I’ve been trying to write about this for some time, but it’s not easy.
Firstly, it’s a fairly abstract topic.
Secondly, so much of singing well is sensory as well as sonic. As such, trying to get less experienced singers to recognise descriptions of what higher registers should feel like without said singers having experienced it themselves, is a somewhat futile endeavour. The discussion inevitably becomes more academic than instructive.
Thirdly, it’s sufficiently complex enough that it isn’t easy to provide a concise explanation for.
Nevertheless, the idea that different parts of the voice have their own distinct qualities and ‘colours’ to them is evident when you listen to great singers. Whether that’s great classical singers, pop singers, rock singers, musical theatre, etc.
The objective of this article is to help people appreciate this as a concept, and also to understand the idiosyncrasies of the various registers of the voice. To do this, and to make sure the structure of this longer articles is clear, I’ve split the explanation into three parts:
Part 1: How the voice is built – We’ll do a quick tour of how the voice is built and works, to provide context for later explanations.
Part 2: Instrument Idiosyncrasies – Before diving into discussing the voice, we’ll illustrate the same principles by referring to other more easily discussed instruments, e.g. how they work, how they like to played, what works well/what doesn’t, etc.
Part 3: Idiosyncrasies of the Voice – At this stage, we should have enough context and illustrations of the principles we are seeking to discuss, and we can grasp how these relate to the voice.
Feel free to visit these part by part rather than trying to digest it in one go. Either way, let’s get started with part 1.
Part 1: How the voice is built
You can read a more fully-featured discussion on the way the voice works here. For now, let’s do a whistle-stop tour.
At the bottom end of our instrument, is what many refer to as chest voice. This is the lowest and darkest sounding register of the voice.
The top end of the voice is, broadly speaking, referred to as head voice.
The chief transition point from chest to head voice occurs in different places for men vs women, but it must nevertheless occur. In our nomenclature, we call this the first bridge (also known as the first passage (passagio), etc).
There are other bridges (read: transition points from one register to another), lying within what we would call head voice. There is a second bridge, a third bridge, a fourth bridge, etc.
These occur at distinct points roughly every half octave, but the first and second bridges are by far the most well-observed aspects in the history of vocal pedagogy.
Who should learn to deal with their first bridge?
Honestly, everyone should. Here’s why. Continue reading “The Colours of the Voice: How and why different registers have their own sound and feel (part 1 of 3)”