I’m planning to do a few articles this summer about formant tuning techniques for men. I don’t want to write a full explanation in each article though, so I’ll refer back to this one.
I am 21 years old and I was wondering how to mask my passaggi. I don’t have a vocal teacher currently but I know for a fact that for now I am a lyric baritone. Do you know of any type of vocalises to help with resonance?
This will be in
two three parts. Part I discusses the passaggio and why it happens. Part two deals with strategies to master it, and part three gives exercises to practice it.
What the heck is the passaggio? How about registers?
First, let’s think about what the passaggio is. The passaggio is the passage between two registers. Ok, what does that mean?
The first concept you have to understand is that the entirety of your voice is produced within the vocal tract. The vocal tract begins at the glottis (the space between the two vocal folds) and ends at the tip of your lips. Your nasal passage can also be considered part of the vocal tract if you sing and allow air to escape your nose.
Think about a trumpet or a trombone. Their mouthpiece is similar to the vocal folds, and the tubing each instrument is like the vocal tract (except they’re much longer than our vocal tracts). The length and shape of the tract determines a lot about how our voice sounds. The longer the tract, the deeper the sound and vice versa.
What does this have to do with registers?
The single most persuasive idea I’ve read about the registers comes from Dr. Donald Miller’s Resonance In Singing. In it, he discusses his research illustrating how registers are caused primarily by acoustical events due to the natural resonances of the vocal tract.
What does that mean? Well, it’s hard to explain sufficiently in one blog post, but essentially it means that the way our voice sounds and feels can’t remain the same throughout its entire range. If you attempt to maintain a single consistent feeling of voice, then you will distort your voice in a way that sounds strained. In other words, you have to change to sound consistent. Ironic, no?
Consider the truly beginning singer. A common error is a rising larynx. This, I believe, is an attempt to maintain a consistent feeling in the voice from the speaking voice range into the higher ranges by shortening the vocal tract. This is done as the wavelength of the fundamental pitch also becomes shorter.
The trouble is that the vocal tract is not infinitely flexible. We can hear strain, and you can certainly feel it. And for classical singers, the sound of strain is completely undesirable.
A more advanced singer experiences zones or registers where one basic acoustic concept is used but is abandoned when another register is entered. Over time the singer finds the best places for these shifts to happen, and those points – or passaggi – tend to be consistent within voice types. That means that a tenor tends to shift where other tenors shift and so on. It’s not 100% consistent, but it’s close.
The general goal is that the change sounds smooth rather than abrupt. Sometimes, however, a singer will choose to make an abrupt change. Passaggio points are not set in stone but are somewhat flexible, and the singer can make a choice about how to maneuver around them. It all depends on the idea being expressed and the choice of the singer.
The main idea I want you to take away from this part is that we use passaggi when we move between acoustic zones or registers. The other idea is that we have to change to sound consistent.
- This is not easy to understand, and I’m summarizing a lot. I encourage you to read about acoustics or vocal science. Ingo Titze and Johann Sundberg are good authors to read.
- Also check out Dr. Miller’s webpage, where he gives you a free chapter of Resonance in Singing.
- Talking about registers at all is dangerous because of controversies surrounding use of the term. The way I’m using the term here is for areas within the broader modal voice since – in general – classical singers don’t use vocal fry or falsetto.
- Another idea of register change is that there is a gradual shift of thyroarytenoid dominance to cricothyroid dominance. From what I’ve read this is still hypothetical because it’s very hard to test precise muscle use during singing. Even if it proved to be true, I’m not sure how it would help work through the passaggi.
- Image by Kiaura under CC 2.0