Teenage girls between about 10 and 16 go through adolescent voice change. They can get frustrated when their voice doesn’t sound exactly the same as their favourite pop stars.
The five stages of change that boys go through during adolescent voice change are very well documented – I’ve included details in my Adolescent Myth-Busters article.
But there is less research on adolescent voice change in teenage girls. Lynne Gackle in the exceptional BodyMind and Voice series has this to say about female adolescent transforming voices:
“Although voice change in females is not as dramatic as that observed in males, it does occur. In comparisons of male and female adolescent voice change, many characteristics are found in both sexes.”
Here’s a summary of what you might expect with girls in adolescent voice change
Female voice change can be characterised by
Lowering of average speaking pitch area (mean speaking fundamental frequency)
Voice “cracking” and abrupt register “breaks” (abrupt voice quality changes)
Increased breathiness, huskiness, or hoarseness in voice quality
Decreased and inconsistent range capabilities (tessitura tends to fluctuate)
Uncomfortable singing or effortful and delayed starting sound (note onsets)
Heavy, breathy, “rough” tone production and/or colourless, breathy, thin tone quality
Insecurity of pitch intonation
BodyMind and Voice book 3 page 815
The stages of voice change in girls
There seem to be four stages of change for girls, matching their menarcheal state. For singing and drama teachers it helps to know how these might manifest:
Stage I: Prepubertal. Average age 8-10 or 11
Listen for their average speaking pitch – Stage I girls will speak around Middle C or D (C4 or D4) although there can be variations of up to a third either side. The quality of the sound is clear and childlike with no apparent changes or breaks
Stage IIA: Pubescence/Pre-Menarcheal. Average age 11-12 or 13
You may notice the first signs of physical development including increased height and breast development. Their average speaking pitch drops a little to B3 or C#4, although conversely, their singing may start to suffer as some girls lose their lower notes.
During this stage, the arytenoid cartilages and the muscles that close them may be growing at different rates. This causes temporary problems with closing at the back of the vocal folds, so there may be breathiness in the tone. The breathiness can occur across the pitch range and may cause problems with volume, especially in the middle and upper range. Despite the breathiness, a girl’s voice quality can become thicker or slightly weightier during Stage IIA
Stage IIB: Puberty/Post-menarcheal. Average age 13-14 or 15
Again, the girl’s average speaking pitch may drop, this time to between A3 and C#4 The lower pitches can feel more comfortable to sing, and the sound is more mature. Be careful at this stage not to keep her singing solely in the lower register (even if she likes it) as her voice will not yet be settled enough to produce volume and weight on the lowest notes. Keep working the girl’s range, even if you let her “sit” at the lower pitches more often.
The sound can still be breathy and the range can move up or down, or shorten dramatically, or change by the week! You’ll find it helpful to monitor each girl’s voice frequently during this stage – make it part of the lesson to find out how everyone is doing.
Often girls have a more full-bodied sound in the lower register but shift into a breathier sound higher up. There may be noticeable gear changes at G4 to B4 and again at D5 to F#5
Stage III: Young adult female/Post-menarcheal. Average age 14-15 or 16
Things start to settle down in Stage III – her vocal range may increase again and the tone is more even across the range. You may also notice that there is more ability to sing comfortably lower AND higher.
Her average speaking pitch shifts down again to between G#3 and B3 (there is some flexibility here with leeway of a tone either side).
The upper gear change at D5 to F#5 may become more pronounced, and a natural vibrato can appear. The sound will become less breathy and more like an adult’s voice.
Unlike the boys (where the most significant growth in the larynx is front to back), in a girl’s larynx, the most significant growth is top to bottom. This means her pitch range will not change much, although her gear changes will almost certainly move. The biggest change you’ll hear is in her vocal weight and the timbre of her voice. You might notice that during voice change her pitching can become a little wild, and the overall vocal range may change, but that is temporary.
Notice that we’re dealing with changes to the girl’s voice at adolescence – things that are not necessarily inherent in her voice throughout childhood. There’s a difference between a girl having a husky or breathy voice quality during one of the stages of change, and a permanently husky voice. Any of the vocal issues mentioned in the list of Stages could be a problem if they were ongoing, but if they are changes that you observe during adolescence, it’s likely that they are within normal limits and can be dealt with either by exercises or with time and a little leeway!
BodyMind and Voice – foundations of voice education: co-editors Leon Thurman EdD and Graham Welch PhD Teaching singing to children and young adults: Dr Jenevora Williams. Compton Publishing http://www.jenevorawilliams.com/book-and-dvd/