The perks of being an older singer

A year or two ago I delivered one of my vocal technique workshops to a choir. During one of the vocal technique discussions someone raised a question regarding older singers’ voices. I’m paraphrasing for the purposes of this article, but the question was broadly seeking confirmation to the idea that:

“Do you find that voices change as they get older?”

Yes, they absolutely do. Voices change as they get older. I’ve written before on the various physiological changes that occur (vocally speaking) as one ages. The larynx turns to bone, it drops lower, muscles change and mature, etc. All of this can lead to extra depth and maturity in the voice.

The chief downside of getting older more generally is that the whole body is less robust. Muscles atrophy, and any issues that occur (e.g. illness, injury, etc) will generally take longer to heal, etc. The result of this is that for anyone over 25-30 years old, they will increasingly find that the tiniest error in technique will yield greater and greater negative consequences.

Most singers simply don’t learn to adjust to their gradually changing instruments, and instead try to force their voice to work based on how things used to feel (whether or not this was even correct in the first place).

This is the very definition of vocal abuse and misuse, and almost inescapably leads to injury and vocal issues in the long run. I’ve also written on “how fast voices can go downhill” due to this issue of trying to sing like you have the instrument of a much younger version of yourself. Add in other bad habits and it’s a recipe for the average singer feeling like their voice just gets worse as they get older.

Voices are MEANT to peak around 50

As discussed in this article, well trained voices should reach their developmental peak around age 50. Yet nowadays, it’s seen as accepted that your voice goes downhill about 30 (also discussed in this other article). Why should this be?

Well, one take is that we live in a culture that heavily celebrates youth and energy/enthusiasm over maturity and experience/ability. The radio is filled with 18-21 year old vocal with young, bright, strident and aggressive sounds that are simply NOT what most older voices deliver. That sound is the domain of young “brand new, just out of puberty” voices.

But in the world of – for example – opera, professionals don’t hit their stride til 40-50. The sheer depth and maturity of tone required isn’t something you can just acquire with training or money, you’ve got to work hard on your voice INTO your 40s, and then beyond to maintain.

We rarely hear the truly great older singers

This is in part because the mainstream doesn’t celebrate them as much as either younger singers, or even mature celebrity voices from decades past. So, for the sake of illustration and comparison, let’s look at a few examples of the same song sung at different ages.

NOTE: It would be optimal to have the same song by the same singer at vastly different ages, but sadly that’s not readily available. Instead, I’ve picked three very capable singers from different stages of their life. All three are professional singers, some more specialist than others, but all good enough for our purposes.

All of these should start at around the same point in the song for ease of comparison. If it doesn’t load from part way through each song I’d try again on a different device or skip to the time listed in each section.

1) Mads Belden – recorded at age 21

I came across this whilst looking for a comparison for the following two singers, and was the best example I could find. Starting from 2m02s

Mads sounds good certainly, but listen to the extra depth in the next singer. Some of this will be difference in voice, some of this is also an age thing.

2) Jonas Kaufmann – recorded at age 45/46

Whether you’re into classical/opera or not, have a listen. Kaufmann is known for the thickness of his tone, and a lot of this only comes into the voice as you get much older (for all the reasons listed above). Starting from 2m06s

Now listen to the next singer and listen to how much thicker it gets again.

3) Angelo Loforese – recorded at age 92

This guy is ninety-two. NINETY-TWO. Listen to how thick and powerful his sound is even relative to current professional Jonas Kaufmann. Starting from 7 seconds in.

What you’re hearing is decades of continuous training and vocal work, plus taking full advantage of all the depth and maturity that only getting older can give you. There are many older videos (very low quality) of Angelo singing in his 40s/50s, and even then you can hear how much extra depth has crept into his voice since that time.

I am not claiming that every older voice can sound as good as Angelo Loforese, and there are of course far more obstacles to overcome as an older singer than can be covered in a single article, but I hope this has given every one of you reading this some food for thought. As a younger singer, you’re not even close to arriving – keep working because your best is yet to come. And as an older singer, don’t discount yourself and don’t stop working on your voice – you’ve got something that youngsters have to wait to access.

Learn More: Related Articles

If you’d like to learn more about the voice and how it changes as it gets older, you may enjoy these related articles:
What actually happens to your voice as you get older
Why can’t I sing as high as I used to?
Vocal Tessitura
Maturing of Vocal Tone
How long does it take to train a voice?

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