The Mystical World of the Vocal Break

The Vocal Break

What is the vocal break? Quite simply, the vocal break is the weakest note in your vocal range. It is the note that separates the chest voice and the head voice. Have you ever noticed, as you sing higher and higher, how your voice essentially gives up and produces a light, easy-to-sing sound? The point where your chest voice surrenders to your head voice is called “The Vocal Break.” This light, easy sound is your head voice and it IS easier to sing.  The vibrations and muscle engagement of your chest voice become so great, that your voice must switch to the head voice in order to produce and maintain higher tones.

The Passaggio

Unfortunately, the weakness in your voice doesn’t stop at the vocal break.  The entire area surrounding the vocal break, approximately two notes on either side, is called “The Passaggio”, Italian for “the passage.”  Every singer has two passaggios.  One in the middle register, the primo passaggio, and the other one on the upper register, the secondo passaggio.  In this blog, we will focus on the first or “primo passagio.”

The first passagio can be incredibly frustrating for the beginner singer. This area, spanning five to six notes in the middle of your range, can wreak havoc on the voice if not navigated properly.  Most inexperienced vocalists attempt to muscle through this area.  This can cause a yelling sound that’s not pleasant to the listener’s ears.  Heavy singing through this area can permanently damage the vocal chords in the long run.

A Rock in the Water

How do we navigate through this area?  The training is not easy but the answer is.  When training the voice, heavy singing in the passaggio must be avoided at all times.  As you approach the passaggio, lighten the voice and go around it, along the back wall of the throat.  Decreased volume and change of sound direction in this area will cause certain muscles to engage and help you ease through the weak spot.

I liken it to a rock in the water.  If you were piloting a boat and spotted a rock ahead, you wouldn’t wait until you reached the rock to turn.  You would slowly navigate as far away from the rock and continue along your course.  The passaggio is no different.  If you approach it with a heavy sound and change course too late, the voice will quickly switch or crack, allowing your audience to hear an obvious change.  Rather, the voice should start to lighten and change direction well before you reach the passaggio.  This will give you a smooth transition between your lower and upper registers.

The Area

The vocal break is different for everyone. Below, I have included a general area, depending on your voice part:

Billy Holiday

Bass – Ab3 (just below middle C)

Baritone – B3 (just below middle C)

Tenor – E4 (just above middle C)

Alto – E4 (just above middle C)

Soprano – F#4 (just above middle C)

 

Remember that each of these areas are surrounded with weaker notes.  Approach these areas lightly and direct the sound towards the back of the throat.

 

The Process

When I train vocalists to ease through their passaggio, I do a simple chest voice-head voice-chest voice exercise.  You can try with an easy octave scale, 1358531, or a Rossini scale.  Start in your chest voice or speaking voice.  Let the vibration of the sound follow the back wall of the throat.  As your approach your passaggio, lighten to a head voice and continue on.  As you descend, take the same path along the back of the throat, use your head voice and slowly ease into your chest voice, like a descending parachute.  On the ascent, if your voice cracks or makes an obvious change, engage the head voice sooner.  If the voice cracks or makes an obvious change on the descent, take the head even lower before transitioning into the chest voice.  Visit my Facebook page and let me know how you did.  Happy singing!!!!

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