I am a man in my late forties and sing mostly rock. After a few years away from singing, I have come back to it, and I am finding my voice seems to have changed. My falsetto is almost gone and my range has shrunk. Is this due to aging or just the hiatus from singing? How does aging affect the voice?
There are many aspects to your question that we need to consider, and I will try to make this brief – it could take up many pages. First, the late 40s is not old from the vocal point of view, especially for men who don’t need to deal with impending menopause. Many rock singers perform well in their 50s and even 60s. Here are some questions for you to consider:
1) Are you a trained singer?
If you had good fundamental vocal training, especially if you had some classical training, it will be easier to regain your voice. If, on the other extreme, you had no training and got by on talent, will power and raw muscle, you will have some difficulties regaining your 20 year old throat. Regardless, I would get some lessons to rediscover and rework your instrument before getting out on stage.
2) Have you led a healthy or physically demanding life?
Singing does not only depend on your vocal folds, but also your lungs, your abdominal support, and general state of health. What else have your vocal cords been doing these last 20 years? What is your day job, how is your social life? Wear and tear occurs, whether you’re singing, using your voice at work, or ordering a drink at noisy bar. Chronologic age is probably less important in this regard than biologic age.
3) Have you considered working back into your repertoire slowly, not suddenly?
Start with songs that are less demanding to reacquaint your vocal mechanism (including your brain) with singing. Singing is not just vocal cords. if after all of the above, you’re still having problems, have your larynx examined. If your falsetto is gone, there may be structural changes that need to be examined by a doctor.
4) Have you considered a slight change in repertoire or transposing some keys?
Many good singers continue to sing well even in later years with the help of transposition: if you look at YouTube performances of Johnny Mathis doing the great ballad “Chances Are” in later years, you’ll find that he has transposed it down about a third, but still singing it well.
-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)
This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.
Dr. Jahn is an internationally renowned otolaryngologist based in Manhattan with a sub-specialty interest in the professional voice. His practice includes classical and popular singers. He holds academic appointments at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Westminster Choir College in Princeton. He is Medical Director at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and former Director of Medical Services at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Dr. Jahn has published several books for vocalists, including “Vocal Heath for Singers” (Singdaptive) and “The Singer’s Guide to Complete Health” (Oxford University Press).