still possible to increase your range as you get older, adding high notes you didn’t have before?
1. Watch yourself sing in a mirror or on video and compare performances over time.
If you are lifting your chin, tightening your jaw, or otherwise straining a little to get notes that used to be effortless, your range may be changing. Maybe your voice is maturing—or maybe your vocal cords are slightly swollen or roughed-up from overuse, illness, or a combination.
Schedule a checkup with your throat doctor, and be super-careful for a few weeks. Avoid any feeling of strain or tension. Avoid overuse. Then re-evaluate.
2. Measure your range regularly every day or week at the same time, singing high and soft.
Track this in a journal to understand your typical variability, and jot down relevant notes about your fatigue, allergies, partying, etc.
Fluctuation of a half- or whole-step day to day, at the very top of your voice and/or the placement of your passagio, may be normal. Once you know how much variation is typical for you, it’s easier to recognize bigger, long-term changes.
3. Do you tend to “cheat” high notes with extra tension?
If so, do the above measurement (see #2) in a head-down position or lying on the floor. These positions tend to disconnect the neck and jaw compensations, so you’ll get a cleaner measurement. Again, singing softly is the most useful challenge.
4. Respect your limits! Note the following:
- Your genetic profile, including the size and shape of your vocal instrument, may not give you the range displayed by your favorite operatic or Broadway-style role model.
- Composers and producers will always push for more extreme performances, but their own bodies and voices are not at risk — yours are!
- Fame, wealth, and healthy singing don’t always go together, so be honest with your teachers and career advisors, and exercise your maturing frontal lobe to choose your roles wisely.
- If you stop pushing and straining for high notes, you may be able to feel a deeper ability to relax and stretch the throat, and to fully anchor your breath support. Then, if higher notes show up, you’ll know they are yours to keep.