Singing with an “Aging” Voice

A question that pops up now and then (especially around audition time) is how to cope with a “mature” or, shall we just say it, an “aging” voice.  It’s a challenging issue, for no one enjoys admitting that he can’t manipulate his voice as easily as he once did.   The good news is that we can continue singing with a relatively good tone well into our retirement years, and for many of us, that’s when our schedules finally allow a lot of singing!  Still, we need to accept some “adjustments” to our vocal production.

First, we need to understand that our range will probably diminish as we age.  This phenomenon is usually experienced more by sopranos and tenors, and they may discover the need to move from 1st to 2nd or even to the alto or baritone part.  Breathing and breath support also become an issue, and the older singer may find herself taking more frequent breaths than in the past.  There’s nothing wrong with breathing more often (hey, it keeps us alive!), and low, diaphragmatic breathing, combined with good support, is a wonderful physical exercise for the older adult.  Excess vibrato can also become a problem in the aging voice and it is often related to the breath support just mentioned.  The singer can “correct” much of the vibrato issue by concentrating on singing as straight a tone as possible.  It’s amazing the role our minds play in singing, and the mature singer can use his well developed mind to “imagine” the beautiful tone he wants to produce.   The older singer should also be careful about the volume at which she sings.  I often tell my singers to never sing louder than their own “personal” beautiful tone.  With the older voice, we usually discover that for a tone to be beautiful and controlled, we may need to sing with a somewhat softer sound than we did twenty years earlier!   The key to success, no matter what our age, is to come to rehearsal prepared, and ready to concentrate and work to be the best singer possible.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, there is good news for the older singer.  It is great to know that almost all choral singers can find a way to participate in some choral ensemble for as long as they live, and when you think about it, a lifetime of singing is pretty good!

Showing 6 comments
  • Larry Eglen

    Michael, it is apparent in my case, that singing has a profound effect on our physical well-being also. It is a wonderful method for exercising your body and at the same time, stimulating the mind! As you know, I sing in the Prime Time Singers and Sanctuary Choir as well as the Summer Singers, and I have found it to be a wonderful catharsis from the everyday happenings of being retired. Singing is happiness in many ways!

    Larry

  • Cookie

    Thanks for posting sage advice! As you said, you have made these points with us in rehearsal but it is very good to have them in writing.

    Now I shall be certain Jenny R. reads same and we will discuss where help is needed, etc. for me.

    Thanks again,

  • Molly

    This is my first summer singing with your group- it seems to have stretched my range, which I’m sure will carry over to our regular church choir in the fall. I guess our vocal chords are like many other parts of our bodies- use ’em or lose ’em…
    I agree with Larry- (I also play flute), but I’d also say that music fills a place in our heart and soul, at the same time opening them up and making space for even more good…

  • Lilly Chen

    Good stuff Dr. O. Always!! You know if anyone is interested there is a professor, Sue Ellen Linville (forgot where she teaches) http://www.masterjules.net/agingvoice.htm

    that’s done quite a good amount of studies and writing on this subject. She’s got a good book out there called “vocal Aging”-get it on Amazon. It’s not bad read.
    Also read Marilyn Horne’s auto bio, she talks about how she took care of her voice so that if you listen to a recording she made in the 60’s and listen to a recording she made in the 90’s. You’ll hear- not much change and she’ll say that’s no accident or luck of the genes either. Another book I’ve been reading here and there is on vocal pedagogy by Willian Vennard-incidently was Horne’s teacher. It’s kind of dry at times but pack with good stuff . (My own voice teacher Eileen Moreman, studied with a Vennard pupil-Nina Hinson)Cicley Berry’s book “your voice and how to use it” is really good too. (She of course is the legendary voice teacher for the Royal Shakespeare Company.) One of Berry’s understudy, Barbara Houseman has a book “Finding your Voice” that I love.***Also just wanna say it’s an honor to sing for you Dr. O. You’re one cool dude!

  • Michael

    Lilly,
    I know the Vennard book very well. It is entitled “Singing: the Mechanism and the Technique” and I used it as my textbook in a college course I taught on the subject of Vocal Science. The approach in the course was to examine the scientific aspect of singing. I also used the book as a daily reference for my studio voice lessons and choral rehearsals.
    Michael

  • Peggy Bryant

    I’m one of those older singers (69) who love choral singing! I sing with MOSS to keep my voice and musical mind challenged all year. In the 63 years I’ve been singing in choirs, I’ve had some very fine directors and have learned valuable lessons from each and every one. We had a wonderful old man at Chamblee UMC who sang in the choir well into his nineties. By then, he sang very softly, but added his voice to a good choir. Thank you, Michael, for making a place for the older singer who still accepts the challenge of blending, learning new music, and working to continue to be an asset to a choir.

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