Page 52 of the book describes a smartphone app that has been developed as a tool to assess boys’ voices. The app was a spinoff from the 1000 boys’ voices research on which much of the book is based. Its development proceeded in fits and starts and it was a race as to which would appear first – the app or the book. The app eventually beat the book! Inevitably, the actual app that you can now download free from the Apple app store (it’s called Speech Test) differs in several important respects from what is described in the book – so you should refer to this site for updates and current instructions. Fundamentally, the app was designed as a tool to assess boys’ pubertal status by the non-intrusive measurement of voice. Its primary application is intended to be medical – in the GP surgery, in health screening, and in large-scale population assessment. It can also be used by choir directors and singing teachers, but to do this you need this interpretation chart. The chart will give you guidance on whether a boy should still be singing treble, how long he might continue to do so and, if not a treble, the voice part most currently suited to him. The book explains in detail how and why this works.
The book also discusses vocal agency – a very important concept for users of the app and any others who would advise a boy on what part he should be singing. Vocal agency is described on page 130 as “the boy’s own will with regard to his voice and singing”. A choir director may say one thing and a singing teacher another. The app can be a neutral and objective arbiter. However, in such circumstances I would always take the boy’s own agency into account. The extended interview with a thirteen-year-old printed on pp. 131-133 says it most eloquently. You’re going to have to buy the book to read this! However, a new film about vocal agency is currently in production. It tells the story of three 13 year olds in Y9 and will be available here before long.
As the book explains, measurement of boys’ pubertal status has traditionally been a highly intrusive and embarrassing process. Consequently, a great deal less is known about trends in puberty timing across populations (and consequently voice-change) than those who make up stories for tabloid newspapers like to imagine. The real value of the app is as a research tool. Whereas previously we could only measure boys in tenfold samples, now we can measure them in thousandfold samples. This is set to revolutionize what we know about voices and puberty trends in populations. Read about new research projects.
Familiarize yourself with the phases and stages of vocal puberty
The samples here, taken from the 1000 voices database can be regarded as definitive. In addition to the spoken task (Arthur the Rat) the boys were asked to sing the tune of Happy Birthday and given no pitching note. If the boy correctly locates the tessitura of his pubertal stage, he will accomplish the octave leap without difficulty. All these boys (from NYCoS) do this, thereby demonstrating the tessitura for each stage.