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What happens to head voice on aging? Heard that low ranges will improve with aging, but what happens to head voice ? Is it possible to maintain my range for ever ?

  • It hasn't been possible for me to retain my range forever. I've lost maybe one or two half steps off my highest note. I'm almost 43. – Todd Wilcox May 13 '16 at 19:04
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First of all, there are many muscles and membranes and other tissues involved in the process of singing - from the muscles that control the diaphragm to the muscles that control parts of your face and tongue and all points in between. And all muscles and tissues in the human body tend to atrophy and lose elasticity as we age.

To keep this answer shorter, I will focus primarily on the vocal folds and what happens to them as we age and how that can affect our singing range.

I know many older singers who still perform regularly and still seem to have the ability to hit the high notes. I also know some who have suffered significant loss of range.

It is important to note that there are actually two primary categories of force that contribute to loss of range for singers as they get older - naturally occurring physiological changes that occur as part of the aging process - and user controlled factors that can damage the vocal folds and other components of the vocal apparatus.

For many older singers who have lost significant upper range, a great deal of such loss can be attributed to lifestyle choices such as smoking and/or drinking. Abusing your voice by singing harsh vocals, singing too often without rest between performances, singing for too long at a time without a break, or failure to warm up the vocal chords properly before singing - can certainly result in a loss of range by damaging your vocal chords. Many famous professional singers have actually lost their ability to sing at a relatively young age because of overuse or abuse (of their voice ..... and possibly substances that can lead to damage).

Obviously the better you care for your voice and the better you care for your overall health in general, the less likely you will be to suffer premature loss of range.

Now let's talk about the inevitable - aging and how it naturally impacts your range. I would point out that some folks seem to maintain youthful vitality longer than others and genetics may play a factor.

The vocal folds (like all other muscles and ligaments) begin to atrophy as we age and lose elasticity. This can affect range as well as volume, tone and control. Also, changes to the tissues supporting the esophagus can affect our range. Below is a quote from This Article :

Cartilages of the larynx gradually ossify, making adjustments for high pitches more difficult, resulting in a decrease in range, and in more noticeable register breaks. Changes in the epithelium or mucosa of the vocal folds leads to a “thinning” of the sound.

Research has indicated that over time - female voices will experience a gradual descent in range - settling at a fundamental frequency of around 195 Hz (according to a study published in June of 1963 by Robert E McGlone and Harry Hollien on Vocal Pitch Characteristics of Aged Women).

The male voice experiences a gradual lowering of fundamental frequency throughout young adulthood and middle age. But according to several studies including one done in 2000 by Daniel R. Boone (University of Arizona) and Stephen C. McFarlane (University of Nevada Medical School) the fundamental frequency of the male voice actually begins to rise in late adulthood.

Many studies have also suggested that we can preserve our range and qualify of voice for a longer period and postpone the effects of aging, by proper use and care of our singing voice. In other words, we can engage in an active and ongoing vocal fitness program to slow down the effects of aging on our voice - much the same way as a general exercise and fitness program can slow the effects of aging in other areas of our life.

A vocal exercise program might consist of regular singing within your comfortable range after a proper warm up and making sure to keep singing sessions short enough to avoid over use injury. It would be wise to seek advice from a professional voice coach or instructor on proper technique.

Also, taking good care of your general overall health will help preserve your singing voice as well.

So the answer to your question is that your vocal range (including the range of your head voice), your control, and the quality of your voice will inevitably change to some degree as you age. But you can be proactive in preventing those changes from occurring prematurely. And with an intentional, safe voice exercise routine, you can potentially prolong your ability to continue to enjoy your singing voice - well into your senior years!

Good luck and have fun.

  • The rise in male voices in late adulthood seems largely to be due to loss of muscle mass in the vocalis muscle. – phoog May 14 '16 at 3:54
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The vocal folds and related musculature change with age, as do all tissues in the body. Excercise will help maintain muscle tone, muscle mass, and tissue flexibility, but it is impossible to maintain your range forever, just as it is impossible for an athlete to maintain the same level of performance forever.

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    I think this is definitely true but do you happen to have any sources? A somewhat more scientific question like this one would benefit from them. – Matthew Read May 13 '16 at 22:00
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    @MatthewRead unfortunately, I am speaking only from personal experience. – phoog May 14 '16 at 3:54

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