The voice constantly changes throughout life. As a result of physiological change in the body the voice passes through various stages, the most obvious of which occurs in adolescence. If you are a teacher of singing, you need to be able to recognize the condition and stage of development of a student’s vocal mechanism from the sounds it produces. These sounds are further defined by gender, inherited attributes, native language and dialect.
There is no point at which a voice settles into being a finished product; the continuously developing voice should instead be viewed as being a ‘work in progress’. Even the adult voice passes through its own stages, and needs regular work to keep it flexible. Singers need to work at technique continually.
It is important not to sing or recommend repertoire to a student which is too demanding. If, for example, the range of a song is too wide for the voice-type and its stage of development, an undue strain can be placed upon the voice. Similarly, a song with emotional content calling for a bigger, dramatic sound brings the danger of vocal fatigue. Clearly, it takes time to build the necessary stamina and range in any voice. Proper training will keep a singer active and ever-developing.
The songs which you or your teacher selects for you should also reflect your emotional range. For example, giving a 10-year-old a song such as ‘Hello Young Lovers’ from The King and I is not emotionally appropriate, even though the technical demands of that song may be reasonable for a young singer. Adopting an holistic approach to training the singing voice is advisable right from the outset; emotional and technical content of songs should go hand-in-hand, and be appropriate to a singer’s age and stage of development. If you are a teacher of singing, then repertoire choice is one of your most important tasks.
Stages of Vocal Development
The voice’s stages of development fall roughly into the following age ranges. Each has a corresponding physical set-up for the voice, which produces its own particular type of sound.
- Baby/Toddler (from birth to approximately age 4)
- Childhood (5 to 8 years)
- Pre-Puberty (8 to 11 years)
- Puberty (11 to 15 years)
- Adolescence and Young Adulthood (16 to 19 years)
- Adulthood (20 to 35 years)
- Later Adulthood (35 to 50 years)
- The Ageing Voice (50 onwards)
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