When you sing melodies of more than one octave, you may notice a number of things happening to your voice.
If you are tired or haven’t warmed up adequately, your voice might ‘crack’ on certain notes, or you may go into falsetto, either accidentally or on purpose, thinking the notes are too high and that’s the only way to achieve them.
Even if you don’t flip into falsetto when you reach for the high notes, your vocal tone may sound thinner and it can become more difficult to modify the volume of your voice. This is because your larynx is repositioning and without knowing how to work with it, you are pushing your chest voice. Aside from sounding forced, or like the song is too high for you, singing like this can make you feel tired when performing certain song keys.
It’s what’s known as ‘belting’ – pushing your chest voice higher than it should go. A lot of musical theatre performers use this technique, but it can be damaging for the voice. We all have a natural break mid-range, known as the passagio, and singers who belt maintain the same contraction above the break as below. This results in pushing the larynx higher, straining the muscles in the vocal folds, throat and neck, and creating a harsher sound. It also leads to vocal fatigue.
Chest voice is the tone we use to sing in our lower range, to speak and to shout, which is why many musical theatre singers push this voice above the passagio to achieve the desired lyrical style. Other voice coaches may disagree with me, but I maintain belting is needless, unnecessary and can shorten the lifespan of your singing career.
I am an instructor of ‘mix’ singing. I tell my students the basis of studying the technique I give them is making singing as easy and as healthy as possible. There are voice coaches who teach belting. It’s up to the student to decide which technique is best for them and to find a knowledgeable coach who understands the technique they are teaching.
We’ve talked about chest voice; let’s move to head voice. Head voice is the sound you hear from Classical singers. It’s a strong, clear, resonant sound with a lot of power, yet with less strain on the larynx and vocal folds. It is the high notes that are not forced or sung in falsetto.
But this sound is undesirable to Contemporary singers, so what does it have to do with Pop/Rock etc?
Where belt is force, mix is release. We have several ‘bridges’ in the voice, where the vocal folds adjust the pitch, but let’s think of three definite ranges- chest, passagio, and head. The passagio can be akin to walking the tightrope when not fully warmed up – you’ve all sung ‘that’ song that throws you off key, or has a note that’s always hit and miss because it’s right on your bridge (usually around A above Middle C on the piano).
Once you navigate those treacherous waters, you reach your head range and can relax again. Think of each range as a resonance area: you feel your lowest notes in your chest, your middle notes in your throat, and your highest notes in the top of your head.
When we mix, we want to feel our notes vibrating in our facial mask – the nose and mouth area – and bring each range to mix with it. This helps us to keep some of the bottom tonal quality in our higher notes that we would normally lose singing in clean head voice.
I have only touched on the basics here. Bottom line is, chest, middle, and head tones are the ingredients; a balanced tone is the sound achieved when you mix them all together. It’s about singing through your bridges without breaks in the voice or changes in tonal quality.
To book a one-to-one voice coaching session with me in Palma de Mallorca or London (Autumn & Winter dates TBC), please message me at email@example.com. I am also available for Skype sessions (Mon-Thurs).
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