In part 1, we discussed how the voice is made up of various registers, connected by transition points we call bridges. Each have their own colour, sound and feel. But learning about the idiosyncrasies of the voice is hard without some context to place it in. So let’s consider some other instruments first.
In part 2, we identified how every instrument has it’s own idiosyncrasies. We looked at piano and guitar, and how each has their own rules/ins and outs that need to be learned over a lifetime of playing the instrument.
For part 3, let’s look at how this relates to the voice.
Part 3: The idiosyncrasies of the voice
Like the piano and the guitar, the voice has it’s own idiosyncrasies. Chest voice sounds a particular way with a darker colour. The first bridge and the register it initially gives you access to has it’s own colour, a little brighter, but still more like chest.
The second bridge however, is a game-changer. This takes real work not just to access, but to make it blend with everything occurring lower down – why? Because left to it’s own devices, it’s pretty darn bright!
NOTE: This is why many singers seem to get stuck at the same place, namely their second bridge. Many singers can happen upon how to get through their first bridge, however imperfectly, but the second is far more specialist.
The second bridge is a much brighter, more harmonically resonant and ringing sound. You hear it in the best opera singers and pop singers in their climaxes. E.g. Nessun Dorma, Una Furtiva Lagrima, etc. I’ve written about this with some examples here.
The third bridge is another step up from here again.
HOW THE VOICE LIKES TO BE PLAYED:
Just like the piano and guitar examples, certain approaches function better in certain areas of the instrument.
For example, when we sing in a linear fashion, we sing notes that are very close to each other, like singing through a scale in order. Most melodies are built on this approach.
When we sing with intervallic skips, we are typically jumping over one or more scalar notes and missing some out. All melodies tend to involve such interval skips somewhere, but they are usually to enable pivoting between linear portions of the melody.
But skips in the melody are most common (and have the highest musical value) when used as climax notes. Think about the operatic piece Nessun Dorma, or the chorus of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name”, or the bulk of the melody for Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”, etc.
All of these songs melodies that are predominantly linear, then – for the climactic moments – jump a third to a fifth (or sometimes more).
Just like the guitar or piano, there are certain ways the voice likes to be operated in different places. It takes time not just to build the voice, but to learn the ins and outs of how to get the best out of the voice.
(i) The first bridge loves to be approached linearly
The first bridge loves to be approached linearly. Singing note-by-note through a scale, simple melodic fragments, etc, these tend to be very approachable.
In contrast, the second bridge is not anywhere near as favourable for this. Too much of a shift needs to happen to successfully navigate into the second bridge (mechnically) for it to feel natural/normal for 99% of singers.
(ii) The second bridge loves to be approached with intervallic skips
And yet, the second is VERY accepting of singing with skips (of at least a minor third) to get into it. This is why almost all great melodies in modern and classic songs utilise larger intervallic skips to get to higher notes, especially for climaxes.
Yet, the first bridge can feel quite stiff or over-muscled when asked to respond in the same way. They are, in many regards, quite different to one another.
The mistake most singers make
Put simply, most singers try to bully their voice into doing the thing they want it to do. They do so without any real consideration given as to whether the voice will respond well to whatever the task is.
No-one playing piano or guitar questions that certain things are easier/harder. It is accepted that no matter how good you get, some things are idiosyncrasies that make certain things more manageable, and other things less manageable.
The voice is the same. Far too many try to make the first bridge by hitting their chest voice harder and dragging that colour up, instead of learning how to make the transition. Some do the opposite, and try to jettison their chest voice before they get to the first bridge, just so there’s less going on to make it more manageable.
Others who wish to sing even higher refuse/simply don’t realise the necessary colour shifts that need to occur the higher one goes, and try to hang onto the sound of their lower registers. They try to force something that should sound one way, to sound like another region of the voice.
Even with an exceptionally trained and well-built voice, some melodies are simply more favourable than others, depending on which part of the voice you place them in. That’s a non-negotiable.
The challenge is not merely to train a voice to extend range and add quality, but to learn how the instrument itself wants to behave and to be treated, and then to play it accordingly.