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Student says low notes that she previously could sing now hurt

I need some advice for a student who's having some vocal troubles. She's a senior in choir and has been singing all through school. She's always had a solid, powerful low range. When she was younger, she struggled with transitioning to "head voice" and getting up in that range. I've mostly had her singing alto, with some occasional soprano in the select choir. Over the last year, however, her voice has developed a lot and she's been singing a lot more soprano. Her upper range has really blossomed. 
 
Here's the problem: I'm still having her sing alto in our select choir, mainly because I have a dearth of altos and she's a very capable alto. However, lately she's been complaining of her voice "hurting" when she sings low--like, lower than middle C-ish. We've planned to meet after Christmas break one-on-one to try to sort this out, but I'd love some advice first. I know it's normal for a girl's voice to develop and change during adolescence, but it seems strange that some of these notes that she previously could sing are painful now. Any thoughts?
on December 21, 2013 2:53pm
It might be any one of several things, and without hearing the person, I can't offer a firm opinion.  That being said, my rule is--if it hurts, don't do it!  Pain while singing is a danger signal.  
 
My first guess is that she's a soprano who hadn't developed yet.  Now that she's found her "comfort zone," forcing out those low notes doesn't work anymore.  If that's true, then her vocal instrument eventually rebelled at doing something it wasn't built to do.  (I've known several sopranos who COULD sing alto, even though it wasn't comfortable for them, and doing so caused them trouble.)  Does she sing soprano freely and easily?  If so, then I suggest that you move her to the soprano section for her own vocal health.  
 
I know how hard it is to lose a good alto!  But women of all ages can damage their voices by singing for long stretches outside of their comfort zone, and I've had to rebuild a number of soprano voices that were damaged by prolonged low singing.
 
Blessings upon you for wanting to care for your student's voice!
Applauded by an audience of 4
on December 27, 2013 1:14pm
I had a student with a similar complaint who turned out to have tonsil stones...
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