Voice change

Voice change refers to the change in the quality of a child's voice to an adult's voice. Voice change means the period when a child's voice changes to a man's or woman's voice.
Much has been written and stated about the voice change period; some fear it while others underestimate it. Similarly to all singing issues, even this one must be approached individually. If, however, we are sensitive to the needs of our bodies and treat our voices well, there is nothing to fear.
Voice change occurs during puberty.
The development of a child's voice in terms of voice change may be divided into several phases according to age:
First phase - 6 - 10 years
Second phase - pre-voice change phase - 10 - 12 years
Third phase - voice change phase - 12 - 15 years
Fourth phase - post-voice change - 15 - 17 years

Note: The actual voice change usually takes anywhere from several months to a year within the defined voice change phase for children approximately 12 to 15 years old.

The phase during which voice change occurs is called adolescence or puberty. The age when this occurs is only approximate because girls and boys mature differently and also because the overall maturity of each individual differs (depending on various factors, for instance the geographical latitude where the individual grows up, etc). Anthropological studies show that in recent decades, adolescents have been undergoing biological acceleration, which causes the voice change to occur up to one year earlier than in previous generations. It now occurs after the age 11 for boys and after the age 10 for girls. Physical and mental development at the beginning of this period is still calm but it is shortly replaced by an abrupt, unbalanced boom connected to stormy anatomical-physiological changes that are reflected in the individual's mental state and in his social relationships. These changes are induced by the increased activity of the endocrine system, i.e. glands with inner secretion, which send hormones directly into the bloodstream. The adrenal and pituitary hormones hasten the growth of the gonads. Their activity stimulates the nervous systems of adolescents and strongly influences their mental state and behaviour. The disrupted balance between rapid physical development and a lingering childlike mentality causes mental crises and rebellions against the world of "adults". This is also the most difficult period for vocal teachers. An important manifestation of secondary sexual changes is the rapid growth of the larynx and lengthening of the vocal cords, connected to changes of the vocal properties: voice pitch, strength, timbre, and even disrupted nerve-muscle coordination. A voice change is a process through which the original child's voice distinguishes itself into a male or a female voice. One can read in literature that voice changes usually start after age twelve for girls and after age fourteen for boys. But the most recent studies show that due to accelerated biological adolescence today, this change occurs two years earlier than in previous generations (approximately around age 12 for boys, in the middle of the 11th year for girls). Voice changes occur more tumultuously for boys than in girls since male vocal cords must grow to a much larger size than their female counterparts, giving males their lower voice positions in comparison to female voices. Boys' vocal cords must grow by about 7 to 14 millimetres depending on the type of voice, while girls' vocal cords must grow only 3 to 5 millimetres (children's vocal cords measure about 10 millimetres on average).
The boys voice position lowers by about one octave while in girls voice position is remains the same while the vocal range expands in both directions (directly related to the type of voice, alto or soprano).
For this reason voice changes in girls often go unnoticed and are limited to temporary vacillation of the voice's strength, position and a change in its timber. The changes in boys' voices are related to timbre, strength and above all voice position. In untrained singers and particularly in neglected boy's voices, voice change is accompanied by the voice crisis, where the voice sounds coarse or gravelly and jumps between the boy's and the man's position, one octave lower. The cause of this uncontrolled voice is a hearing-phonation disorder. A boy has a certain idea of the quality of his voice that he wants to produce and his brain gives an order to the vocal cords to perform the usual set of tasks. But the vocal cords are in the phase of headlong growth, and if we exaggerate slightly, one can say that their size today is different than it was yesterday. To produce the expected voice quality, they would have to be treated somewhat differently. (It is as if your legs grew about 1 metre from one day to the next. You would get up in the morning and be astonished that your new legs refuse to listen to you. For example, the energy you were used to employ for simply lifting your legs would cause a completely different movement than before. And how about walking up the stairs?). The boy thus engages his voice as usual but to his horror something entirely different comes out. It is no wonder, then, that these boys very often refuse to sing publicly.
With good voice instruction, however, voice change in boys can pass almost unnoticed (The word "can" is used here intentionally because voice change is always a very individual matter. Some people's vocal cords grow slowly and smoothly, others experience a truly tumultuous growth). In addition to changes in voice timbre and position, their vocal range temporarily decreases. Why is it that voice-trained boys have an easier time dealing with their changing voices? It is because they are used to working comprehensively with their vocal cords and thus cultivate a much greater ability to monitor the connection between which sound they intend to produce and what actually occurs as the resultant sound. These boys simply have better control over their vocal cords, making them capable of continuously responding more easily and quickly to their growth changes during the voice change phase.

The voice change phases in relation to the vocal cords changes
a) Pre-voice change preparation phase
The voice becomes coarser and stronger and loses the high tones of the singing voice. The larynx interior is engorged with blood, the vocal cords are red, mucus is profuse and glottal incompetence arises during phonation.
b) Voice crisis phase
The voice jumps around, tones crack. There is often a clear asymmetry in the length of boys' vocal cords - one vocal cord is longer than the other. Although this phenomenon looks rather horrible on the vocal cords photographs, it is nothing to fear. The asymmetry disappears by the time the voice change phase is over. It lasts several weeks.
c) Post-voice change voice adjustment
This concerns adjustment of the cortex and phonation innervation impulses to the new anatomical and physiological conditions of the vocal cords. Simply put: the brain has to learn to work with the new voice and respond with a different vocal cord setting to a different, usually far lower sound than it was used to.

A common question about voice change is, whether it is necessary to maintain vocal rest in regard to singing during this period
In regard to voice changes in boys
the answer is relatively simple. In any case, I would recommend not singing and using the speaking voice as gently as possible during the voice crisis phase. If the boy undergoing voice change is a member of a choir, he should not sing in rehearsals for several months. Even the best choir master cannot ensure that the boy is working with his voice prudently. Boys who have received quality voice instruction for some time are an exception. Such boys need not interrupt singing lessons but it is essential that the boy's instruction is led by an experienced teacher employing a very individual and careful approach.
Voice changes in girls are much less noticeable and to many laypeople and unfortunately to many teachers as well apparently harmless. This is precisely the source of their great danger.
I have often heard questions from girls or women such as: "I sang very well as a child but then I suddenly began to have problems. What happened? Why have I had trouble since then?" I am sure you can guess the answer yourself: voice change.
And that is the stumbling block. Voice change is less noticeable in girls than in boys, which makes it easy to overlook or grant it less attention. In this period, girls' vocal cords are permanently engorged with blood and can become quite strained even during regular speech. If a girl's formerly vibrant voice loses its carrying capacity and is slightly husky or problems arise with register transitions, it is perfectly clear, that the girl's voice is changing.

The correct way to deal with this situation depends on the circumstances. If the girl takes solo singing lessons from an experienced teacher, who reduces singing demands and initiates reasonable voice exercises, no significant problems should occur. Although the girl's voice development might slow down, it will keep moving forward in the right direction. A worse scenario may occur when the girl takes lessons from an inexperienced or outright bad teacher, who cannot discern her voice change phase or just ignores it. Since the engorged vocal cords, often accompanied with a glottal incompetence, do not function as well as before, they vibrate only when the child forces them, which further deteriorates their condition. Any bad habits that the girl adopts to control her vocal cords are very difficult to eliminate later(if at all). But here the fault is entirely the teacher's, whom the pupil is desperately trying to please. Another negative aspect is often disillusionment and the subsequent loss of confidence in her singing ability and voice.
You are probably wondering: "And what about girls who do not take singing lessons?" Let's assume that these girls know next to nothing about voice change and therefore have no idea that their voices are changing or do not consider it important. Some of these girls have a "voice survival instinct" that tells them what to do. If the girl's voice does not work on its own, she remains silent or does not sing in voice positions that she cannot handle at the moment. Such girls learn to handle their changing voices rather well through a sort of sixth sense. It is worse for girls who do not want to lower their singing standards and "fight" against nature. Until their voice started to change, their singing brought them joy and pleasant feelings and then suddenly, they could not understand what happened to their voice and why they don't sing so well anymore. Again and again, they try in vain to find their original voice, and if the tone does not come easily, they try to imitate their earlier voice in any way they can. I need not elaborate about how terribly they damage their vocal cords through these efforts. In better cases, they merely lose their good singing habits and singing self-confidence, while in the worse cases they develop vocal cord defects to some extent.
In this case, too, I believe much of the responsibility lies in the unprofessional approach of teachers including both bad choir masters and school teachers. Their responsibility should be to point out what happens during voice change and warn about the possible dangers. They should explain that the voice quality loss is only temporary and there is nothing to fear. They should draw attention to the need of renewing correct voice functions after the voice change. Even though the anatomical change in the vocal cords is much smaller for girls than for boys, it still presents a change of the voice and with it a shift in singing sensations in relation to formed tones. If voice problems continue even after the voice change is over, it is appropriate for the given girl to attend private voice technique lessons, even if she does not plan to take up solo singing. Even if she sings "only" in a choir, it would be a pity if for the rest of her life she could merely reminisce about the lovely feelings that she experienced when she sang as a child.

Should a vocal rest be observed during the voice change period? It may not be necessary, but caution is in order.
If a girl taking singing lessons feels that her voice coach is being too demanding and more or less ignores her transitional indisposition, I strongly recommend suspending the lessons, or trying to find another teacher. In any case, good feelings while singing should be preserved above all, even if this means lowering the quality of the tone during the voice change period. That means not trying to "voice" the tone at any cost, but rather continue forming it correctly. Once the voice change period is over, the voice (albeit slightly changed) will come back again.
A girl singing in a choir should consider her presence or absence in the rehearsals also in view of the choir master's approach. It is important to sing only such parts that do not pose excessive strain on her voice. In practice, this would either mean a temporary transition to a different voice group, or the option of not singing demanding parts or entire compositions. If such an agreement cannot be reached with the choir master, it is advisable to better suspend rehearsing with the choir for the voice change period. (A medical report by a voice therapist recommending vocal rest is a good excuse.)