If you look inside a piano, you will see a set of strings that looks like a harp. The low notes are created by the hammers hitting strings that are very long and thick. The strings gradually get shorter and thinner until the very high notes are sounded by the hammers hitting strings that are very short and thin. This demonstrates acoustic law. Low notes are sounded by a larger vibrating mass than high notes.
In the bottom part of a singer’s range the vocal folds have the most vibrating mass. As the singer moves up a scale the folds start to stretch and thin out a bit; this is a similar concept to a guitarist using a tuning peg to stretch the string in order to raise the pitch. In the lower and lower middle parts of the voice as the folds are in this long position, the resonance seems to travel out of the mouth while sympathetic resonance is felt in the chest of the singer. This is why this lower part of the voice is also known as “Chest Voice.” When the singer reaches the top of the chest voice, they have three choices, only one of which is desirable in order to sing pitches which are higher.
1. The singer can continue to use the heavy “chest voice” mechanism and continue to try to pull the resonance out of their mouth. This results in a strained, yelled type of sound which is commonly known as “pulling the chest voice,” or simply “pulling chest.” Over time this pulled type of production can be very irritating on the folds and can cause several types of damage to the voice.
2. The singer can allow the vocal fold adduction to stop and allow only the upper edges of the folds to vibrate. While this does reduce the vibrating mass and allows the pitch to rise, massive amounts of air rush through these “oval-form” folds causing the voice to “break” into a very breathy production, accompanied by a sudden loss in intensity. This is known as “falsetto” or a “disconnected” sound. This type of production is not acceptable in most types of professional singing, as it doesn’t blend in quality with the low notes, and the sound has no carrying power.
3. The singer can keep the stretch and adduction of the vocal folds while at the same time allowing the vibrating mass to begin moving from the thick part of the vocal folds at the bottom into the lighter mechanism more at the center part of the folds. It feels to many singers as though the cords are shortening or zipping. We know that don’t actually dampen or shorten, but it is a wonderful model for many singers because they are able to keep their larynx resting while allowing the vibrating mass to reduce and stay connected.
This third condition also creates a so-called “split resonance” feeling in many singers. Some of the resonance continues to come out of the mouth as in the chest voice, yet some of the resonance begins to rise up behind the soft palate. This mixed resonance has the potential to have a great deal of power. This is known as a “mixed voice,” or simply “the mix.”
The mix has the potential to sound like a belted chest voice, a strong head voice or a soft yet powerful pianissimo. The mix is extremely versatile and very resilient. The mix is not easy for most singers to find on their own, and it must be built very carefully. Once a singer has built a solid mix they sound like they have one voice from the bottom to the top of their range with no apparent breaks in their voice.
There is a lot more to discuss in regards to the chest voice, the mix, the head voice and the balancing of the different bridges in the voice. More shall be revealed!
Until next time,