Midlife Crisis! My Voice Changed!

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on February 3, 2015

Red CorvetteA Facebook reader posted an interesting question about his voice. You could say he was having a midlife vocal crisis!

He wrote that as he’s gotten older, his vocal pitch has actually risen. He wondered if it might be because he was talking softer. He also said that after yelling at a sporting event, he notices his pitch is lower the next day.

Let’s look at both aspects of this question.

First of all, when we stress the vocal fold (vocal cord) tissue by yelling or talking loudly, we can actually damage the tissue, which often makes it swell. When the tissue swells, it’s heavier because of the edema. This weight produces a slower vibration, which gives our voices a lower pitch.

I have actually had female broadcasting clients tell me that their news directors told them to yell in their cars or out in a deserted area to lower their pitch. This is crazy advice because they are actually damaging their voice in the process.

So it’s not surprising this reader notices his voice is lower after yelling at a sporting event. But it’s certainly not something to strive for.

Next let’s look at the age factor in vocal pitch. As the years pile on, the first sign of aging we notice may be that we get a little stiff, and we might find ourselves getting a bit more winded as we climb stairs.  These changes in joint and lung function are affecting the vocal mechanism at the same time.

Our pitch is altered when the joints in our vocal mechanism get less flexible.  The joints need to move freely and easily.  Add a little calcification (arthritis), and they can’t do that as well.

But that’s not all that happens with pitch.  In women, hormonal changes after menopause can cause their voices to get lower in pitch.  In men, it’s the opposite.  Their voices may rise in pitch due to a thinning of the vocal fold tissue.  Sounds crazy, but it’s true:  Men’s voices go up and women’s voices go down.

Because we’re losing muscle mass as we age, the muscles that play a part in our breathing are getting slightly weaker.  We can’t take in quite as much air because our intercostal muscles and diaphragm muscle are losing some power.  And, of course, if you smoke or have smoked in your life you may be getting the effects of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).  All these factors can make our voices weaker and softer, so we may have to add more breath pauses as we talk.

With all these changes going on, it’s not unusual to have the changes in pitch the Facebook reader describes. It’s simply part of the aging process that, if we’re lucky enough to have a long life, we all face!

For more on vocal pitch, buy an instant download of my book, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK by clicking here.

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