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Passagio Breaks Are Due To Faltering Support?

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Matt
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While doing sirens, I was concentrating on trying to have a good balance all through the sirens. I register the note, feel for where I'm blowing just a very small, steady stream of air through the chords, then I determine the balance by the sensation I feel when the throat muscles relax as the air stream becomes just enough for the note to lift off and be supported by the air stream. Then I siren, passing through each note that seems problematic very slowly. Coming down on sirens in this fashion and passing through the breaks very slowly to try to work the kinks out in them, it seems to me that if I concentrate on keeping a balanced support through the breaks, I don't really break. The breaks seem to occur when/because my breathing readjusts itself clumsily, while my sirens pass through the passagio.

It certainly feels to me, that at each break, there is a momentary loss of support and misalignement of the breathing, and if you concentrate on keeping a balanced support, you pass through them a lot better.

Agree/disagree?

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haha Matt, i think you have created one of those posts that will have about 50 responses where everyone is debating and fourth!

you are right about using the least amount of air for the tone being sung and you are right about it being a steady stream of air and compression behind the folds (obviously dependent on volume being sung) but how this is achieved is the debatable

over simplifying:

the more modern classical approach would be to concentrate on support (or in other words breath control/rate) with the diaphragm to set up correct coordination in the larynx to cross the passaggio

SLS for instance, concentrates on the correct coordinations in the larynx first and foremost. the correct coordination and adduction in the larynx then sets up the correct support.

so yes support is important in crossing the passaggio but personally i have found it more important and useful to work on it from the larynx point of view. there are times when thinking of it from the diaphragm point of view has been very helpful for me but it is definitely not the majority of the time.

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I should have explained that where Im focusing on balance is in the larynx region. Where I feel when theres enough air pressure for me to experience how tense muscles around my larynx just drop relaxedly, because the air stream has taken over and is now carrying the note. Thats where I can feel the balance or imbalance the most clearly. Usually, the imbalance seems to be forcing too much air, I've noticed, when concentrating on the physical sensation in the area where the note actually is created and leaves the body and becomes vibrations in the air.

Im not concentrating on the diaphragm at all in this exercise. Its just that when letting the voice break, i seem to be noticing a momentary diaphragm wobble as it tries to reset itself to a new register or something at each break.

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maybe your widening the vowel without noticing. if you widen the vowel around the passaggio it seems to increase air pressure which can throw your fold coordination off. make sure that you keep the same mouth shape as you go up or even narrow it a little (obviously as you go to the top of your range you let the jaw naturally drop in a relaxed manner and also the vowel will naturally modify, for instance Ee will take on a Eh quality the higher you go) but you keep the same basic shape horizontally. you can experiment by narrowing and see if that helps, for instance if you were to use an UH do it through OO shape lips. you can also try sticking your fingers in your cheeks in the gap between your top and lower teeth to create the sensation and outcome of narrowing.

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While doing sirens, I was concentrating on trying to have a good balance all through the sirens. I register the note, feel for where I'm blowing just a very small, steady stream of air through the chords, then I determine the balance by the sensation I feel when the throat muscles relax as the air stream becomes just enough for the note to lift off and be supported by the air stream. Then I siren, passing through each note that seems problematic very slowly. Coming down on sirens in this fashion and passing through the breaks very slowly to try to work the kinks out in them, it seems to me that if I concentrate on keeping a balanced support through the breaks, I don't really break. The breaks seem to occur when/because my breathing readjusts itself clumsily, while my sirens pass through the passagio.

It certainly feels to me, that at each break, there is a momentary loss of support and misalignement of the breathing, and if you concentrate on keeping a balanced support, you pass through them a lot better.

There are some real insights in what you have written, Matt. Your imagery is very apt, and it seems that you have sussed out a repeatable approach to getting into this particular kind of phonation. The release of extrinsic neck tension you are experiencing is a _very _ good indicator that you are not overpressuring the voice... it just seems to flow unrestricted.

Current thinking among voice scientists is that vocal tone quality discontinuities (breaks) most likely result from the inapt combination of laryngeal muscle action, breath pressure and resonance adjustment. Of these, the first to work on is the combination of laryngeal muscle action and breath energy, such as you have been doing with your sirens. Getting adduction and registration coordinated with the breath energy so that the sirens maintain fairly consistent quality accomplishes a great deal. In my experience, students who discover how to accomplish this experience the dropping of neck tension, and also a pleasant sense of ease... comparative effortlessness.

As you have discovered and so well described, even with good adduction/registration/breath (ARB, for our use here) coordination, the transition points still have some instability. Current thinking is that the sub-glottal resonance of the trachea interferes with the pressure-feed-back relationship of vocal tract resonance with the phonating vocal bands. This pressure-feed-back occurs most beneficially (in other parts of the range) as the singer senses that there is very little effort needed to produce the clear, steady and powerful tone. Normally, tt seems buoyant, easy, "floating on the air', but at the passaggio point, suddenly the fine balance is upset.

The classical method for getting past these points (assuming consistency of ARB,) is to modify the vowel subtly to one which has stronger resonances in that pitch range than the problem vowel. Generally, as the problem area is approached and transitioned, a slightly 'darker' or 'narrower' vowel shade is used, which causes the principal resonance of the vocal tract (F1) to move lower. The use of the slightly-different vowel path as the area is approached minimizes the instability, and the break is 'smoothed', or in modern parlance, 'bridged' with even tone quality.

In classical singing, this vowel modification is very often (maybe most often) called 'covering the tone', and if done well is not apparent to the listener, nor objectionable.

Thanks for your post.

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  • 1 month later...

A break happens when you're trying to shift your resonance from especially a low note to a high note. In this case, it usually happens because you're blowing too much air through the small vocal cords that is zipping up into the high notes. In other case, it is also because you're cutting off the air support. Much like when we speak, we talk in one tone, with one breath but we don't notice it. So when you break, it's like speaking one line and in the middle you disrupt the consistency of the air flow and it gets weaker then you try to pick up again. Remember, keep the air consistent like when speaking (but do not use your speaking voice, big no no). For me, I try to remind myself that singing a phrase is like keeping it together in a sentence. So keep your singing phrases locked together as a sentence to keep the air consistent. And of course, do not change your tone.

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In my opinion, there are 3 important areas of the voice to work on. They are breath support, laryngeal configurations and supraglottic manipulation. An imbalance in any or all of these could possibly lead to a vocal break. In the simplest of terms, a break occurs when the muscle configurations change within the larynx itself. If you want a more precise explanation of it, I'll link you to many previous posts I have made on this subject from when I was more active on many vocal forums.

To the previous poster, 'zipping up' does not happen the way you he described. It's an old fallacy that was never proven but vocal coaches, including many very respected people, used to preach. It is something, that thankfully, few people talk about anymore due to, what I believe, was the result of stimulating discussions on forums such as this.

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" Remember, keep the air consistent like when speaking (but do not use your speaking voice, big no no). "

Hmmm, I personally disagree. I try to think of it as speaking naturally. Seems to me that my usual speaking voice carries quite a lot of volume, and when I tell myself to sort of speak loudly as if to someone in the next room, that that carries as much volume as singing quite powerfully.

Pretty much speaking all the way here, mentally picture myself speaking within my normal speaking range, and varying my speaking volume from speaking to someone in this room to someone in the next room.

I'm not the most relaxed singer in town, but the fry here is mainly an effect to dirty the tone up by cackling lazily.

It might be all wrong, but to me it seems comfortable. I can get up to C tenor like that on a good day. Unfortunately, Im too lazy to ever develop that. :cool:

http://www.sendspace.com/file/l4nozx

Current thinking among voice scientists is that vocal tone quality discontinuities (breaks) most likely result from the inapt combination of laryngeal muscle action, breath pressure and resonance adjustment. Of these, the first to work on is the combination of laryngeal muscle action and breath energy, such as you have been doing with your sirens. Getting adduction and registration coordinated with the breath energy so that the sirens maintain fairly consistent quality accomplishes a great deal. In my experience, students who discover how to accomplish this experience the dropping of neck tension, and also a pleasant sense of ease... comparative effortlessness.

Yeah, once again, its all about the legato, imo.

Its the same thing imo that makes guitar players sound professional, when their chord progressions and solos are in general a steady legato, without choppiness when changing pitch.

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Guys;

I used to have (and can still have if I do it wrong) the worst break of anyone I've ever encountered. I found the way that works for me and for all students I've ever taught.

I also thing there are three things that go into successful or unsuccessful smoothing over (healing) of vocal breaks. Breath support/control balance, an open throat, and to make it a practical matter, delivery of the vocal syllable/message TO someone. I find that if one is posturally aligned with the head balanced over the tailbone instead of forward, the body stretches tall, and the ribs widen with the effort of exhalation instead of contracting, the inhale, exhale support and control is usually no problem. When the posture is this way and the head stretches SLIGHTLY backwards over one shoulder as the passagio is traversed, the throat is generally kept open and the larynx is equadistantly stabilized as it tilts. If one chooses a focal point to "pull" the syllable to, the mask is usually engaged (the voice seems to come from the eyes and nose rather than the mouth and throat). I ask them to communicate with a flexible jaw and allow the vowels to modify to their comfortable shape, as Steven suggests.

I can usually effect this with a student by having her/him stand with the back against the wall when they sing. For a female, the head and heels are flush against the wall, for a male with bulk in the shoulders, I put a towel behind the head against the wall. I have them pull their hands up above the waist so as not to have "rib anchors', and as they sing across the break I ask them to remember to use their eyes and keep jaw flexible. Vowel modification usually happens quite naturally.

Then after they do this "tall, flexible wall work", I have them use a mic in such a way that makes them feel similarly. It works like a charm, and they are more able to commit to the performance without fearing the dreaded breaks.

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I like Steve's explanation, but I find that vowel modification is not as applicable to extreme singing or more aggressive genre's. I rather like OpenMic's explanation the best as he points out several components that need to be considered to achieve a good bridge... I find myself in a precarious situation as I swear to you all, I am 100% successful in training bridges with every student and its quite powerful, so the art and results of my pedagogy is pretty advanced, but the science still sprints to catch up, as I suppose it does for most of us ... here is what I can share for you from my experience focusing on bridging quite heavily at TVS.

Matt, your approach reminds me of my "lift up / pull back" technique which is 1 of 2 techniques I use to help students learn to bridge. Of the two, it is the less advanced one. Here is a youtube video on it... needs to be updated, but this will save me some typing time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8zroG9QWNc

"Lift up / Pull Back" is an interim solution. Im not suggesting that this is the final destination and how your bridges should sound. But we use this at TVS to help the following:

1). Beginners that are clueless on what bridging is, just getting them to pass to the head voice is progress.

2). People who understand bridging, but can not stop the engagement of the constrictor muscles. (broader extrinsic muscles around the neck that a lot of singers contract when belting high in the chest voice and when disastrously trying to bridge).

The technique trains the following:

1). Helps a vocalist learn the timing of bridging. WHEN to bridge in their voice. Most singers, especially rockers used to belting, bridge too late. Most of the time we have to train to get used to passing to the head voice earlier.

2). It trains the body to stop engaging the constrictors (above). This is the nasty habit that plagues most singers by default in the absence of training these skills. You MUST learn to "silence" the constrictors... to be able to pass to and fro from both registers, in both directions with NO engagement of the constrictors. Its not easy. Unfortunately, the body wants to get "grippy" and choke you ... but you have to learn to shut the constrictors down! The result is no constriction and a nice open pass to bridge through.

3). I believe it also assists in changing the pharynx. Opening up more space to allow the bridging to occur. (spot check me here Steve'O).

4). I believe it preps the body for the CT/TA transition in some way. (spot check me here Steve'O).

Ok, so while this is not the final solution, it certainly does pay off to rid ourselves of the "baggage" , essentially, stops the engagement of constriction and sets the timing of the bridge... giving you a clean slate to move to bridging technique #2... setting a twang-like configuration while in your belts, just before you pass through the passagio and then pulling the twang "through" the passagio... in other words... lock and load your larynx into a twang, "tilted" configuration in the chest voice and maintain that contraction THROUGH the passagio.

I have written a LOT about how twang configurations are the answer to strong, convincing head tones folks. Im absolutely certain of it.... what I dont get a chance to point out as well is... learning to twang and riding that configuration through your passagio also becomes a fantastic technique for bridging.

Try it!

so, where am I going with all this??

1). Matt, I think your tooling around with what I would call "lift up / pull back" and its a good thing to play with. It shuts down the constrictors and trains the timing on when to bridge... keep doing it.

2). Once you have mastered that , begin to look to your twang configurations and try setting yourself up in twang-like, "tilted" setting in your high chest voice just below your passagio and then pull it through... not to let loose on that contraction.

Folks, once you begin to have a grasp on the physiology and understand this idea of vocal modes (physiological configurations that produce a specific sound, acoustic effect, ect...), your on the path to enlightenment around a LOT of this stuff... in the "Vocal Technique" forum.

"Track It, Bridge It, Connect It, Formant It, ... Rock It"!

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Robert...how do you approach the U vowel from the twanged position? I see you going through passagio on twang-able vowels. Very cool videos by the way.

Thanks Matt...

Great question.. most training is in the open vowels just to be practical; A, Ah, O

When singing twangy head tones, you can twang through a closed vowel ( oo & ee)... but it still may sound funky. Try opening up to its open vowel cousin, the dipthong. (ee to A) & (oo to to an Ah derivative).

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Yeah...for some reason, even when I modify it, will still tighten up/constrict on me...or even break(from time to time.) I'm wondering if I'm closing down too much still? If you don't mind, how do you handle the closed vowels in your program?

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Analog, I suspect your constriction has nothing to do with your vowel modification efforts. Your constricting because you have not totally released the constrictors, as I described above. You have to train to be purely committed to the head voice and that might mean falsetto vocal mode initially, but just get there, totally, completely... then mesa di voce (calibrate) for your twang configurations in that heady place... you can NOT work on connectivity or your twang configurations in the head voice until you are fully there. Your not getting an isolated contraction. If you twang, regardless of the formant, in a pure heady place... it will be isolated.

But there again, as I just stated... why are you chopping on twanging an "ooo" vowel in the head voice anyways, its just not practical. Maybe interesting and academic, but who cares? Train your bridging and your connecting on open vowels!

Hope this helps.

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  • 2 weeks later...

folks, this is bob (a.k.a. videohere) (a.k.a. vocalist) same guy, long story....anyway..i can tell you firsthand, rob's official mmmmmmmaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyy pull back technique really works extremely well. it worked for me on the third try...the trick is to lower your delivery of the note as you cross and stay so relaxed and open throated, don't force it...but whats really awesome is after you've practised this for a while, when you go to sing (i.e. songs like ambrosia's "that how i feel" you know that high note "much" "that how muuuuuuch" you find the muscles in the larynx (or whatever) just takes you over and up almost instrinctively. or in survivor's "eye of the tiger" last year i couldn't begin to even think of hitting that "end" high note, but i can now. it takes practice and i also learned to perceive the high notes as just notes ....they're neither high not low just notes to make me less anxious in hittng them.

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very useful video Robert. Thank you very much. i'm going to try that idea.

Sirens and similar gradual Bridges across the Troubled Water of the passagio are good for practising and warming up and generally getting familiar with the difference between chest and head, and ultimately strengthening head voice.

I'd like to ask, though, do you have any tips for the times we need to jump across the gap?

I've recently sung a choral work by Zelenka, a contemporary of Bach, in which the tenors had to keep leaping octaves and other cross-passaggio intervals at presto speed (it's the Amen of his Magnificat in D major). It was hard, and while I think i managed ok by the time of the concert, it was tiring at first. (Luckily the only word was Amen, repeated for 3 and a half minutes!!)

Plus I find that, no matter how I manage to master such points in specific pieces, in the next new piece it feels like I have to learn to do it all over again.

It is also frustrating when I have to come in on a high note, as my tendency is to sing it in a too airy falsetto rather than directly in the more muscular head voice you can achieve when sliding through the passaggio.

So I'd be very interested in your thoughts on this issue. Is it "just" (lol) a matter of support, for instance?

My midi practice file of the tenor line for the Amen is here if you would like to listen to it (note that all the rests are included, so there are a few bars' wait sometimes). http://www.box.net/shared/avqnfvdnay

and a full performance of the Amen is here http://www.box.net/shared/gd8zhsg7bh

regards

Nigel

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muscular headvoice? :P adducted headvoice would be a beter term for it ;>

A cool thing that has always helped find my headvoice is just to laugh :P [you can laugh in all kind of pitches].

Another thing that I personally believe is really helpful is to try find your headvoice as small as possible, just make small stacatto sounds like ma, bub, etc... figure out how you can make them clean without using alot of air.

As you go higher up you'll need to make the vowels a bit more wide at a time, don't darken too much or you'll reach a wall.

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Thanks Elrathion. Those are useful ideas. (btw Muscular may not be the term, but it's a metaphor that I think says something.)

what i was really after was good ways or tricks for jumping from chest to head, when you have a big interval such as an octave, or indeed any interval that straddles the passaggio (i.e. without going through it). Techniques for sliding up through the passaggio are vital, and not just as exercises, but it's just as useful and equally important to be able to go smoothly direct from chest to mix or head, e.g. between notes from say G to E' or B to G'.

The Zelenka piece i mentioned is one where the tenors (and i think the other voices) are required to do that very frequently, Other well-known modern pieces where the singer has to do that are "Bring him home" (like, the very first 2 notes!!) and "Music of the Night". You can't slide up and down in those, you have to be there, on the note, and still sounding like you're the same person!

This is not always easy, yet it's a common situation and it's not often mentioned on these technique posts. It may be a matter of warming up right, or a question of support. Whatever the answers given, it would be nice to have the point addressed rather than always concentrating on "how I find my head voice".

cheers

Nigel

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Robert, mahalo for that technique/tip. I'm working with SS, and though I don't recall them mentioning this, I've found that I have greatly reduced the problems I have in the bridge if I do back of just a bit when approaching it. To be honest I'm not sure if I'm really backing off that much or simply fighting what may be a natural tendency to want to get louder and belt going into the bridge. Regardless, it's working well for me. Many thanks.

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I'd like to ask, though, do you have any tips for the times we need to jump across the gap?

Nigel: Its a great question. I think the principle of the answer is to remember that there are 2 things which are different when comparing notes an octave apart: 1) the laryngeal adjustment (mostly registration and adduction) and 2) the vowel.

During a siren or slide, the registration and adduction changes are smoothly made, and you arrive at the upper note having allowed them to gradually change. What is not so apparent is that the vowel goes through a transformation as well. A given syllable sung in the top voice is not pronounced quite the same as it is down an octave.

To fill in some of the details, allow me to draw on three approaches commonly used in the training of classical singing. 1) bringing 'head voice' down, 2) singing the lower note with the vowel of the higher, and 3) retaining vibrancy on the notes immediately before the jump. These ideas are bound together into a single premise: that the singer is more likely to produce the top notes well if the lower notes which precede them prepare for the octave leap.

As an exercise for #1: The slow siren is a good starting point, spanning the intervalic leaps which occur in the music you are singing. When you can do it up and down, you may notice that the timbre of the note after you have done the 'down' cycle of the siren is slightly different quality than when you were beginning the 'up' slide. The 'down' siren is used by singers to experience a well-balanced registration which, in terms of laryngeal muscle balance, is continuous with the top voice production... part of the same good balance.

So, I recommend that you add an inverse-siren to your repertoire of exercises. Once you have done a couple low-high-low, and know what the top sound is supposed to be, reverse the sequence, and go high-low-high, noticing the sensation of the low.

The next step is to do the inverted siren, (high-low slide), and then 'skip' to the top note just by thinking it, that is, without doing anything deliberately. Just let the voice follow your ear, touch the top note clearly and easily and without dwelling on it, and then skip back down. Resist the temptation to oversing the lower note. I think with a little practice at this, you will make progress.

As an exercise for #2: Do a siren low-to-high, and when you get to the top, hold the note easily while you experiment with vowel shaping by slightly pursing or opening your lips (rounding toward a small opening, or opening up), raising/dropping your jaw, etc. With a little playing around, you will find that some positions will give you much more sound, and that you can fine-tune the resonances in this manner with small motions. When you find the position that gives you the most sound on the top note...try using it it on the lower note. It may feel just a little bit affected to you, but you will find that the lower note will ring in a manner that makes it more consistent with the vowel on top, and the top will be more easily made when you get there.

As for #3: Remember to keep the note before an upward jump vibrant. Tendency is to think (with fear/trepidation) about the next one, and to not give the note you are currently on the technique it deserves. My teacher used to say something to the effect that 'If there is a troublesome note... look to the one before it for the reason.'

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