Voice Break – Does everyone have it?!
Recently a client of mine asked me ‘Does everyone have a break in their voice?’. Let me explain what they even mean with this question. Generally speaking people refer to ‘voice break’ in 2 cases.
In one case they mean the transition between the registers of the voice when singing up and down. When a singer is not able to sustain the same quality of sound while ascending, the singer might ‘flip’ into a lighter sound. This is often referred to as vocal break.
In the other case, they mean the voice break which occurs during puberty. This is known as voice change.
In this article we will talk about the first case.
When a student comes into my studio, very commonly one of these two scenarios will occur.
Case #1: the student will sing in a strong voice in his/her lower range. Then get louder when he approaches his middle range and ‘flip’ into a falsetto as they sing higher and higher. This vocal break almost sounds as if a second singer came out and replaced the initial strong sounding singer.
Case #2: Another type of student will do quite the opposite, especially when they have only been trained to sing in their ‘head voice’. They will have a nice rich sound in their upper range but as they descend the sound gets very light and will not have much depth and texture. It might even sound breathy but definitely a light sound is produced.
What is going on in Case #1?
In this case the singer is raising their larynx when they attempt to sing higher. We speak in our chest voice and are used to a thicker vocal cord coordination during normal speech. When we sing however, we increase our vocal range and as we ascend and start singing higher, some singers try to hold on to the thicker vocal cord coordination that is used for speech, instead of letting the vocal cords move towards a thinner coordination.
Therefore if they want to sing higher but keep holding on to the thicker vocal cord coordination, they have to raise their larynx which singalizes the body that it’s time to swallow and the biological functions of the larynx kick in and the sound stops.
Very often such singers will increase the volume when they sing higher and will not able to regulate their volume on higher notes. They try to hold on to the vocal cord mass of their speaking pitchen and tighten the vocal cords to try and create a higher pitch. When the pressure reaches a threshold, their vocal cords have no other choice than to get ‚out of the way’ and release the tension. This results in a very sudden ‚break’ or ‚crack’ as they produce a totally different sound.
What is going on in Case #2?
When the singer is only able to produce head voice sounds, they ‘loosen’ the vocal cords to try to get a lower note. Instead of maintaining the tension on the vocal folds, they let go of the tension too must. This results in a very light sound or no sound at all.
What to do?
As a singer you want to be able to smoothly transition through your registers. You want to develop the ability to sing in a wide range without changes in the quality of your sound. You can compare our vocal folds to the strings on a guitar. Just like you maintain a consistent tension on the guitar strings, no matter if you play high or low, you want to apply the same principle to your voice.
Singers have problems moving up and down in their range when they change the tension on the vocal folds. They start increasing the volume plus the tension on the vocal folds when they ascend or they ‘back off’ by decreasing the tension on the vocal folds. If the singer allows the tension on the vocal folds to remain consistent and only increases the velocity of the air flow, the vocal folds will make the necessary adjustments, to increase the pitch.
To answer the initial question, whether everyone has a vocal break, the answer is no. Actually no one has to have a vocal break. It’s not like one person’s vocal cords have a literal break and another person’s vocal cords don’t. It’s rather that some singers have acquired the ability to coordinate the tiny muscles around the larynx such that it does not raise when they ascend in pitch and therefore their voice does not ‘let go of’ or add tension on the vocal cords when they sing. Finding the balance on vocal cord tension and airflow to blend the lower register with the higher register and receive a full unchanged sound throughout the whole range, is what we do with mix singing.
This is definitely something anyone can learn with vocal training and practice.
No more vocal breaks – mix it 🙂
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