Navigating the Voice Change, Voicing

“Range is everything,” say NAfME members Janice N. Killian and John B. Wayman. Even a school year can make a huge difference. Killian and Wayman share some techniques that work with adolescent boys.

Listen to each boy’s voice and categorize it (voicing).

“It’s very empowering for boys to know which stage they’re in and which stage will come next,” says Killian, referring to John Cooksey’s six stages* of the male voice maturation process.

  • They understand that their particular voice is normal.
  • You can confidently reassure a “boy who can sing virtually no high notes and still hasn’t developed his lower register, ‘You’re a perfect Midvoice II!’”


It can be hard to get a boy to sing, so Wayman stresses instilling trust that no one will make fun of his voice.

  • Chat with him to put him at ease.
  • Ask him to count backwards from 20. This will keep him speaking in a normal voice, rather than trying to sound masculine.
  • Find his speaking pitch on the piano while he’s counting.
  • Beginning on his speaking pitch, have him sing the pattern 1-5-4-3-2-1 on “oo” as you play those pitches with him. Avoid consonants (“doo”) that allow the boy to reset his larynx with each word.
  • Play the pattern up by half steps while he sings. Stop when he can go no higher.
  • Return to his original starting note and proceed with this pattern moving downward. Stop when he can no longer sing and before he resorts to speaking or growling.
  • Show him his voice stage—enthusiastically—and tell him which stage he’ll enter next.

Share information on voice changes.

  • Describe the Cooksey stages so boys can keep track of where their voices are—and have them write it down.
  • Make a chart of their voices on the wall.
  • Share with them what’s happening physically to their vocal mechanism. “Just as their bodies are growing, their vocal cords are lengthening and thickening,” Killian says.
  • Let them know they’re not alone. Tell them which other boys are in the same stage; keep a running list.

Listen to voice samples Killian and Wayman collected during the first week of school and then again during the final week, and hear what a difference a year makes. There’s also an annotated list of recommended sources.

This article was adapted from “Range Is Everything! Success with the Adolescent Male Voice,” by Janice N. Killian and John B. Wayman, in the February 2010 issue of Teaching Music (p. 26).
* From Working with the Adolescent Voice, by John M. Cooksey (St. Louis: Corcordia, 1992).

Janice N. Killian is the chair of music education at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and the editor of the Journal of Music Teacher Education.

John B. Wayman is a doctoral candidate in music education at Texas Tech University.

—Linda C. Brown, originally posted August 18, 2010, © National Association for Music Education (