Adolescence (16 to 19 years)
At this stage of development, the voice has usually gone through the most extreme changes that it will ever experience. This phase is where stamina and consolidation should be the focal points of training.
In some cases, the voice can appear to be quite settled, but don’t be tempted to burden the voice with repertoire which is extreme in range and dramatic content. It is an excellent time to be building in agility and length of phrase.
The choice of repertoire should be challenging, both technically and emotionally, but if you are training singers, do keep within your student’s capabilities as you try to extend them. You can also challenge your students by introducing genres and styles which they would not ordinarily have considered for themselves.
For the classical repertoire, the early composers such as Purcell, Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mozart, as well as the popular collections of 17th & 18th Century Italian Songs & Arias provide ideal repertoire for the adolescent voice. For musical theatre and more popular music, be careful about the range of the song, especially for boys’ voices. You should be able to find songs in a variety of keys to suit the abilities of your students.
When choosing repertoire, be sure that the accompaniment is not too overpowering for the voice. It can be discouraging for a young singer to feel swamped by the density of the accompaniment so that they strain to be heard.
Young Adulthood (20 to 30 years)
This is the period of life when much more vigorous training of the singing voice can be undertaken. The pharynx has developed to its full length and width, and the cartilage systems with their accompanying musculature have now reached their full size.
The vocal folds have also reached their full length, and the muscles within them are now ready to take on harder work. The breath support system has now settled and can be worked upon to produce longer phrases and louder dynamics.
Everything is now in place for improving tonal quality and extending the range of the voice. It should be remembered that from the age of 25 the soft cartilages of the larynx begin to harden and become more dense. This is the first step of the aging process of the voice.
Later Adulthood (30 to 50 years)
At this stage of life, the singer should be able to access abundant stamina and vocal flexibility. The tone is at its peak of potential and the voice should be able to work with a wide variety of dynamic and energy. The voice is also capable of sustaining longer periods of higher tessitura and louder dynamics without strain.
The teacher should feel confident in working with voices in this age range as they should be fully settled into voice type and capable of working hard. The singer is also of an age where the emotional and intellectual life is flourishing, and so will be capable of a wide range of styles and musical challenge.
The Ageing Voice (50 onwards)
Please remember that the ageing process of the voice commences at about age 25, when the soft cartilages of the larynx begin to harden and become more dense. The aging process can inhibit the function of the larynx, affecting flexibility, pitch and tonal quality. This can be counteracted by a greater input from the muscles which control the movement of the larynx.
Constant maintenance in the form of proper exercise will ensure that the voice will function at its best. There is no reason why the voice should sound ‘old’. Deterioration of muscular function is the true cause of a voice which sounds ‘old’. Keep singing, as long as you are prepared to practise!
Professor of Singing, Royal Academy of Music, London
Director & Head of Singing, Musical Theatre Ireland, MTI
Award winning Author for ABRSM Songbooks 1 – 5
1-to-1 Vocal Training & Consultations available