Part 3 of a 3-Part Series
First, some basics. This quotation by Leslie Leedberg from “Adolescent Singing Voices” provides a good starting point on this topic:
“The female voice can take up to four years to fully change and generally begins between the ages of 10 and 14. Females go through their growth spurts approximately two years before males. Many physical changes occur, which include a size increase of the larynx in thickness and length. The female vocal folds increase only 3 to 4 millimeters compared to the male’s increase of 10 millimeters. During this female growth process, the glottis may not be able to close completely because of an unevenness of the vocal folds. This is the main reason a female’s tone may sound breathy or weak. Hoffer (1991) attributes these thin, breathy tone qualities to “muscular immaturity, a lack of control and coordination of the breathing muscles, and insufficient voice development.” (From: http://www.singandperform.com.au/downloads/854300/The+Female+Changing+Voice.pdf)
This article will endeavor to knit together various approaches to this particular voice.
Let’s think for a minute about appoggio (Italian: “support” or “lean”). Centuries of study and practice could perhaps best be bolstered by quoting the eminent international researcher and voice pedagogue, Richard Miller:
“The internationally recognized appoggio is a breath-management coordination that must be learned if the singer is to acquire the energy and freedom for successfully meeting the tasks of professional (any-SH) vocalism . . . the term breath energy refers to the results of appoggio coordination.”
Appoggio utilizes vocal “support” from your diaphragm instead of your throat: Large muscle rather than several small muscles. Miller has studied and written about various methods and techniques of vocal production and health, but he feels appoggio is the most conducive to proper singing, adolescence notwithstanding. He states:
“In the concept of appoggio there is no pressing outward against the viscera upon inhalation, no pushing downward with the abdomen proper, no pushing downward upon the viscera during the singing of a sustained phrase. During singing, muscles of the buttocks do not rigidly contract, the pelvis is not tilted, and no muscular tension is placed in the legs. Further, there is no sense of great expansion in the pectoral area, although the pectorals and the neck muscles form part of the supporting framework, which results from the relatively high sternal position. Muscular balance throughout the body is the aim. . . . The muscular balance of the appoggio posture permits the singer to utilize the amount of breath necessary to the demands of the phrase, while retaining a sense of continuing breath resources. Breathing in and singing out seem not to be opposing actions.
Miller quotes Francesco Lamperti, who describes the sensation of appoggio: “To sustain a given note the air should be expelled slowly; to attain this end, the respiratory muscles, by continuing their action, strive to retain the air in the lungs, and oppose their action to that of the expiratory muscles, which, at the same time, drive it out for the production of the note. There is thus established a balance of power between these two agents, which is called the lutte vocale, or vocal struggle. On the retention of this equilibrium depends the just emission of the voice and by means of it alone, can true expression be given to the sound produced. Using the appoggio technique, singers can avoid any rigidity because they do not force the muscles of their body to do unnatural activities” (p. 25).
For many, acquiring and utilizing appoggio leads to a secure, life-long method to preserve vocal integrity, and adolescence is the perfect place to coach this skill. One significant source is the collection of Franco Tenelli videos on YouTube. You will see and hear appoggio in action.
How good a voice coach are you?
Could you improve . . . or even change?
An introduction to basics by Vocal Process: Build a Larynx is included in a post by Jennifer Berroth on the Developing Voices: A Holistic Approach to Developing & Maintaining Healthy Voices blog. Berroth also includes a useful exercise entitled “Demonstrate the Bernoulli Effect,” reprinted from Pro-Singing Voice, LLC.
When appoggio(instead of laryngeal muscles) is used as the mechanism for using more rapidly moving air to adduct, it helps focus the need for improved posture to allow the diaphragm the space it needs to properly function.
Again, ChoralNet is an excellent source for information about all things vocal and choral. A February 12, 2019, post entitled “The Breathy Girl’s Changing Voice,” by Jamea Sale, contributing author of the Developing Voices: A Holistic Approach to Developing & Maintaining Healthy Voices blog, provides a good look at diagnosis and exercises.
Are your students ready for this?
Lynne Gackle, in her article in Choral Journal (vol. 55, no. 3), references Irvin Cooper and his book Changing Voices in Junior High:
“Cooper did not classify girls’ voices as soprano or alto but rather as “blue and green,” or any other nomenclature that the teacher desired, such as school colors. Cooper was the only early researcher that discussed classification of girls’ voices during the pubertal development. In a mixed choir setting, he placed the girls in the back of the ensemble, the baritones on the left of the conductor, the cambiata voices in the middle, and the unchanged voices on the right upper row in front of the girls. This allowed the cambiata voices to “float” with the baritones and unchanged voices if necessary.”
What Cooper did, and many of us also do, is to have the choristers switch parts (i.e., “on this song Blue sings the Soprano part, Green the Alto”) so that (1) those singing “Alto” do not push tone into the chest, possibly injuring the voice but also not maintaining and developing their upper register, and (2) singers are taught and encouraged to safely continue to use their full range of notes, as voice change allows.
Dr. Gackle is again referenced in an article by Bridget Sweet:
“The four stages (of female vocal development) are rooted in the conception of female voice change as “shades of change”: Perceptually, female voice change can best be described as shades of change. If the color blue is suggested, the mind may conjure many different shades of blue—from azure to royal or navy blue—with many colors represented in between. In many ways, color association is an appropriate way to understanding the development of the female voice. The overall color is that of a treble sound—it does not change. However, in terms of richness, depth, and warmth, the quality changes noticeably, and those stages of change can readily be identified by a trained listener (Gackle, 1991, p. 21).
“In more recent publications, Gackle (2006) proposed that her framework consisted of “phases rather than stages due to the gradual nature of the changing process over time” (2006, p. 32). Later discussions (Gackle, 2011) also included consideration of emotional and psychological impact of voice change for female singers. Regardless, indications of female voice change include insecurity of pitch, development of noticeable register breaks, increased huskiness in the voice, decreased and inconsistent range capabilities, voice cracking, hoarseness, and general discomfort when singing (Gackle, 1991, 2000, 2006, 2011).”
How do you address and develop the female changing voice? Sometimes a great example helps. Here is the Seattle Girls’ Choir at The Jesuit Church in Bratislava, Slovakia, on July 22, 2009, singing Daniel Gawthrop’s “Mary Speaks” under the brilliant development and direction of Dr. Jerome Wright. Notice
- the full range of the adolescent female voice
- the full range of emotional expression
- the audience . . . several of whom are on the edge of their seat
Thank you for reading this, the third and final part of this series. Your comments are welcome and helpful for others.
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Cooper, Irvin. Changing Voices in Junior High: Letters to Pat. New York: Carl Fisher, 1953.
Gackle, Lynne. The adolescent female voice: characteristics of change and stages of development. Choral Journal (1991), 31(8), 17–25.
Han, Paul. Principles of Appoggio. DMA thesis, Indiana University, Dec. 2018. Retrieved from https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/213852085.pdf, pp. 10-11
Lamperti, Francesco. The Art of Singing. New York: G. Schirmer, 1939. p. 25.
Leedberg, Leslie. Adolescent Singing Voices. Excerpt from a final research paper at the University of New Hampshire. Retrieved on Feb. 23, 2021, from http://www.leedberg.com/voice/pages/female.html.
Miller, Richard. Techniques of Singing: A Study in National Tonal Preferences and How They Relate to Functional Efficiency. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1977.
Sweet, Bridget. The adolescent female changing voice: A phenomenological investigation. Journal of Research in Music Education (2015), 63 (1), 70-88.
Stuart Hunt is founder of ToolsforConductors.com, which publishes vocal / choral sight-reading lessons targeted to ages from kindergarten through university, and assessments for band, choir, elementary, and rhythm. Contact: .