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Operatic tenor needs help with low register cracks on "C-E"

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I'm 40. I've had an operatic career for 2 decades, but cannot sing now due to vocal cracks in my lower register. Upper register is as clear as ever. Over the past 2 years, 5 separate ENT's looked at the vocal folds and deduced that there is nothing wrong with them - no polyps or nodules. I am not a smoker, but had to sing numerous times with bad colds over the years, and had an inguinal hernia that began in 2004. Voice started malfunctioning in 2004, and got progressively worse, even after the hernia surgery.

Lower register is now weak, and I've been too afraid to perform for the past year and have been unemployed. Any time I enter the lower C-E range, specifically the D#, I crack. Any ideas on what I can do to find my old voice again?

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I would like to try to help you and I believe I can. I want to see if you are simply in a bad habit of carrying too much weight in your belts and probably need to re-calibrate your bridging to the head voice, release constrictors and replace the extrinsic with the intrinsic fortification of covered twang contractions, through a dark, "operatic" vowel.

Contact me, I can try to help you over Skype web cam.

www.thevocaliststudio.com/internetlessons

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release constrictors and replace the extrinsic with the intrinsic fortification of covered twang contractions

Could you elaborate a bit Robert ? How can one fortify the intrinsic muscles ?

Thanks in advance,

akarawd

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If there is nothing wrong physically, or with your technique, then perhaps the problem is mental. The more nervous you are about getting down into that range (especially of that is the absolute bottom of your range), the more that you dread or even slightly fear it, the more impossible it will be for you to get there again. I go through a similar thing, but with my head voice. If my teacher is working with me on scales, I can easily sing up to C6-E6, because I am not thinking about how high the note is. If I am on my own, especially if I am using a score, I see anything above G5 or so, and I panic. Once that happens, the notes are totally gone. I find that if I go do something else for a while and let my mind get back out of the way, those notes come back.

To this end, you may want to enlist the help of someone who can play scales for you and who you trust implicitly. If they are a classically trained singer as well, that's even better! As they play the scales for you, let your mind go blank, don't listen to yourself and just sing . Let your body do what you spent all that time and energy training it to do. You may be surprised at the results.

The suggestion of keeping totally silent for a bit may also be a good one. Personally, I find that if I am having an 'off' day vocally, if I knock off my incessant warbling and just shut up for a while, my voice bounces back as strong as ever.

'Re-calibration' (that's the most spot-on term I have heard for it, btw!) of the voice may also help. Singers do occasionally need to retrain certain elements of technique from time to time. I've had to do it, nearly every teacher/colleague I've ever worked with has had to do it at least once in their lives. It happens. If you are currently working with a teacher, and they cannot help you do this, you may want to change teachers.

In the meantime, don't worry about the notes you can't sing for now; concentrate on the ones you can sing. If you had those notes, they are still there; you just need to excavate them again. It doesn't make you any less of a pro, just human. You'll get those notes back. Were I you, I'd take any gig that'd get me back out there so that my talents wouldn't go to waste any longer.

Hope this helps.

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This is an interesting combination of factors, and if your cords are totally clean on videostrobe exam, then yes it would be something in technique or something very subtle in health.

Pure speculation here, not seeing or hearing you: possibilities might be subtle changes in breath use, from the hernia repair; compensatory tension from pushing through the repeated colds; over-squeezing in supraglottic area in an attempt to get those notes (any tension in the cords raises pitch); or even just dryness .

Was there anything unusual related to the hernia repair -- abdominal complications, hoarseness after the intubation, any tiny red-flags at all?

Have you tried singing in unusual positions (lying on the floor, rolling head around on the floor,) or singing in bathtub or shower? does anything make a difference?

Is there any change in the position of your larynx, from before 2004 problem... pulled higher with tongue tension, or pushing lower to try to access low notes? any muscle fatigue around the throat that didn't used to be there?

and -- are there any times when the problem disappears, voice feeling/sounding normal even for a day or so?

I would be more than happy to do a short Skype consult with you, and sometimes am able to identify subtle adjustments in whole-body technique, that other singing teachers & medical folks miss. Chat with me directly if you think I can help.

Joanna

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Thank you all for your concern and input, my friends. I am overwelmed by your support - your ideas on what could be going on with me. Joanna: Videostrobe was clean. For the hernia surgery, I was not intubated, but the vocal decline (cracking and flatting) began happening from before the surgery- when the hernia first started. No abdominal complications. My breath use does feel different- I run out of air much more quickly now and it feels labored. Where before I could fill an opera house with my voice, I now have difficulty projecting, or even calling to another room. The voice will crack like a 13 year old, and get rhaspy and hoarse within seconds. There is muscle fatique now much more often than before, but that could be due to using the voice drastically less than when I was regularly performing. The problem seems to almost dissappear, or at least is drastically less when I try not to project at all, sort of like extremely soft singing - in a piano piannissimo, which is what I am practicing with now.

Mimi Daeva: Your idea of Re-calibration is very interesting, and that definitely is something I should do. Do you have any good excersizes for this? I wish I had the money to have a voice teacher right now to help me recalibrate, but my funds have almost all run out with no new jobs in sight, other than a very temporary, part time, minimum wage, dead end job - far from the wonderful career I once had.

Robert and Joanna: I'd love to try working with you.

Overall, I am so impressed with this forum and love the fact that everyone here throws around various ideas to help solve a situation. Thank you all for your much needed help. As I mentioned earlier, I am trying to recalibrate the voice by practicing very light and sweet singing now with the hope that eventually with time, my volume returns without the problems.

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...For the hernia surgery, I was not intubated, but the vocal decline (cracking and flatting) began happening from before the surgery- when the hernia first started. No abdominal complications. My breath use does feel different- I run out of air much more quickly now and it feels labored. Where before I could fill an opera house with my voice, I now have difficulty projecting, or even calling to another room.

DocHoliday: For this problem, I recommend some vocal slides (sirens), starting on the bottom, at whatever note is your lowest secure note.

Prior to doing the slides, do some onsets in the lower part of your range (for example on the B the minor ninth below mid C), with a mental attitude of simply 'saying' the note on a firm, speaking voice tone. For the time being, do not make any attempt to blend registration, or to sing with a refined/performance tone, or even to get 'projection'.

Once you can onset the B, the Bb and the A clearly, begin using the slides. Onset the note as you did (clear, firm), on as comfortably loud a dynamic as you can, on the ah vowel. Slide up smoothly and slowly 1 octave, and then back down. Repeat a few times. If you crack, go back the next time, and slide more slowly through that region of frequencies, until you can sing the slide repeatedly without experiencing the cracking.

Repeat the exercise for about 15 minutes every day, for a week.

After the week, move to the next step, which is messa di voce beginning in the lower middle voice, and transposing _downward_. This exercise really shows how well breath energy and laryngeal muscle action are coordinating, in this region where the vocal band configuration is moving progressively toward a shorter/thicker one.

When you get to the B natural (below mid C the minor ninth) let the tone quality get a bit more raucus, and change the vowel to /A/ (as in the english word 'hat'). Repeat until you reach the bottom of your clear range.

Third phase: Beginning on that clear lower note you have just used, onset that low note mf on ah, and sing a two-octave major arpeggio with the same sort of mental appraoch that you used for the siren, that is, with very rapid slides between the notes.... connect them a bit more than you would with a normal legato. If you crack, go back and slide more slowly in that section of the arpeggio.

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Could you elaborate a bit Robert ? How can one fortify the intrinsic muscles ?

Thanks in advance,

akarawd

Sorry about that, It sounds like "techy" voice coach talk... I will echo Steve Fraser's advise on this... Steve is very familiar with my work.

What I mean is there are essentially two different muscle sets we contend with in singing. The Constrictors are bigger, broader extrinsic muscles (bigger & external) in the back of the neck. When you sing too high in the chest voice and fail to bridge to the head voice around E4, the constrictors begin to engage and will choke you... this is what many people do when they dont have proper training on how to bridge the registers (chest to head).

Your solution is, to 1st, learn how to bridge your registers! As a Classical singer, you probably never learned how to do this properly and now when you sing high, your constrictors are saying, "NO!" and your choking. After you have properly learned to bridge the registers, you can begin to learn how to phonate exotic vocal modes in the head voice to create the illusion to the audience that your belting a G4 (example), when in fact you are phonating a twang vocal mode, in a low covered head placement, through a darker vowel. This is the business of training to make your newly found head voice not phonate in Falsetto mode, but in a new mode... namely, twang through darker vowels. If you can train to learn to do this, I can gurantee you that your problems will go away.

When I say "fortify instrinsic muscles" I mean to say, strengthen your ability to produce isolated twang contractions in the head voice, far removed from the shouty, pushy constrictors. The muscles we are talking about hear are the Aryepiglottic Sphincter, Cricothyroid and Thyroary tenoid muscles and their other instrinsic (inside & small) buddies around in the laryngeal area.

... as I said before, ... you can fix this problem with training... you need to learn how to do this... I can help you, but you have to get started... reading about it from Steve, me or anyone else is not going to fix the problem. Book knowledge is not enough, you have to learn how to do it and train it.

Im here to help you when your ready.

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Sorry about that, It sounds like "techy" voice coach talk... I will echo Steve Fraser's advise on this... Steve is very familiar with my work.

What I mean is there are essentially two different muscle sets we contend with in singing. The Constrictors are bigger, broader extrinsic muscles (bigger & external) in the back of the neck. When you sing too high in the chest voice and fail to bridge to the head voice around E4, the constrictors begin to engage and will choke you... this is what many people do when they dont have proper training on how to bridge the registers (chest to head).

Your solution is, to 1st, learn how to bridge your registers! As a Classical singer, you probably never learned how to do this properly and now when you sing high, your constrictors are saying, "NO!" and your choking. After you have properly learned to bridge the registers, you can begin to learn how to phonate exotic vocal modes in the head voice to create the illusion to the audience that your belting a G4 (example), when in fact you are phonating a twang vocal mode, in a low covered head placement, through a darker vowel. This is the business of training to make your newly found head voice not phonate in Falsetto mode, but in a new mode... namely, twang through darker vowels. If you can train to learn to do this, I can gurantee you that your problems will go away.

When I say "fortify instrinsic muscles" I mean to say, strengthen your ability to produce isolated twang contractions in the head voice, far removed from the shouty, pushy constrictors. The muscles we are talking about hear are the Aryepiglottic Sphincter, Cricothyroid and Thyroary tenoid muscles and their other instrinsic (inside & small) buddies around in the laryngeal area.

... as I said before, ... you can fix this problem with training... you need to learn how to do this... I can help you, but you have to get started... reading about it from Steve, me or anyone else is not going to fix the problem. Book knowledge is not enough, you have to learn how to do it and train it.

Im here to help you when your ready.

Sure. Email sent.

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Lower register is now weak, and I've been too afraid to perform for the past year and have been unemployed. Any time I enter the lower C-E range, specifically the D#, I crack. Any ideas on what I can do to find my old voice again?

DocHoliday... question: Are you referring to Middle C and the E above it, or the notes 1 octave down from there?

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Dear Doc Holiday, I am so very sorry to hear your difficulties. I sing opera and have done so for more than 20 years. I am also a Cantor and have to sing regularly whether I want to or not. When I hit 40 years old, I am now 43, my voice seriously began to change. I went from a Rossinni specialist to a Mozart specialist. My voice got a bit lower and fuller, but I still had my upper range and lightness. However, I did go thru a period where my e,f, f# and g were becoming rather hard to negotiate when there was never a problem before. I had to readjust my thinking and technique to adapt to the physical changes in my throat and energy. Mixing thru the difficult passagio for Tenors is a life long challenge. I would go take some time off. I understand the idea of being in vocal shape. I am singing constantly and keep myself well oiled. However, a week or so off and then back in lightly and evenly can never hurt. Steven, Robert and Joanne all sound very professional and knowlegable, I think it is fair to say you can trust the advice given. Good luck.

David Aaron Katz

Superior Vocal Health

Superiorvocalhealth.blogspot.com

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Steven, as a lyric Tenor, my bottom note is a "squeaky G". My top useable notes are D, and sometimes E above High C, when I'm in really good shape. The notes in question are the bottom D area just under the Passagio.

DocHoliday: thanks. I still think we have an unclear understanding of which 'Bottom D' is just under the '

passaggio'. If you mean the D just above middle c, then my earlier postings were useful, but not as useful at they could have been.

If you mean the D next to middle C, then this _is_ a midlife passaggio situation.

Please, clarify for us. We can proceed from there.

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Steven,

Yes it's D next to Middle C.

DocHoliday: Ok, thanks.

The exercises I mentioned earlier in this thread are still useful, but there is an important component to maintaining vocal weight in the passaggio... singing the right shade of vowels.

IMO, the vowel which will be the most challenging will be /i/ (ee), as it has the lowest passaggio entry point. When the first harmonic passes the lower vowel resonance, the /i/ vowel looses power rapidly as you continue to ascend. In classical technique, the recommended vowel modification to use is to shade the /i/ toward /I/ (ee to Ih), while maintaining sufficient jaw drop and singing formant. If resonance is not maintained in this way, the vocal process has to do more work to maintain the tone, and if you've developed very subtle control of registration and dynmaics from your prior singing, the balance can be upset enough to cause the crack. Hell, it happened to Nicolai Gedda in a recorded performance. If it could happen to him, it could happen to us mere mortals.

In terms of sequence of technique recovery, I think assuring consistency of singer's formant in the middle range is a great place to start. Reduce the dynamic level to mp, and sing some simple, slow, 3-note upward arpeggios on /e/ (ay), making sure that the singer's formant is prominent, but easily done. I think starting on the E below mid C, and singing them with lots of slide between the notes, i.e, as if they were connected with portamento, would be good. Don't sell the notes, just work for consistency of singer's formant ring in the mp dynamic.

While you are at it, confirm your noble posture and appoggio.

When you feel the transition into the passaggio occurring for the top note in the arpeggio, gently modify the vowel on that note toward /E/ (eh). That should noticably improve the resonance on the note. As you continue to transpose up the exercise, the middle note will enter the region as well, so modify it similarly. Just a couple notes later, the top note will be in the range where the vowel on top can revert to /e/. At that point, you will have the bottom note in chest on /e/, the middle note in the passaggio on /E/, and the top note in head on /e/.

Its ok to let a small crescendo occur as you are singing up the arpeggio, just be sure to maintain posture and appoggio as you do.

When you can do this exercise on /e/, you can proceed to other vowels. If you need a reminder of the vowel substitutions to use in the passaggio, I will write back with the list.

I hope this helps,

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When you can do this exercise on /e/, you can proceed to other vowels. If you need a reminder of the vowel substitutions to use in the passaggio, I will write back with the list.

Yes, please do. Thank you so much, Steven, I will give this excercise a shot each day.

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Yes, please do. Thank you so much, Steven, I will give this excercise a shot each day.

DocHoliday: Ok. It will take me a few days to pull together the pronunciation chart over my micro-vacation. Let us know how things are going through the next few days.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Steven,

I've been doing the vocal sirens starting with my lowest notes, and they seem to be helping a little. I'm still going to need more time to definitively determine if it is working. I had thought my lowest range was middle C, but it turns out my lowest notes are an octave and a half below middle C - never realized it before. Anyway I will continue with the sirens on the Ah vowel as you suggested. Should I begin other vowels as well? Thanks.

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Steven,

I've been doing the vocal sirens starting with my lowest notes, and they seem to be helping a little. I'm still going to need more time to definitively determine if it is working. I had thought my lowest range was middle C, but it turns out my lowest notes are an octave and a half below middle C - never realized it before. Anyway I will continue with the sirens on the Ah vowel as you suggested. Should I begin other vowels as well? Thanks.

DocHoliday: Sorry it took me a few days to respond. Just moved to a new house, and have been only watching a few threads here.

If you are able to make a clear tone on Ah, then its perfectly reasonable to add the other vowels.

The key focus of this programme of activity is to re-establish the clear, medium-loud phonation in the mid and mid-low range, in other, more classical terms, to rediscover your chest voice.

I was, though, confused by one comment you made above. You said that you had thought that your lowest range was middle C. Did you mean the C below middle C in that statement? I can see how things are fitting together if you did mean so.

Looking forward to your response. I promise I will watch this thread a bit more closely now that I know you have some feed-back.

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Hey Steven,

Good luck on your move. Hope it is easier than mine was last year. Yes my lowest note is a G, 11 notes below middle C. The sirens seem to be good for my voice and I like the way it makes the voice sit. I'm impressed with this, and will start with other vowels as well. The voice still has issues on the bottom of my singing/ speaking range, but that will take some time to clear up. I find that if I have to raise my voice just a little, to speak above a passing car, or while an airpane is flying by, or above any other noise, I have major issues. If I speak softly and quietly, I usually do not have the problem.

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Hey Steven,

Good luck on your move. Hope it is easier than mine was last year. Yes my lowest note is a G, 11 notes below middle C. The sirens seem to be good for my voice and I like the way it makes the voice sit. I'm impressed with this, and will start with other vowels as well. The voice still has issues on the bottom of my singing/ speaking range, but that will take some time to clear up. I find that if I have to raise my voice just a little, to speak above a passing car, or while an airpane is flying by, or above any other noise, I have major issues. If I speak softly and quietly, I usually do not have the problem.

DocHoliday: Ok, I understand about the range we are discussing.

If the issues are in both the lower speaking and singing voices, and also in the louder speaking voice, then one thing to look at is the fine coordination of breath energy with the laryngeal muscle action.

Of all the exercises there are for testing and developing this coordination is an old, classical-technique friend... the messa di voce. For your particular situation, I'd like to suggest that you combine it with a Richard Miller-style onset exercise, as follows:

Take in a small breath, and onset an /e/ (ay) vowel mf on the C below middle C a few times and then sustain the final one for a few seconds. The pattern is much like starting a series of 8th notes with 8th rests between them, followed by a half note. The goal of this half of the exercise is to get clear, easy, coordinated onsets that are not glottal (popped open) nor aspirate (breath before sound). Do these onsets on the notes from that C to the G above it, for a total of perhaps 10 to 15 minutes. Over time, they will have a cumulative beneficial effect. The insistance on the coordinated onset is to bring attention to the precise timing of the breath/laryngeal actions.

(Note: if you find that its not possible to avoid a breathy onset, it is ok short-term to do some gentle glottal-stops (popped onsets). Then, minimize the time of glottal closure before the pop until it disappears... perfect timing of adduction and application of breath energy.)

After the 10 minutes or so, reduce the volume of the onset 1 dynamic marking, and add a small messa di voce of a few seconds on the half note, by crescendoing smoothly over a few seconds to mf, and then smoothly back, keeping the tone clear the entire time. On a physiological level, the purpose of this exercise is to manage the subglottic pressure in a coordinated way, having the breath energy appropriately balanced with the adduction and registration. The musical image used to achieve it is the insistance of clear tone in the context of the cresc/decres pair.

When this exercise can be done clearly and repeatably in the range mentioned, and the crescendo/decrescendo are consistent in tone and clarity with the onsets, the basic coordination has been established. After that, the next steps are to increase the length of the messa di voce (add some counts to both of them) and to increase the cresc an additional dynamic marking, to forte, and to extend the pitch range down and up 1 whole step, range now Bb (the 9th below mid C) to the G below middle C.

Repeat the exercise daily at this level with same clarity goals as before. When this can be done a few days in a row, add 1/2 step to each end (A to A now). If this is clear as well, increase the dynamic range of the exercise downward to p, and leave the top end at forte. When this is working well, the top end of the range can be extended to the middle C.

If there are questions about this overall approach, or you just want to post feed-back, let us know....

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