What did the researcher want to know?
How does the adolescent female voice change influence young women’s use of their voice and their participation in singing in middle school, high school, and/or college?
What did the researcher do?
Sweet (2018) studied 17 female collegiate choral singers through one-on-one and focus group interviews. She prompted the young women to reflect on their singing experiences since age 11, vocal challenges they have faced, and perceptions of how others interacted with them during their voice change experiences.
What did the researcher find?
Participants recalled experiencing numerous vocal challenges during adolescence, including vocal cracks, breaks, weakness, and unpredictability. Additional challenges, such as laryngeal tension and lack of vocal flexibility, continued throughout adolescence. Some participants noted that these changes extended into their 20s.
Participants’ recollections of their singing experiences since age 11 were more negative than positive. Emotions like frustration, fear, sadness, self-doubt, insecurity, and self-deprecation were prominent in their memories of singing during voice changes. Sweet keenly noted that, as conveyed via participants’ tone of voice, facial expressions, and word emphasis, vocal challenges during adolescence were highly emotional experiences.
Teachers’ classification of adolescent female voices was a notable theme among the singers’ experiences. “Participants who experienced a loss of strength or color in their higher range and had a stronger lower range mostly sang alto lines; participants who experienced a lack of phonation or lost power in lower notes were mostly assigned to higher vocal lines” (p. 142). Rather than working with these singers through their difficulties, they felt their teachers had assigned them voice parts based on what was needed for the choir as a whole, at times even assigning them to sing vocal parts that were physically uncomfortable. Additionally, “many participants felt that being assigned a particular voice part in middle school or early high school and rarely (or never) singing notes outside of that assigned voice part, sometimes for the entirety of their involvement in school choir, limited their vocal development and/or singing potential” (p. 142).
What does this mean for my classroom?
Compared to the male voice change, the female adolescent voice change has received far less attention. Choral teachers need to be aware of the unique challenges that voice change can pose for female students. Teachers should be sensitive to the negative emotions adolescent female singers may experience as their voices change and help support students through these transitions. Additionally, teachers might consider the ways in which the assigning of voice parts can benefit or hinder female singers and communicate and collaborate with them to determine flexible voice part assignment and enable a healthy and positive singing experience.
- Thinking Outside the Voice Box: Adolescent Voice Change in Music Education, by Bridget Sweet
- This upcoming book, scheduled for publication in October 2019 by Oxford University Press, encourages a holistic approach to working with adolescent changing voices and addresses female and male voices equally. According to Sweet, “the book is about understanding that voice change is tied up in so many aspects of adolescence and, to best teach/assist/support our students, we have to understand the bigger picture of this time of life, including psychological factors, emotional factors, many different facets of physiological growth, as well as the influence and impact of society’s perceptions of adolescence and voice change” (personal correspondence).
- Update: Pre-order is available! Find on Amazon here.
- Sweet’s 2016 Choral Journal article, “Choral Journal and the Adolescent Female Changing Voice:”
- Sweet’s 2016 Choral Journal article, “Keeping the Glass Half Full: Teaching Adolescents with a Holistic Perspective”
- Finding Ophelia’s Voice, Opening Ophelia’s Heart: Nurturing the Adolescent Voice, by Lynne Gackle
- This book/DVD deals with symptoms of female voice change and pedagogical strategies for helping adolescent female singers.
- The Female Voice, by Jean Abitbol
- This brand new book features a variety of topics related to the female voice, including voice change during puberty, throughout the menstrual cycle, and as a result of hormonal birth control.