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new singer with breathy middle range

I am a bit stuck with a new singer who has been in my choir - sung many a solo without so much as a glitch and has now developed a very breathy weak middle range from about a b above middle c upwards to about an e above that where the sound becomes so weak it cracks.  I have tried everything I know to try and can not seem to make a difference to the sound.  She is 12 nearly 13 and was singing with a beautiful clear tone not too long ago so I am a little flumoxed.  can you help?
Replies (6): Threaded | Chronological
on January 31, 2013 6:54pm
Her voice is changing. It is a completely natural process. If she is not pushing the voice or straining, she is simply in what I and many of my fellow long time middle school choir directors lovingly refer to as the "blow dryer" phase. Unchanged girls' voices ahve the clear "fluty" quality you described. Most girls from about age 11 or 12 to 15 or 16 have a breathier tone as the vocal folds mature. Buy and read "Finding Ophelia's Voice" by Dr. Lynne Gackle. I believe she is the world's foremost authority on adolescent female changing voice and the book will change the way you teach adolescent girls forever. It's AWESOME!  Any time you get a chance to hear Dr. Gackle speak, go!  She has a wealth of wisdom on this exact subject.
 
Mary Jane
Applauded by an audience of 3
on February 1, 2013 7:05am
Mary Jane's right! Adolescent girls go through a voice change as well, though it usually not as drastic as a boy's voice change. It's often more a change of quality than of register, though that happens too.
on February 1, 2013 1:04pm
Yes, as Mary Jane and David point out, it could be breathiness from maturation change.  But I often think that what we label as that, is a result of the issues I describe below.  ( I am not Lynn Gackle, but I have worked with this age group in choral classroom and vocal studio.)
Please don't rule out swelling and/or nodules.  I'm not trying to be an alarmist here; I have seen this.
I was coaching some students in a H. S. musical.  I knew that their teacher was a proponent of good technique, and this student had sung clear-voiced solos before.  The [rather sudden] breathiness in the mid-range was a bit of a red flag.  I recommended an ENT, who also worked  extensively with singers and actors.  Yes, there was a small node, but she was able to remedy it by resting, avoiding dairy products and even-more-focused technique.   I don't like to imagine what might have happened to this beautiful, early-maturing soprano voice if she had been allowed to continue, unaware... ;/  There are similar examples in my experience and others'.
Breathiness, or difficulty, or laryngitis, in the mid-range alone, and sometimes in the high or low range alone, may indicate swelling or nodes, becasue they are rubbing/intimidating the part of the vocal fokds [cords] used for that range.
Also, please try to determine, if you haven't already, how she is speaking (forced?...loud ?...tense? ...cheering at games..?...someone talked her into smoking?), is she singing other material with different technique outside of school..?  (Broadway/Gospel/pop are all fine if the technique is coached well) .  Is she under the impression [kids read so much misinformation on the net nowadays and discuss it, increasing their confusion..;/ ] that pushing more air out will give her more power?   (This is not actually true.)  Food can be a factor - dairy, even for the non-allergic, often increases mucus.  Students try to sing "around it" - ergo, breathiness.  Greasy/spicy things can cause acid reflux, which often affects singing.
If she is healthy, and you truly believe her technique is as sound as any M.S. student's can be, try to schedule some individual time where you or a well-credentialed voice teacher can help her to focus that air.  I would recommend a lot of "m's, n's, and hummy consonants, and imitate a nasty cat.  Try having her/them sing the melody on "Nyoo/nyoh"  The "Y/EE sound in those syllables is important - it  can help to gently-but-firmly pop the resonance forward into the clear space.  With perseverence, that will usually get the sense-memory to move the resonance forward.  Young elementary - 6th grade children usually manage to have focused sounds naturally, as their air has limited space.  But as jaws, noses, mouths, and heads increase in size, [not to mention other things - shame about size, either way, usually = poor posture] some do not learn that air escaping can really be an issue.  At the same time, they may learn abdominal support better, and end up with "air to spare" that is pushed through, but not allowing the folds to vibrate  in a freely-focused way.  Sometimes it's concern about sounding too "trained/operatic" - which may be their definition/connotation of a full, focused well-supported tone - even if it has little/no vibrato.  Or sounding too "nasal" - which is an unfortunate misnomer.  This concern can cause them to quit using head resonance, except with the breathy thing, and or to pull back on the forward flow of air, affecting vocal presence/volume.
The issues may be drawn from all of the above - possibly exacerbated by listening to classmates, friends, or pop singers who use breath in this way.
  The upside is that M. S.-ers are generally motivated, and with encouragement and guidance, will work toward recommended remedies.  :)
Best Wishes, and plese keep us posted on what worked!
-Lucy
 
on February 2, 2013 9:26am
Kate,
 
Just as Mary Jane and David said, a breathy tone is characteristic of the changing female voice. As Lucy mentioned, if it is sudden onset, there could be a problem with the folds, but let's remember that a breathy tone itself is not inherently dangerous to the voice (although it is an undesirable sound, there is no intrinsic hypertensing of the larynx).
 
The vocal folds close by a mechanism of two muscle groups, the first group approximates about 90% of the folds, but there is a small triangular space at the posterior of the folds that is approximated (closed) by the second group of muscles. In the adolescent female voice, this second group of muscles is underdeveloped, and may remain so into the late teen years. This is a problem that usually corrects itself in later age.
 
Manipulating the voice to overcome this at an early age may produce a more desirable sound, but the effects to the cords could be detrimental, and prevent the student from singing in her later years. 
 
Carter L. Collins
Music Ed. Voice Major, Mississippi College
on February 2, 2013 11:59am
There's no way to be absolutely sure without having an otolaryngologist do a fiber-optic exam--I'd suggest doing this just in case.
 
But I think the most likely explanation is that her voice is changing, and it will work itself out in time.  If this is what's going on, then trying to get RID of the breathiness could actually cause a problem by teaching her to squeeze her vocal folds together.  If you do this, you get an improvement in the sound for a little while, then as the singer matures, she ends up with tons of tension in her larynx, and a whole lot of work to do later to try to get rid of it.  
 
On the other hand, if she's got nodes, or a polyp or cyst, then this will need to be addressed by an otolaryngologist and a vocal therapist.  And yes indeed, it's VERY important not to let such a thing go untreated!
 
On the third hand ;) maybe she's developed some kind of technical problem that's causing this breathy area.  I've seen this happen to girls who sing very loudly and heavily in their chest voices and try to avoid their head voices.  
 
My feeling is that her voice is probably just changing, but that it would be wise to have an exam just to be sure there's no problem with her vocal folds.
on April 12, 2013 1:49pm
I believe this 'breathy' sound is very common among female choristers. It seems to correlate with a 'singing' set.: "now I'm going to sing and am going into singing mode". It is particularly preveant in women of a certain age who come rather late to choral work.
 
It is much less common in children who are generally much less inhibited and SING AS THEY SPEAK. Herein lies a salutory lesson for all would be singers: Base your singing on your speaking voice. Allow it to become an extension  - a more glorious version of your own speakng voice and personality.
I suppose it is possible that the increased self-conciousness of adolscent children causes them to become more ojective in their singing and to appraise their efforts more critically, thereby causing inhibitory tensions which interfere with the normal and complete adduction of the vocal folds. I would just quote Garcia: 'observe nature's laws...' and allow the words and music to dictate the sort of attack needed. Even - forget singing. Speak the music with love.
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