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The Head Voice - What's happening physically?

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Puissance
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Hi everyone,

I've been very curious about the head voice recently. I was wondering what happens physically when singing in the head voice. Is twang absolutely necessary to sing in the head voice (or full voice)?

From what I know, you can sing in the upper range by

1) pulling chest (stretching the chords),

2) using falsetto (relaxed folds),

and 3) using twang (tilting the thyroid cartilage and narrowing the epiglottis funnel)

What I'm not sure about is, what happens when you apply twang? The thyroid cartilage is tilted and the epiglottis funnel is narrowed, but what happens to your vocal folds? What's happening if you "blend" the chest and head voices?

Any insights?

Thanks!

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Hi everyone,

I've been very curious about the head voice recently. I was wondering what happens physically when singing in the head voice. Is twang absolutely necessary to sing in the head voice (or full voice)?

From what I know, you can sing in the upper range by

1) pulling chest (stretching the chords),

2) using falsetto (relaxed folds),

and 3) using twang (tilting the thyroid cartilage and narrowing the epiglottis funnel)

What I'm not sure about is, what happens when you apply twang? The thyroid cartilage is tilted and the epiglottis funnel is narrowed, but what happens to your vocal folds?

Any insights?

Thanks!

unless i'm wrong, the vocal folds stretch and contract, thicken or thin and/or move closer and away from each other (adduct) independant of any mode or register.

their sole purpose is pitch change.

steve, joy, dante, please give this a look?

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Puissance - my understanding from reading Steven Phraser's posts is that the difference between "head" and "chest" is the involvement of the TA muscle. There are many muscles in the larynx but there are two important ones that explain the differences between head and chest - the CT and TA muscles. CT stretches the folds and controls pitch in both chest and head. The TA pulls against the CT and "thickens" the folds in chest. The thicker folds create more overtones - that's why chest is "brighter". As you go higher, the thicker chords can only go so high before you need to let go of the TA muscle. When you let go of the TA muscle you go into head, the folds become thinner, and there are less overtones. With just the CT muscle involved it feels easier because you are no longer pulling against them. Twang is used to amplify the overtones that are dimished in head. When you "yodel" you are engaging and disengaging the TA muscle.

Falsetto is the same configruation as head - CT only. The difference between falsetto and head is that you allow more breath through the folds with falsetto.

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Dante - that's great info. I've got a couple questions for you: Can you explain why CVT says curbing can go really high in pitch? This is something I still don't have an understanding of. I think of CVT's curbing in the range of E4 to A4 (roughly on an "ah" vowel) as similar to Bel Canto's passagio. So, bel canto's passagio, which is a covered "chest" type of voice, I can carry up beyond C5, but I have to let go of something to and go into "head". I was thinking I was letting go of the TA muscle. What am I really doing though? And why would CVT's curbing be able to go way higher? Is CVT's curbing more of the placement of the tone above the larynx, and not the CT/TA relationship? Or is it the vocalis being used really high? They don't seem to go into that in the book.

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guitartrek cause cvt curbing when entered above C5 for males you need to add the flageoletcoordination thus moving it abit more towards a lighter coordination although the soundcolor will still be the same if larynx lowers alittle :P and the cvt modes is nothing new it's just describing what settings you can use in your voice and how high you can pull those types of sounds :P

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well basicly when singers move above the high c there 3 ways they can do it, the mln/neutral the curbing and the edge. for males getting above high c all trigger flageolet.

curbing approch will sound extremly squeezed when getting that high as the hold gets tighter, so it's usually easy to spot it up so high

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It wasn't until recently that I realized one could twang and do a lowered larynx simultaneously. Lowered larynx, which is, in my layman's opinion, part of classical instruction and the "Singer's Formant" provides a stable platform and twang, cause by raising the soft palate ( which I thought earlier that twang was a particular configuration of the pharynx) can be added on top of it and brightens the tone, whereas, without the twang, the tone is darkened by having more overtones. I probably stated that wrong and would totally expect Steven to correct me on that, and he is quite welcome to do so. For me, stabilizing and/or lowering the larynx for all but the highest of notes has been a godsend. It has given me a better depth of tone, a more relaxed throat that is, maybe ironically, capable of better distortion effect than before, which totally fits in with what I have read from the great hard rock and heavy metal singers of our time.

Twang, I achieve by widening the corners of my mouth slightly, a slight smile, if you will. It may look like a grimace on me, as it I know it does on Axl Rose. It also has the advantage of stabilizing the larynx. Which may certainly fluctuate minutely, but should not rise to drastically.

So, it depends on how you are defining head voice. Is it totally without the overtones that darken a note, that one gets with an open throat? I which case, I am, depending on the nomenclature of whatever system, either carrying chest way high (without strain), or bridging early by keeping the front of the larynx relatively low and allowing the other end to stretch. In any case, I am not in what one would define as head voice until I am in the 5th octave somewhere. Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining and I am loving the relief of strain in the throat itself. I would rather retrain the jaw and the back of the neck than feel strain in the throat. As for breath support, I have that for days and have often likened it unto a modified kiai from martial arts training.

In my layman's terms, head voice is where the notes are resonating in the bony cavities of the head, mostly, and may not have all the overtones of chest notes but can be modified to sound "heavier" by means of vowel sound and whatever relaxed throat rattling or rasp can be achieved, as long as it causes no pain.

And that is the hardest thing to do. Not the rattle or rasp, or whatever. But accept that your voice may be clean. That is the hardest thing to do. As Clint Eastwood said in the movie, "Magnum Force," "A man's got to know his limitations..."

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Wow! Thanks for the clear explanations. Personally, when singing in the head voice, I'm unable to feel the vibrations in the head, so it helps when I understand what is physically happening. I guess if I would rephrase the question, it would be, "what ways is it possible to sing in the upper register?" I'm actually going to try yodelling, so I can feel the TA muscle. Thanks for all the great information!

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Puissance: Wow! Thanks for the clear explanations. Personally, when singing in the head voice, I'm unable to feel the vibrations in the head, so it helps when I understand what is physically happening. I guess if I would rephrase the question, it would be, "what ways is it possible to sing in the upper register?" I'm actually going to try yodelling, so I can feel the TA muscle. Thanks for all the great information!

And here are three technical pages that may shed additional light on this subject too.

http://www.ncvs.org/ncvs/tutorials/voiceprod/tutorial/cover.html (how the voice controls pitch)

http://www.ncvs.org/ncvs/tutorials/voiceprod/tutorial/model.html (the 3 mass model for vocal cord movement)

http://www.ncvs.org/ncvs/tutorials/voiceprod/tutorial/quality.html (there are a lot more nuances to the voice than what CVT covers, so this page is gives some brief insights into that topic too)

CuoDante: An area of contention that I have with CVT is when it comes to females singing operatically in the high range. CVT will say they use Neutral or Metal-like Neutral; however, my ears are telling me something different. I've sat in front of my teacher who is an operatic soprano do some high notes that will peel the paint off of the walls and deafen you -- there is metal in her voice. Quite a bit of it, actually. I've also heard her do sounds that are what CVT would call Metal-like Neutral, and they sound similar, but still not the same. She will tell you herself that when she sings in full voice for opera, she stays connected to the chest all the way up her range -- she doesn't disconnect. When I listen to good operatic sopranos and mezzos, I hear this exact same thing. I asked about this years ago on the CVT forums, posting a clip of my teacher. I asked if she was doing Curbing up on a B5, and they said it was Metal-like Neutral. I hear too much metal in her voice, especially having experienced it in person, for it to be Metal-like Neutral. So, who knows. This is why the modes sometimes confuse me.

I agree with you on this one. Each voice is so individual that all definitions at some point fall short of describing what goes on. So often one way of explaining it will clash with another way of explaining it. This is why I honestly tend to stay away from much technical terminology when I am teaching.

But this is a personal preference, so I am not suggesting that anyone else do the same if they are getting good results by using a lot of technical terminology! ;)

After years of helping people discover the idea of feeling their own individual voice as one voice instead of thinking of it as a voice with different registers, I have gradually moved away from using even the terms chest, head, falsetto, flageolet, etc.

I have only done this because I observed that my students "lightbulbs" went on more quickly that way.

A good friend of mine who has successfully made his living as a songwriter all his life recently told me that he has discovered over the years that the more simple he keeps things, the more powerful they become.

I told him that I have discovered the same thing to be true with all things vocal.

For me, the end result has to be a person who feels the spectacular joy of what they are capable of doing with their voice when they allow the deep emotional energy to take care of what the TA or any other muscle/cartilage, etc. is doing.

To be totally honest here, I never think about the TA.

But then, I've never tried yodeling, so who knows? :)

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Dante - that's great info. I've got a couple questions for you: Can you explain why CVT says curbing can go really high in pitch? This is something I still don't have an understanding of. I think of CVT's curbing in the range of E4 to A4 (roughly on an "ah" vowel) as similar to Bel Canto's passagio. So, bel canto's passagio, which is a covered "chest" type of voice, I can carry up beyond C5, but I have to let go of something to and go into "head". I was thinking I was letting go of the TA muscle. What am I really doing though? And why would CVT's curbing be able to go way higher? Is CVT's curbing more of the placement of the tone above the larynx, and not the CT/TA relationship? Or is it the vocalis being used really high? They don't seem to go into that in the book.

Geno, if you have a hard time taking curbing higher up than A4, then you might have a too strong hold in curbing. I'm just guessing here. IMO, curbing starts to sound a bit similar to mln higher than C5, but there is still a slight difference and if you want a creaking type of distortion higher than C5, you've gotta use a bit of that hold from curbing. I'm pretty sure f.ex. Lou Gramm does that.

If you feel that you need a very strong hold/cry/moan to get power, try decreasing your hold slightly, lower your larynx slightly, add sightly more twang and try to relax the muscles in your throat that don't need to contract. This is actually something I found out yesterday that I have a habit of doing. Doing it really frees up your voice.

Basically, curbing can be taken up to whatever pitch you want (although most people switch to MLN at SOME point because it takes less support effort) because the main ingredient in curbing is singing with a feeling of being in pain. You must not overdo this feeling or constriction will happen. Just do it to the point of your sound thickens slightly and you sort of land in one of those "pockets" in singing where you feel suddenly more relaxed than before. That's the center of curbing. Geno, if I remember correctly, you are great at curbing/mixed voice.

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jonpall - I'm just trying to sort this out in my mind. I've come to the realization that there is only one CVT mode where TA/CT relationship is important and that is Overdrive - which requires TA involvement. It is unhealthy for guys to use TA beyond C5. I was incorrectly thinking that Curbing also required TA - but it doesn't (or at least I don't think so). The CVT modes are really about what happens above the folds. They are about vowel shaping and resonances. With my new understanding I've realized that I can carry the Curbing vowels up to about G5 - where I can go up to C6 in neutral. But it gets so high it is really hard to tell what is going on, so I'm not exactly sure. I guess I'm going to have to take a CVT lesson to find out for sure.

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Singingmastermind - thanks for posting that article on TA/CT - that was really cool. What I got out of that is their assertion that most humans will us all or none of a muscle, and that singers learn to use varying degrees of the TA and CT muscles. That is why - for guys - a lot of us "crack" when going from chest to head. It is the gradual turning on and off the TA which gives us a smooth transition to head. You hear this with a lot of new singers on this forum when they post. they are eager to learn how to smoothly transition to head, and they just can't (yet). It's because it is natural to turn TA on or off. It takes skill and practice to gradually turn it off. Of course there are those who naturally do this without training.

I know it is good to keep things simple. To me the TA/CT relationship is pretty darn simple. TA+CT=Chest, CT only=Head. Most people don't use this terminology so it seems really "technical". The OP wanted to know what was happening "physically" and to me, this is why.

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Very interesting discussion.

Dante, really interesting comments on twang, cord thickening/shorting, and the TA muscles! I have a whole bunch of questions after reading your posts if you don't mind:

I was always under the impression that shortening and thickening of the cords were essentially the same thing, ie the cords get thicker because they are shorter just like squeezing your bicep shortens it and causes it to get thicker. But you say the vocalis thickens while the thyromuscularis shortens, so are these two separate actions? If they are, I'm wondering how they differ in their effects on pitch and sound quality. Can one can be used more than the other? I notice when I go down to the very bottom of my range I can either bottom out with rounded 'woofier' notes or I can bottom out with fry-like notes and haven't been able to figure out why there are these two 'paths' to my bottom notes; could it be that one is using thickening while the other is using shortening?

I found this cross section image of the larynx to help visualize the two TA muscle parts below. They don't label the thyromuscularis but I'm assuming that it's the tall thin vertical muscle next to the vocalis. It seems like this muscle would do the thickening since it runs vertical while the vocalis runs the length of the cord which would make it seem like it should do the shortening rather than the other way around, is that correct?

Also, you talk about using more 'vertical depth of the cords' in your first response. Is thyromuscularis tension what causes this vertical cord depth or is that a separate concept?

Finally, I've had issues with twanging hard because it feels like the back of my cords get ground together and irritated. So it caught my eye when you mentioned that twang usually causes the back 1/3 of the cord to seal off. I think I must have been trying to force air through the back of the cord when, sensation-wise, you should feel most of the vibration move to the front 2/3 of the cord. I think I was mixing up nasality where you direct the air further back and up to the nasal cavity for brightness, but I'm noticing when I do twang with this more forward feeling it's almost the opposite of nasality, like the core of the bright tone is directed forward and through my mouth. I think this might have been the key to figuring out twang for me! Does your experience of twang feel similar to this?

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