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What about those pesky vocal "breaks"??!!

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judyrodman
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I'd love to hear from you all on the subject of vocal register breaks. (Or is there a more correct term for this?)

As I believe is true of many of the teachers contributing in these discussions, I can "cure" a vocal break... I do it all the time with most new students... almost always at the first lesson. I did it for my own voice when no one else could.

I do it by teaching the student, using imagery, to "pull" (instead of "push") the voice from a voice path that begins in the pelvic floor, goes over an imaginary pulley gear in the back top of the head and then uses the lyric to pull the voice in communication to the audience through the mask, including the eyes. Though I take responsibility for the way I use it and put it togther, the hook or question mark-shape of this voice path was first offered by teacher Jeffrey Allen in his book "Secrets of Singing", who I always credit.

There are many ways, both in concrete physical instruction and in mental imagery, that I use to help them do this. I use the messa di voce and I also have a specific "blending" exercise where we sing the same three notes in chest, then head, then in chest but in head "placement" or "channel", which is of course, mixed or middle voice. Then we move up 1/2 steps until the registers are blended with no strain. Mostly, I tell my students that "UP" is always a bit "Back" (slightly to the side, with chin floating level), and use great r & b singers to illustrate this visually. Breath control/support from the pelvic floor is vital of course, to traversing the registers.

I'd love to know

1. Exactly what the causes the breaks. I've heard from different sources that it involves a dis-coordination and/or an off-balance in strength between cryco-thyroid and thyro-arytenoid muscles. I've heard that it involves any tension that keeps the thyroid cartilage from tilting freely, including lifting and dropping it too far.

2. What are YOUR techniques and exercises for defeating this pesky foe?

I am reading the discussion Rob Lunte started in this forum about the falsetto voice, and I'm seeing a lot of interesting and related info there. I look forward to this thread... Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

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I'd love to hear from you all on the subject of vocal register breaks. (Or is there a more correct term for this?)

1. Exactly what the causes the breaks. I've heard from different sources that it involves a dis-coordination and/or an off-balance in strength between cryco-thyroid and thyro-arytenoid muscles. I've heard that it involves any tension that keeps the thyroid cartilage from tilting freely, including lifting and dropping it too far.

Judy: Break is a fine term for it. The term the French school used for it in the 1800's (couack, as recounted by Jean-Baptiste Faure in his book La Voix, et le Chant , translated by Francis Keeping and TMV Member Roberta Prada) means (when translated to English) 'quack'. :lol:

It can happen at any point in the range of the voice (mostly in the inexperienced singer), but Faure says that it is more common at the extreme of the upper range, or on the notes just above or just below a register change, as in E, F and F#.

Physiologially, the crack is most commonly a sudden re-adjustment of the activity of the intrinsic laryngeal muscles, to a different balance which results in a less complex (i.e., less overtone-rich and less powerful) phonated tone, somewhat like a yodel. It is also possible to 'crack into chest', in which case it sounds a bit like a donkey :P

As to the reasons for the crack... In my experience, an imbalance has been allowed to persist in the breath energy, the registration and the adduction (considered together), and this has been taken to a pitch or volume level where it cannot be sustained. For example, an adduction and registration suitable for a very loud, upper-middle voice note has been given inadequate support... this would be one possible reason for a crack. Also, sustaining too much breath pressure while proceeding upward into the passaggio region can cause too-heavy registration and over-adduction (high medial pressure)... which prevents the note-by-note bridging adjustments from happening.

How does this fit with your understanding or experience?

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Matt.. yes, in fact, backing off the air pressure a bit is, in my experience, absolutely essential to navigating the bridge over troubled waters :) I find that as long as I'm in the right position for the throat channel to be open (head a bit back and floating on the shoulders with chin level), I avoid tightening the jaw and I carefully apply breath support and control which feels like I'm, as Jamie Vendera teaches, "inhaling" the note up my nose instead of exhaling it through my mouth, it works.

Another weird thing that helps my clients is when I suggest that they try pulling their chest voices from the nose (touching the nose with a finger as they do) and the head voice from the mouth (again, touching mouth with a finger). This helps them mix head influence into chest and chest influence into head, creating mixed middle voice or whatever you want to call it. My goal in working with them is to get their chest voices and head voices sounding as much alike as possible at wherever their vocal break tends to occur.

OK, Steven and Darrison and others... I know you must be cracking up about now (pardon the pun), so what gives? Why do these things make a difference?

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  • 3 weeks later...

Besides what Steven states above:

1. Fear or tension this can cause you to activate the muscles you swallow with ever so slightly and choke the note.

2. Most modern non-operatic material (except metal and ballad material) does not call for excessive long holding of notes. it is quite choppy compared to bel canto or similair techniques one must train the mind to focus habitually loss of focus will cause the same, you have to use cruise control and keep your foot evenly tempered upon the pedal once you register the note you have to commit to it fully. This is why Italian opera only trains with vowel and sustained passages the first year or two. The throat must be conditioned to hold open position

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Breaking is a natural componenant to the human voice, it's your friend until you try and hit a B below high C and someone says you remind them of Jewel.:)

Vocal Asylum is the yodel free zone. I know for me it took a long time and a lot of work and trial and error to get fully connected. Now I can sing virtually anything full voice, on a good day I stay connected to F# above high C (with a little extra arch in my back and my jaw on the ground). lol and I'm not kidding.

For me it was all about solid fundamentals sung relentlessly with vigor and purpose. I mean I have a few BS tricks I'll show someone but the meat and potatoes for me is basics taken to the max on a daily basis. As I go up I think down and sit into the note, slightly tighten the belly without pushing any additional air, actually the air will decrease as your chops get better. Drop the jaw and duck when the panties fly!

:D

Peace

James

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For me it was all about solid fundamentals sung relentlessly with vigor and purpose. I mean I have a few BS tricks I'll show someone but the meat and potatoes for me is basics taken to the max on a daily basis. As I go up I think down and sit into the note, slightly tighten the belly without pushing any additional air, actually the air will decrease as your chops get better.

James: Meat and potatoes is right! I think you've put the key elements together, (which, using other language) is matching the breath energy with the phonation. That comment about 'slightly tighten the belly without pushing any additional air'... that is one way of describing what it feels like when the diaphragm stays engaged during phonation. I also think you are right that as the chops get better, it takes less air. Or, perhaps another way of saying it... as we get better, we discover newer levels where we can get our great tone with less work. Sounds like a winner to me.

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Wow... Steven... somehow I missed seeing your post until now- I don't think it appeared for some reason or I am going blind :< Thank you so much for that elaboration of detail, which is what I hoped to know.

James.. I'm also seeing your post quoted by Darrison, but not your post. Maybe I'm missing a page of this discussion or something- I'll be checking. But thank you, as well, for your thoughts!

Yes, I have experienced and understood it in myself and those I work with in contemporary singing as an imbalance in something, sustained until unsustainable.

Question: Is registration also what I understand as "mix"? Vocal cord adduction then not only affects pitch but tone?

Also, sustaining too much breath pressure while proceeding upward into the passaggio region can cause too-heavy registration and over-adduction (high medial pressure)... which prevents the note-by-note bridging adjustments from happening.

This is what I think I encounter most. The way I cured my own "break" at the passaggio was learning to

1. Back off the breath pressure and

2. Balance my head, neck and chest in such a way that the "throat channel" didn't experience the feeling of a stricture, leading to the break. I know that's not physically happening, but that's what it feels like to me. If my head is forward, I will experience the break. If my body is tall and head is flexibly balanced more over the tailbone (think the typical position of great R&B scat singers), which also gives great breath control at the diaphragm, my break disappears.

And one more thing... Darrison, thank you for your comment as well... your thoughts on adaptation of tissue from vocal habits makes perfect practical sense to me, too. As the years have gone by, it has become easier and easier for me to assume the right posture and application of breath to avoid a vocal break. It's just gone. My muscle memory and also something about my throat has developed new abilities.

James, I also find importance of training so the changes Darrison talks about will happen. With posture and pressure re-adjustments, I can get a student's break to disappear at their first lesson with me, but that doesn't mean they can go home and do it. Perfect practice makes perfect, yes?

Last balancing thought.... One of my students is Taylor Ware, who won "America's Got Talent" one year with her world-class yodeling (taught by a previous yodeling coach). She just performed on Oprah this month (or December). When she came to me, she could of course yodel with the masters but she couldn't sing without horrible tension and range limitations, pitch issues, thin tone, you get the picture. Now she has learned to sing, and to transform a bit of the yodel she has mastered into a unique little cry, making her sound like... Taylor! And no strain.

Anyone else use the cry or yodel pro-actively or cure an incurable "break"?

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Question: Is registration also what I understand as "mix"? Vocal cord adduction then not only affects pitch but tone?

Registration is the general term for the balance of muscle action between the CT and the TA, which are the primary muscles for which interact to determine pitch of the open/close of the glottis. Yes, 'mix' is one word that is used these days for it, but at the laryngeal level, it means the balance of muscle action. Vocal cord adduction does not affect pitch as much as it affects tone quality.

Where some folks (and I count myself, as a younger singer, in this category) go awry is that adduction, breath energy and registration are rebalanced note-by-note through subtle changes. While the notes can be produced with different balances, those choices affect the ability to make the incremental changes. For example, in my own case, When my voice first changed I used lots of unmanaged breath energy, (error 1) and to keep the tone from being breathy, I overadducted (error2)... too much medial force. I also sang with too much TA - too heavy registration (error 3).

The key to unravelling all that was dealing with error 1. The benefits immediately cascaded to the opportunity to adjust the adduction and the registration to more appropriate levels, and lead to the vocal freedom to release my chronic tongue tension which was stiffling tone quality. Those issues addressed, I was opened up to the opportunity to address the incremental muscle balance changes needed to negotiate the passaggio.

Anyone else use the cry or yodel pro-actively or cure an incurable "break"?

Though he does not post much, TMV member Dean FH Macy does this. I suggest posting to him, and see what he says. FYI, his specialty is the training of children's voices for the professional stage and recording industries. Very accomplished teacher.

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OK that makes so much sense to me, Steven. I have questions (thank you so much for your answers):

1. So adduction determines tone. Would that result in: too much and it's thin, too little and it's breathy?

2. How do you consciously change adduction? Or is it something that happens because you correct something else, like balance between breath control/support?

3. Is CT the cryco-thyroid muscle pair, and does that pair control more of the "head voice"? TA the thyroid-arytenoid muscle pair and does that control more of the "chest voice"?

4. Somehow, without knowing the details of inner laryngal anatomy, I observed and came to the practical conclusion (that works in my and my clients' voices with immediate results) that, as I said in my post, the position of my head/neck/chest can cause all these things to coordinate in a way that corrects these muscle balances. Can you speculate as to why this helps?

Again... thanks for your generous thoughts here. I will surely credit you with the help as I pass your thoughts on!

Judy

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1. So adduction determines tone. Would that result in: too much and it's thin, too little and it's breathy?

There is a continuum. On the 'too much' end the result is 'pressed' phonation. As the adduction force is less, you get into the high end of the acceptable closed quotient values... lots of strong high partials in the phonated tone. I would put a well-done belt in this category, for example. As the adduction force decreases further, the closed quotient decreases past 50%, and the tone is less edgy, still very full. When you get to 25% or so closed quotient, the tone is simpler with most of the energy in the lowest harmonics. Further still, and the tone becomes breathy.

2. How do you consciously change adduction? Or is it something that happens because you correct something else, like balance between breath control/support?

In general, if the action of any of the laryngeal muscles is overdone, there is a compensation elsewhere which allows you to sing... but with some limitations... some loss of range, some tone quality compromises, less sense of ease, etc.. In my case, the root cause was incorrect support... I pushed too much air, and overadduction, heavy registration and tongue tension were the compensations.

Adduction can be re-worked by practicing messa di voce with a breathy onset, and then letting the adduction complete during the course of the crescendo phase, and then convert gradually back to breathy right before the release. If this is done with the appropriate appoggio, it is not dangerous, as the voice will draw the air it needs for the amount of breathiness which has been conceptualized.

A core concept in this process is that the relative activity of all the muscle groups (abdominal, diaphragmatic, laryngeal) work together in a dynamic balance. Hyper-or-Hypofunction in one area always will have a compensatory adjustment elsewhere, at least in 1 other area. IMO, one of _the_ most common causes is the mismatch of the breath energy (usually too much) with the laryngeal adjustment.

3. Is CT the cryco-thyroid muscle pair, and does that pair control more of the "head voice"? TA the thyroid-arytenoid muscle pair and does that control more of the "chest voice"?

CT is the Cricothyroid, which is the only intrinsic muscle of the larynx which is on the outside of it, connecting the front of the cricoid cartilege to the sides of the thyroid cartilege. When it contracts, it moves the front of the thyroid cartilege down and forward toward the cricoid. The effect on the vocal bands is to stretch and tense them. The TA is the Thyroarytenoid muscle, inside the vocal bands, which connects the inner face of the Thyroid cartilege to the arytenoid cartileges at the back of the larynx. There is 1 in each vocal band. When this muscle contracts, it pulls the thyroid cartilege backward toward the arytenoids, shortening and thickening the vocal bands.

These 2 muscles (CT and TA) together adjust the length, thickness and tension of the vocal bands so that the note you are thinking will be produced. In general, for the lower ranges (what is usually named 'chest' voice (for the sensations)) the vocal bands are mostly short and thick. In the ideal cooperation, these two muscle groups trade off their action easily and freely. If they are put into isometric antagonism (that is, if they oppose each other too much), then range and flexibility suffer.

4. Somehow, without knowing the details of inner laryngeal anatomy, I observed and came to the practical conclusion (that works in my and my clients' voices with immediate results) that, as I said in my post, the position of my head/neck/chest can cause all these things to coordinate in a way that corrects these muscle balances. Can you speculate as to why this helps?

The larynx is suspended between sets of muscles that go up, and those that go down. Muscle tensions caused by posture issues will communicate from muscle group to muscle group. Two very important aspects of this are the muscle groups that connect downward to the sternum, and how the posture of chest position plays in breath pressure. If the chest is raised to a noble position (high, but without stiffness) and the ribs expanded, the suspension of the larynx is easier, and the tendency to overpressure the air (with a falling sternum) is less.

Again... thanks for your generous thoughts here. I will surely credit you with the help as I pass your thoughts on!

Judy

Quite welcome. I am happy to help.

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Steven, I can't count all the ways you ROCK!!

It is very important to me as a vocal teacher to grow in my knowledge and understanding of what's going on internally with what I observe and experience to work and not work. It always informs my teaching in practical ways to learn more. You've filled in many info gaps for me here. Many thanks!! xoxoxox

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It is very important to me as a vocal teacher to grow in my knowledge and understanding of what's going on internally with what I observe and experience to work and not work. It always informs my teaching in practical ways to learn more. You've filled in many info gaps for me here. Many thanks!!

Judyrodman: :D I am happy to help. I am just trying to pass on what I have learned from others, who shared as freely with me as I have with you.

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I know I must speak for us all when I say Steven, I love your very illuminating explanation of how AT & TA muscles work, of how the Messa di voce exercise I've been using actually helps enable good vocal fold adduction, your description of a "noble position" of the chest... actually all your answers to every question I asked.

I wonder if I could accurately sum up what I'm reading from Steven, Matt, Darrison, Miss PK & James, as well as my experiential success with mending vocal breaks in myself and in others, with this three-stranded cord of vocal technique:

1. We must enable equadistant stretching of scaffolding linking the larynx, as illustrated in Ron Murdock's page about Alexander technique in singing [/http://www.cursa-ur.com/articles/BornToSing.htm]. To accomplish this optimally requires flexibility in neck and shoulders because in the action of vocal sounding, the stretching equation changes. (I only wish Murdock's illustration #2 didn't show the chin lifted!) This also is what enables the constantly open throat channel.

2. We must apply controlled breath support, which is also enabled by stretchy support of scaffolding linking the diaphragm, as illustration #15 shows on the Murdock page [/http://www.cursa-ur.com/articles/BornToSing.htm].

3. We must have mental freedom and confidence which leads to this state of flexible, supported alertness and scaffolding stretch that feels like NOTHING pulling at or on the larynx.

What do you think?

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Very nicely stated! I do however for the record again want to stress that in Operatic vocalizing the throat should be open and rigid in the lowest register with proper support. This is not pulling chest. Proper stretch in the bottom register is crucial in keeping the registers aligned in place. This can be very uncomfortable until the support is developed and the muscles have proper coordination. This should not however at any stage leave you voiceless or horse if so you are doing something wrong. It may however at first make sore the sub-lingual section under the tongue where you swallow. this usually won't occur after everything is developed and maintained although you will still feel the stretch down in those lower areas, this then keeps the throat open automatically when you go into the other registers. regardless of if you use a tilted or non tilted larynx position.

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Darrison, some day before I die I would love to take the time to explore classical singing. I have dabbled in but very lightly. I used a few of the Italian art songs I learned in college to heal most of my voice from endotracheal tube damage, so I know it is powerful training. Maybe some day when a couple of ships come in so I can stop some other things I'm doing.... ah, you know.

Interesting to learn of some of the differences in physical technique between classical and contemporary singing. This base of the tongue activity may be another reason it can be hard to authentically change from well-trained operatic voice to contemporary.

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I have found that breaks have to do with improper natural support of the diaphragm and a lack of the muscular development that surround the cords and get them to stretch. If the muscles that control the cords are weak, if the diaphragm is weak, there can not be enough bracing tension between the two to sustain the one register effect without the mechanism collapsing.

I teach some science -- in laymen's terms -- to get an intellectual understanding. But the mind alone can only take one so far. Learning, and true knowledge, can't be gained until one has learned from the PHYSICAL experience. This is when all the puzzle pieces come together.

All of us, as teachers, are basically trying to teach the same things. We just have different styles and different ways of wording things. But I have also found that words can easily be misperceived -- so finding the right ones are important.

I have been able to successfully bridge breaks when I teach my new method of how to engage the diaphragm. For my students as well as me, this tiny little thing (which I cannot give a way until this book I am currently writing is in my publisher's hands)has worked magically for those who have never been able to bridge before. But of course, it takes practive to learn how to break bad habits. Most teachers have discovered their own brand of a magical fix -- it's just a matter of finding one who you can connect with and understand

Practice on my end as a teacher includes exercises to strengten the muscle groups that control the cords, as well as my chosen diaphragmatic exercises. Once a student gets 'the hang of it', transferring to songs is easy since all I need to teach is how to focus and pronounce the consonants to get THEM to wrok as the propelling mechanism rather than air alone while practicing exercises only on vowels.

To me it's an exciting journey because it is the one I've taken my own self on. I've learned so much that my passion is very great as a teacher. There isn't one student, from beginner to professional that I cannot identify with as they trudge this often frustrating journey. I've been there too. But with persistance, information, and good how-to instruction, it passes. The voice DOES bridge. It just takes working up the muscles that control the entire mechanism -- much like going to the gym to buff up and gain strength.

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I have found that breaks have to do with improper natural support of the diaphragm and a lack of the muscular development that surround the cords and get them to stretch. If the muscles that control the cords are weak, if the diaphragm is weak, there can not be enough bracing tension between the two to sustain the one-register effect without the mechanism collapsing.

I teach some science -- in laymen's terms -- to get an intellectual understanding. But the mind alone can only take one so far. Learning, and true knowledge, can't be gained until one has learned from the PHYSICAL experience. This is when all the puzzle pieces come together.

All of us, as teachers, are basically trying to teach the same things. We just have different styles and different ways of wording things. But I have also found that words can easily be misperceived -- so finding the right ones are important.

I have been able to successfully bridge breaks when I teach my new method of how to engage the diaphragm. For my students as well as me, this tiny little thing (which I cannot give a way until this book I am currently writing is in my publisher's hands)has worked magically for those who have never been able to bridge before. But of course, it takes practice to learn how to break bad habits. Most teachers have discovered their own brand of a magical fix -- it's just a matter of finding one who you can connect with and understand

Practice on my end as a teacher includes exercises to strengten the muscle groups that control the cords, as well as my chosen diaphragmatic exercises. Once a student gets 'the hang of it', transferring to songs is easy since all I need to teach is how to focus and pronounce the consonants to get THEM to become the propelling mechanism rather than using the air and diaphragm alone (which occurs as you practice exercises on vowel sounds only).

To me it's an exciting journey because it is the one I've taken my own self on. I've learned so much that my passion is very great as a teacher. There isn't one student, from beginner to professional that I cannot identify with as they trudge this often frustrating journey. I've been there too. But with persistance, information, and good how-to instruction, it passes. The voice DOES bridge. It just takes working up the muscles that control the entire mechanism -- much like going to the gym to buff up and gain strength.

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