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How to handle boys' Breaking voices

Several people have asked for a compilation of the
replies I received, so here it is.

All the best

Chris Rowbury
Coventry, UK


Chris, In a word...he should 'soldier forth'. It's best to
keep the mechanism moving, if ever so gently and slightly.
I have a children's choir...ages ranging from 7 thru 18.
When the boys hit 'that point', they are encouraged to
just keep singing...keep trying. Before you know it, most
are through 'the change' and are continuing to develop
phenomenal ranges. I have one boy (16 yrs. old) with
a 4 octave range. !!

Sandy :)

Sandra B. Brown
Ashland Symphonic Youth Chorus


I have directed children's choirs for many years, as well as directing
and high school choirs. In my experience, the boys should keep
through the break. Lots of my boys are thus able to retain their
voice for quite a while as the lower voice comes in. They do much
worse if
they stop singing because suddenly they have a baritone or tenor voice
they hear it so differently from their treble voice that it is very

Certainly no damage of any kind will occur as long as he is working
with a
good choral director and one who is sensitive to and supportive of his

Cheryl Dupont, Artistic Director
New Orleans Children's Chorus

Definitely keep singing! Look for the work done by Henry Leck, John
Cooksey and others who have done research for boys with changing
Good luck to the young man!

Eric Anthony

All boys go through the voice change (give or take Michael Jackson!),
not all boys go through it in the same way. Some slowly sink, losing
half-step on top and gaining a half-step on the bottom week by week.
Luckily, both of our boys followed this path, but both were singing in
youth choir at church at the time and continued to sing along with the
trebles on unison and 2-part anthems even as they were gaining lower
As a result, both are quite capable of singing countertenor as adults,
in fact our older son is now singing with the male chorus Chanticleer
as a

But other boys do have a definite break, and in some cases lose
control of
the voice completely for a period of time. There were two other
in my wife's youth choir. One's voice sank in the predictable way.
other's voice broke, became uncontrollable, and essentially went away
about 4 years. Eventually he was able to sing again, and both are now
basses like their father.

Your friend's son should keep singing, and there is no way he could do
lasting damage by doing so. I'm sure that any choir director who is
to working with boys in this age range understands exactly what is
happening and what can happen, and I'm sure the choir has policies to
this natural physiological change. In my wife's case, since she is a
composer and arranger she simply wrote lower parts for the boys as
grew into their lower voices. It does you credit to be concerned, but
will happen will happen and, hopefully, happen in such a way that he
not have to stop singing.

John Howell

Chris: by all means, keep him singing. Try to find parts for him that
not stretch his range---generally, alto to some tenor ranges at first,
this will of course vary with the voice. Usually the alto range or
what has
been labeled the cambiatta voice which is somewhere between F above
middle C
down to about F below middle C. There will be differences without
The most important factor is keep singing with care. Don't let anyone
his existing or previous range and be aware that the voice will
contract and
jump during this change over period. Frequent voice tests to measure
and tessitura will help insure careful use of the changing voice--like
few weeks! Good luck.

Gary Fisher
Toronto, Ontario

My humble opinion is that he should stop singing for at least until
voice settles down. Having said that, however, I would appreciate
learning what other 'experts' think about the matter.

Lino Attard
Music Director
Cantores Sancti Juliani

Don't let him stop! He needs to keep using his voice, but just find
out what it's
going to do when. He may have a limited range for a while, which will
gradually shift downward. Talk to the choir directors and see what

best wishes,
Judy Greenhill

I have heard Henry Leck tell boys to do a siren slide from as high as
possible in falsetto down to the lowest notes in the register. This
done on
a daily basis apparently will smooth the changing voice a bit.

Alin Cass
Warsaw, Indiana

Hi Chris,

By all means, keep him singing!! It will not hurt his voice, but
rather help it
settle more quickly. He will just have to endure the breaks and
realize that
it is part of becoming a mature singer.

Marie Burns
Choral Director
B.T.W. Magnet High School


Your story jumps out me. In the U.S., we teachers of boys this age
encourage them to continue singing but to carefully use vocal
that is healthy, e.g., exercises with melodic patterns which bring the
voice down into the middle and lower voice. Sirens across registers
also another of many possibilities for him. At the risk of sounding
I'm blowing my own horn, you might want to look for a book I
"The Boy's Changing Voice--New Solutions for Today's Choral Teacher."
Published by Warner Bros, it's very practical and offers suggestion on
how to deal with the problems your young friend is experiencing.
about $15 (US). I've just finished a second book that will be
available in
late October/early November: "Strategies for Teaching Middle
High Male Voices--Master Teachers Speak." It contains, among other
how to test and classify boys' voices plus 36 vocal exercises for
healthy vocal
development of boys' voices. Master teachers from seven U.S. states
contributed the materials from which I've written this book. It's
by Santa Barbara Music Publishers. The web site might be

Be encouraging to the boy. Tell him he'll get through this time of
It happens to all young men. I hope his choral teacher will be
If the choir which he's been asked to join has only unchanged voices,
might have to forgo singing with that group. If he enjoys singing,
should be encouraged to continue and given specific techniques which
will empower him during the time his voice is changing.

Let me know how things go!

My best to you.

Dr. Terry Barham.
Director of Choral Activities
Emporia State University

First, research anything on the Cambiata voice. I have never had a
boy stop
singing because of this. Just don't push his voice. One day he may
be a
bass, another day an alto, the next day a tenor and then back to
It takes awhile about 6 months to a year before he will be comfortable
one section or another. Encourage him to keep singing.

Good luck,
Jason Lorenzon
Director of Music
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
5815 Fifth Avenue North
St. Petersburg, Florida

Dear Chris,
I suggest singing through the break. He may loose some
notes in the mid range (B FLAT-E ABOVE MIDDLE C) but
singing during this most critical age. The only way to hurt
the voice is to push something that is uncomfortable already
(all Broadway singers!) I spent 5 years in a Boy Choir growing
up and have worked with changing voices for the past 3 years.
Encourage work with falsetto! Best of luck

Blair Bryant
Aurora, Colorado


That is definitely one of the signs that his voice is changing. He
can sing Alto, using his Cambiata range for the lower and his head
voice for
the upper notes. If he keeps his diaphragm connected to his sound and
throat open, he should be able to transition between the two
and easily. He will not damage his mechanism if correct posture,
breath support, and correct throat posture are encouraged.

I do know of some excellent boys who kept some of the soprano range
their voice changed. I would be curious to hear some other ideas,
since most of my experience is with younger boys before they ever


Andrew Brown
Director of Music Ministry
San Ramon Valley UMC
Alamo CA

Associate Director
Pacific Boychoir Academy
Oakland, CA

When I was assistant in a boys choir, we did this: We took the boys
with the
breaking voices out of the choir, gave them special lessons in music
solfege, e.g. and made them sing vocally easy things, like the hymns.
made them go on singing, because in that way they got through that
easy and quick. He hasn't got to stop, in my opinion. But he himself
know his voice best, so he should care for it in his own way.
Sisse Schilling
Choir master

Hi Chris,

I now sing bass in The Dallas Opera. When my voice broke during
adolescence, it didn't just break on the floor. It fell into the

Your friend's son should NOT take a break from singing.

If your friend's son is a musician, he probably has a sensitive soul
I expect he'll not do anything painful. If anything becomes painful
should stop and give his voice a rest.

There's not a lot he can do to prevent it from breaking. He'll just
to find his bearings with his new voice. It's embarrassing when it
breaks but I'm sure the conductor of the county choir understands
If the director doesn't sympathise with this problem then he or she
isn't worth his training!

The voice is always subject to change. It's a most unusual instrument
and he needs to have much patience. I still am developing my voice
my ear. It's a lifelong process!

Kyle Hancock
Lewisville, Texas, USA

The Dallas Opera

My best advice would be to soldier on carefully. His voice will
slowly but if he is having a ball singing then by no means tell him to
lay off. He just needs to realize that there will be days that he
sound bad and he needs to relax and "ride the roller-coaster" as I
my students.

I hope this helps.

Bill Pershing

About the Changing Voice:
It was standard practice for years to "rest" through the changing
voice. Experience showed that this practice was a mistake; boys are
now encouraged to keep singing through the change. In my humble
opinion, the best book on the subject is "The Cambiata Concept:
a Comprehensive Philosophy and Methodology of Teaching Music
to Adolescents," by Don Collins.
It is available at

Duane Toole
Computer Tooles Company
Resources for Churches & Musicians

The best advice I could give would be to do as
you say - SOLDIER ON. It used to be that boys would
be told to stop singing for a period of time when
their voice was changing. That theory is long gone
out the window. The breaking may become more frequent
and that is natural. Soon he may notice that he loses
his "high" voice. Its still there, just harder to
access. He will also find a new "low" voice. The
idea during the voice change will be to connect the
two voices. At first the connection will be signaled
by a large break or gap. Eventually, with vocal
exercises, it will smooth out and he will be left with
a lovely full ranged voice. Two suggestions for
have the boy do "sirens" - slide from very low or very
high in the voice all the way to the other extreme.
This covers the entire spectrum of the voice.
Breaking is OK - it will/may happen - allow it. This
is a wonderful daily exercise.

Have the boy do five note ascending/descending scales.
There will reach an area where it wants to break and
go into another voice (high or low depending on which
way you are going). Allow the break to happen and
just keep going. You may find that he is able to
smooth over the break (also called passaggio) more
easily when going in a particular direction (up or
down), or it may not be smooth in either case. This
is OK.

Most of all, offer him encouragement. This is natural
thing that all men go through.

best of luck!!!


====Matthew Wanner
Director of Choirs
Muskego High School