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Bridging Voice Registers, from a Technical Perspective

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Let's drop all the "chest voice", "head voice" jargon for a minute and state things in purely technical terms. I'm pulling the following from the linked academic articles on the topic, just in case someone thinks I made it up. (It's interesting reading, if you can wade through all the technical detail of anatomy and acoustics.)


http://www.med.rug.nl/pas/Conf_contrib/Castellengo/Castellengo_bio_touch.htm (includes sound file examples!:D)

These are separated purely by differences in the anatomy of sound production.

Pulse (M0) - Vocal fry. That thing you can do that sounds really raspy, lets you approximate very low tones and can be mixed with other modes of vocalizing to change the tone and ease transitions across breaks. Uses the vestibular or "false" folds. See also: Tibetan chant, Mongolian/Tuvan throat singing.

Lower (M1) - Speaking range / Chest voice. Pretty self-explanatory and something we are all intimately familiar with. When you sing high-ish notes while "pulling chest" or belting, you're forcing M1 when your throat would naturally prefer M2.

Upper (M2) - Mix(?) / Head voice (male). This is what bridges the sonic gap between speaking tones and falsetto tones and is what many of us here are striving to develop.

Flute (M3) - Pure falsetto(male) / Head voice (female) / Flageolet. From British boys' choirs to quiet monkey and pidgeon gargle exercises, I think we all know this when we hear or use it.

Whistle (M4) - Zipped-up falsetto, with only the forward portion of the folds vibrating. Mariah Carey, anyone?

A quick reminder of pitch notation: Middle C = C4, Tenor C = C5, Soprano C = C6. Other pitches carry the number of the C below them. Thus the lines on the bass clef are G2, B2, D3, F3, A3; treble clef lines are E4, G4, B4, D5, F5.

So I, as a baritone, can sing relatively effortlessly from A2-D4 in my Lower Register (M1) and A3-D5 in the Flute Register (M3) (I'm skipping M2 on purpose here), and greater effort/control (not strain, mind you) gives me F2-G4 and G3-A5 but with airy tone at the low ends and low endurance at the belted high ends.

The trouble comes when I try to practice messa di voce in the C4-C5 octave. As I understand it, as I attempt to sustain a note while crescendoing from pp-ff (or 1 to 10) my voice starts in M3 and should transition to M2 and, at lower pitches, all the way to M1. This works fine at C/D4, requires focused control at E/F4 and is quite difficult to control at G4, which will resolve to a full belted M1 tone.

Here's where the trouble sets in: at A/B4 I can swell to mf (6), transitioning smoothly from M3 to M2, but when I try to push it to f or ff (7-9), instead of resolving to M1 or maintaining M2 with more energy, my tone enters a death spiral of continuous cracking. Apparently, this rapid alternation between modal registers is used extensively in classical Iranian avaz singing style.

(Side note: see this example where the singer first uses M1/M2 jumps and later M2/M3 jumps as musical accents. Neato!)

At C/D5 I can resolve to a strong reinforced falsetto sound, probably M3 with a lot of compression, and at E-A5 (and occasionally up to B5/C6 for very brief intervals) I'm learning to actually feel my thyroid tilt that accompanies the vocal folds zipping into M4.

My weak spot, then, is a small range of pitches intermediate between M1 (full chest) and M3 (falsetto, reinforced or otherwise) that only give me trouble at high volume. Ah, the elusive M2 "voix mixte"! I've tried isolating the exact pitches/volumes where vocal production starts to break down, by doing very slow mini-sirens (1/2-octave or less) at varying volumes. Has anyone else tried this? For example, E4-A4 up and down at a rate of 1/2 to 1 second per semitone, repeated in dynamic increments from very soft falsetto slide (pp) up to full volume and resonance (ff).

I'm still working on identifying exactly what this middle register feels and sounds like, at which point I will try sirens exclusively in this mode as high, low, and loud as I can (without register breaks or straining my throat). At that point I hope to draw up a pitch production profile for myself, with M1, M2 and M3 drawn as curves with pitch on the x-axis and volume on the y-axis, to use as a tracking and development tool. (Yes, I was a math nerd.)

After all the work I've done, I feel a definite limitation, like a physical ceiling that sags down above those few notes (G#-B4) and prevents me from reaching full volume in that pitch range. Imagine a spot in the middle of your living room where you don't have room to reach up and get a really satisfying stretch because your elbows hit the ceiling. I'm frustrated but persevering.

A final bit of technical terminology, for those of you who are interested: Open Quotient (OQ) vs. Closed Quotient (CQ). When taking direct measurements of the voice by Electroglottograph (EGG) one useful metric is the proportion of time that the adducted vocal folds are in contact with each other (closed) vs. open and allowing airflow (open) during sound production. These two values always add up to 1. Knowing this, the only difference between a high flute-like falsetto tone and a Jim Gillette metal scream on the same pitch is that the soft tone has a high OQ (0.7+) and the metal scream has a lower one (near 0.5). This is achieved (I think) by the muscles in your larynx squeezing around the vocal folds, forcing them a bit closer together so that they spend more time in contact during each oscillation. As far as what you hear, the sound gets "bigger" or "brighter" as a result of greater overtone production and some subharmonics. I'm pretty sure this is actually different from the glottal compression I've read/heard about from several other sources.

Sorry for the rambling wall of text I just left, but there's an awful lot of information and misinformation floating around teh interwebs and I was hoping to spark a more in-depth discussion and sharing of experiences regarding the development of the different registers and working to smooth out the transitions between them. I believe good technique should be informed by good science, so feel free to share any of your favorite studies or other technical informational resources!

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interesting you said stop all the chest voice head voice jargon and thats all you spoke of.;) The thing is you can't separate the "jargon" then you are just listing someone else's terms for the "jargon". If you want help just sing something record it and there are plenty of people here that can help, and put it in the "jargon" you like. I can sing sing in m0, m1,m2 ,m3, m4and also in fry, chest, belt,head, falsetto, whistle and in mixed in middle whatever I can have a longer or shorter closed quotient all of this depends on the pitch the vowel and the intensity in other words "act of singing or phonating" not the "jargon". You tell me what you need help in Ill help ya out.

your discussion doesn't seem to be about being technical as much as it does...well singing..

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Agree with the above post clips on what you struggle with. These terms have been discussed like crazy and broken down into the tiniest details here in the forum.

We can all see youve done your homework very good text, there are tiny "errors" or rather diffrent points of views on these terms.

It will easily become the focus of this thread so lets avoid that ;) just browse around here youll find endless discussions on the registers in all the diffrent jargons, where the latest research is throwed around in the mix by highend coaches,logopeadics and nerds like me.

Anyways im exited to hear some clips and share some tips or two cheers:)

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a agree with dante.

doing messa di voce (although guys like daniel can do it) from a falsetto setup over to real voice is one of the most difficult things to do....there are high caliber singers who can't do it.

also, if you have a big voice, and greater tonal disparity between your falsetto and your real voice the difficulty is even greater.

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Although I haven't heard you, for the messa di voce, you're probably starting off in your false voice and then trying to suddenly switch over into your real voice. While it can be done, it is extremely hard. It is far easier to start off in your real voice, but softly, and then go from there.

That depends where in the range it's performed. :)

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Ok, I am familiar with both the links you provided, but I must tell you, while all the science stuff is interesting, it does not help you to sing any better unless you know the sound and the sensation.

Let's greatly simplify what you have written.

You have two basic "modes" which your voice can operate in: (1) "real" voice, which feels similar to your normal speaking voice -- it feels and sounds like it has some substance, and (2) your "false" voice, the thing that feels disconnected from your real voice. Most of your singing will be done in your real voice. You can shade your real voice to be louder or softer, brighter or darker. When you go up and down your range, it should still always feel like you are in your real voice, since there is only one voice; however, the only thing that changes is how you perceive the resonance. In your lower range, you hear/feel the resonance more in your mouth and throat, as you go higher, you hear/feel it more in the head.

Let me repeat that again.

You are still in your real voice, but you just HEAR/FEEL the resonance in your head. It still FEELS like your real voice though -- it shouldn't feel like your false voice or some derivative of that. What does real voice feel like? If you're in a house and you need to call out to someone on another floor in the house to say, "Hey, come here for a sec"...that's your real voice.

Although I haven't heard you, for the messa di voce, you're probably starting off in your false voice and then trying to suddenly switch over into your real voice. While it can be done, it is extremely hard. It is far easier to start off in your real voice, but softly, and then go from there.

The issues that you are bringing up are half a listening issue, half a sensation issue. You just simply have to adjust to how it sounds and feels, that's all.



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I'd love to hear some clips. The terminology loses me sometimes, but I'm with CunoDante. Too many classifications make people blind to the simple things in singing. Treating everything as one voice and making adjustments to that brings about all of those physiological changes you talk about for M1/2/3 etc. Falsetto is to completely let go of that real voice, and hence the adduction, and so it's very difficult to smoothly connect between those vocal qualities.

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I'm with Martin on this one. For some reason (and I'm no expert), going from falsetto to full closure isn't that hard for me above G4. When I try it on F4, right about the spot where I try to grab a full chord, my voice drops an octave. Almost like a passaggio break in reverse.

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Martin, couldn't it also be said that bridging early is easier IF the switch happens at a low intensity?

There has to be some kind of explanation for why so many singers including myself find it incredibly easy to bridge at say, c4 or below, if its done very light, below speaking volume. In that situation I feel the break totally dissapears too.

Could it also be said that the ability to bridge in the middle area,say around f4 at a medium volume, becomes smoother with good training?

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It all has to do with the intensity and the vowel you sing as well. Very simply do a siren from your lowest note to your highest letting the voice glide through chest to head on an ah and then on an oo notice the break is not as noticeable on the the oo..Provided your not totally warmed up do it when you are just beginning vocalizing.

I think you will probably say...wait for it... here it comes.... pitch vowel intensity is what is creating the crack, the smooth transition,the break, the bridging etc..:):)

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Since no one seems to like my preference for M0-M4 labeling, I won't push it and shall abandon them here. :rolleyes:

Ok so here's what I experience, in detail, when I try messa di voce (usually on "yah"):

Around C4 I can start in a very soft falsetto, keep my throat nice and open, and, with correct breath support and larynx control, crescendo smoothly into full voice. I can hear the different qualities of voice as I change from falsetto to upper to lower registers, and I can feel the changing tension in different muscles in my larynx that accompanies these changes. I change to upper register at mp and full voice at about mf (conversational tone).

Around E4, same as above except I don't break out of falsetto until I'm singing mf and don't reach full voice until f (like speaking up at a sporting event or party to be heard).

At G4, I can still do it but I don't get into full resonance until I'm almost at maximum volume. Upper register break (from falsetto/flute/whateveryouwannacallit) is still fairly easy to cross smoothly, but the break to lower register is much more difficult and doesn't happen until singing ff. I can still crank out a nice ff belt here.

Attempted at A4, I hit my upper register at mf or f; I can neither carry this register to full volume nor transition to my speaking register at this pitch.

At C5 I can tell that my voice stays in falsetto but the cords are tensed and compressed just a bit more as I crescendo, resulting in "reinforced falsetto" a la power metal.

I've read before that if you do a siren/glissando/pitch slide exercise from a high pitch down through your lower range and your voice cracks/breaks along the way you did not start in full voice. Based on that metric alone, I have not achieved full voice at or near full volume on any pitch above G4, but I have achieved substantial volume and resonance (isn't that what "full voice" implies?) at pitches up to A5 strictly in falsetto.

It's probably just me being a geek but at this point I don't even really like the term "full voice" any more than "head voice" or "chest voice". I can shift resonance up or down regardless of what register I am using, and I can reach high volume and large, projecting resonance regardless of how the various parts of my throat are making sound. Except for this middle register I feel like I'm tripping over from G#4-B4. I guess I just like understanding the anatomical explanation for what my voice sounds/feels like at any given pitch/volume/vowel combination.

If I get home at a reasonable time tomorrow (as opposed to working a 10-1/2 hour day today) I will try to do a short voice recording with examples what I sound like doing a few exercises. I've got two toddlers and a wife who is plagued by chronic migraine, so being able to sing in the house is always a resounding "maybe".

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What would you like to have clarified? You've done a pretty good job of summarizing other's misconceptions and wacky (wrong) ideas.

I would be glad to help point you to more accurate sources, if you are interested.

I think that is what he wanted. To summarize. And have others agree. Which will never happen, as we are still working on the Tower of Babel.

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Quixotic, question: what do you want to achieve?

A way to label your current voice qualities, or, improvement that can be applied to singing?

G4 is the usuall point where pretty much everyone that did not take really extensive training brakes or squeeze, from the innability to adjust the resonance properly (I will call it pharynx/nasopharynx adjustment instead of headvoice, but thats just one part of the deal so its not a precise description either).

It does not matter how you label it, the confusion exists because people take things out of context, you can create confusion using M0-M3 if you are not able to identify the registers properly.

Full voice is a very simple idea, confusion kicks in when you want to explain a perceived quality using parts of the whole: its full because its loud, its full because of H2, its full because of H3.

Full voice is simply the part of your usefull range where you have tonal consistancy and full dynamic control. It means that your a4 should should have the same qualities of your A3, and with the possibility of being so loud, or soft.

There is more than one way to achieve it, since you can adjust the lower range in some ways, or simply use a different center for your singing (counter tenors for example).

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Martin, couldn't it also be said that bridging early is easier IF the switch happens at a low intensity?

Yes, the lower in your range you try to seamlessly transition between M1 and M2 the lower the intensity. And this transition also closely relates to what Daniel calls pitch vowel intensity which is just his fancy term for vocal mode ;)

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Since no one seems to like my preference for M0-M4 labeling, I won't push it and shall abandon them here. :rolleyes:.

Well, I happen to like those terms in regards to vocal registers. Though, your definitions are a bit wrong.

M0 = Vocal fry

M1 = Modal voice

M2 = Falsetto

M3 = Whistle/flageolet


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I'm looking for more and better info, OK? Steven Fraser, thank you for your offer to suggest higher quality sources; if you can link a resource or explain yourself what's going on the larynx when a singer successfully connects registers, I'll gladly read and try to absorb it. If the sources I started with are outdated and/or incorrect, kindly point out the flaws and help me build a better knowledge base. I'm not looking for an echo chamber here, ronws. I'm just confused by all the labels, old and new, and by the fact that I get the sensation of a register that lies between two distinct breaks that separate the modal and falsetto mechanisms. Guess I'll go try to read some more to get a better understanding of why I get the sensations I do.


Feel free to offer your own opinions of the merits or flaws of the paper, should you choose to read it.

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I had eggs for breakfast, this morning. With toasted bread, Brummels and Brown (yogurt-based) spread that tastes like butter, and sugar-free preserves.

Oh, wait a minute, different egg ....

Sorry to misinterpret you, Man of La Mancha, I mean, Quixoticmelodic.

The study you linked, I could follow that because I am familiar with that type of math (UT at Arlington, 1982, EE major.) They start with linear geometry but later use tensors, standard procedure for fluid dynamics analysis. A nuts and bolts approach for those who take value from that. Martin's is a little less arcane but no less accurate. Ultimately, it does not require understanding multi-variable differential calculus to make your way through a tensor statement, though it's a nice diversion and hobby. But I wonder, and I can certainly be corrected, if the quest here is to define the point and the feeling where the folds start using less vocalise involvement and reduce down to the outer layers for tone generation? In that regard, Martin's study is more descriptive.

And I think it is interesting that the M model, which I think is valuable, is actually defining 4 registers at the glottal level, with nearly the same definition of Garcia. A range of notes using the same basic behaviors in a given structure. The second study does acknowledge that a full study would have to account for the shifts of resonance and breath control that accomplished singers do to create the sound that they do.

In the media site, there is an interview with voice expert Robert Edwin and he puts forth the M terminology. In good part because of the need to get away from terminology, such as falsetto, that may be limiting to some singers in their quest.

So, then, what is a singer to do with this knowledge? How helpful is it to know that one's flip on the ah sound is a smidge over E4, for example, and it is somewhere between E4 and F4? Someone once asked in another thread, where a singer transitions to head voice. My reply was "when I open my mouth to sing." And I don't mean that just to bolster the acoustical reality that resonance happens above the folds, nominally in the region of the head. What I mean by that is that my use of resonators is mobile and stays that way. Start out in "singer mode" and then, stay that way.

Another member noted how my voice sounds consistent from bottom to top and that was a wonderful compliment for me for that has been my goal. One voice. Even if it turns out through the study of M terminology and volumes of EGG reports showing a total of 4 possible modes of sound generation in the human voice, that is secondary, to me. It doesn't matter so much, to me, if my voice is doing exactly what is described in these studies. What matters to me is how do I sound? What is the sonic effect of what I am doing? Performance wise, am I getting to the audience what I intended and congruently, are they getting something from my performance that's not as irritating as the sound of fingernails on chalkboard?

But these studies can be valuable, especially if they help a singer get through a phase or provide some illumination, even if it's just noticing that while this is very descriptive of what is happening at the folds, it is not describing what is happening with breath management or resonance. And so then, those things should also not be neglected, even if it means researching other studies that concentrate on those particular aspects.

In the mathematical study, I can understand the tensor as a point in time describing associated variables in relation to each other. Kind of like a snapshot of the folds in action.

I also notice in the EGG study, that regardless of what the singers think they are doing, they are all actually doing the same thing. A singer may think he is singing "chest" at C5 because it sounds like it and he thinks he is doing it, even if the EGG shows more open quotient than closed quotient.

I also notice how, more than the quantity of air in the tone, falsetto is markedly absent in overtones. I think that says more about the state of that vibration than amount of air. And that the lack of overtones can be compensated by stronger resonance to make the sound stronger and even less "airy," but that is just a thought, not yet proven by any study.

I thought a lot about stuff like this and, later, reduced to elemental terms in my redneck mantra.

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It is contradictory and confusing and ultimately doesn't get to the point. As Ron said, it's a Tower of Babel situation, in any case.

I am glad that someone caught my allusion.

Is that still falsetto? neutral? modal? And what does it really matter?

Sonically, I could not tell the difference, even if an EGG were to be performed on you during the performance of both pieces. It sounded like the same voice, one voice. And, for me as an audience member, it would not matter if you learned this from instruction or are just a "natural" at it. The end effect is the same. Good pitch, relevant volume, no particular break that I can hear. No particular "falsetto" effect that I could detect, even if it felt like falsetto to you or was falsetto by the definitions of M terminology and an EGG print-out.

Rather than all the terminology and notation, I'd rather look for a further example of a song that I WOULDN'T be able to sing for the same reason, using my current configuration (whatever it is). And if I like the genre and song, then I would practice it, in order to improve.

I find that approach much more handy, as a beginner.

Good point. And Manuel Garcia (the younger) and other notable people of the early twentieth century also advised that while the scientific treatises and papers may help a teacher (that may or may not still be true, depending on several factors, maybe) it is often not much use to a student or beginner. For one thing, it may require a knowledge of math and terms of anatomy that are more likely to overpower the student than to help. Singers are not stupid but neither are they math and physics majors.

In a large extent, Jens is right, we learn by imitation. And a number of traditional singing teachers of yesteryear empasized filling your ears with the good sound that you want to project. Granted, they were talking about opera but the process is important. Let what is beautiful in your estimation osmose into your brain. For example, if you want to sing like Caruso, part and parcel of your study of technique, however you go about it, through lessons or self-study, should include actually listening to Caruso.

And I think one's earliest exposure to music can have an effect. To borrow from Jens, I think that may be part of why I have the voice that I do have. My earliest memory of a singer was Glen Campbell. One of those bright and ringy tenor guys.

As opposed to someone who was born listening to Corey Taylor and Slipknot, for example. So, when I say that singing is mental, I am acknowledging my own influences as best as I can discern them. And, of course, growing up listening to Led Zeppelin and a host of other bands and artists.

Anyway, back to your point, Kickingtone. Not being able to delineate what processes you are using and simply going by what is observed in the EGGs, which I find more applicable than the tensors in the previous post (because it shows what is actually happening, a visual thing that may be more easily understood by most who have not had experience with advanced math,) what might be more of an example for you to try that may rely on something altered from what you currently feel like what you are doing would be, for example, something from U2. I find their music to be fairly celtic. The Edge's guitar work makes me think of bagpipes, for example. And they are from Ireland. And Bono (Paul Hewson) would use various modes in his approach. From M1 to M2, mostly. Not much whistle, though he might onset a note in M0, at times, to bring a depth of sound for his own nefarious purposes.

"With or Without You" might be a good start.

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What came first? The sound or the EGG? :lol::rolleyes:

I have to admit that I cannot follow the Math or the Spectrographic representations. Also, so many different terms that have conflicting meanings from different resourses.

Lately I have been following the sound. Evidently my vocal apparatus is smarter than my brain. All I have to do is decide whether to have a fuller sound or deeper quality and my vocal cords, oral and pharyngeal cavities do all of the calculations without even knowing the math and science behind it. :/

The difference is now I have a better understanding about whether to follow resonance or follow cord closure or follow some strange sensation that leads me to the sound that I am after.

As for bridging...... Smoothing out seems to be that you either change the sound of "Chest" to more appoximate the sound of "Head" or Vice Versa. What all that entails could be many different variables depending on what sound you are after and what effect.

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