What is a vocal break?

Sometimes it is easy for you to start singing with low notes, but then by going higher, you experience all of a sudden a problem, but you know that you can sing higher notes, especially if you start from higher notes. And when you start from a high note you get a similar problem by going lower. It is like you have a break between the low and the high notes. Even so you can sing the notes in the middle easily when going up or going down. This is the vocal break. This is because your body has to support the low and high notes differently. The switching of the support systems is the problem. The vocal chords, which are the primary producer of the pitch, keep their function the same: To close and open the air passage with the desired frequency. Low notes need stronger breathing support from the belly, that is, the resonating takes place in your chest or from the belly. For the high notes the resonating takes place more within your oral cavity or in the upper parts.

This is because lower notes have longer wavelength and therefore need “bigger” body parts to resonate, and higher notes have a shorter wavelength and therefore need “smaller” body parts to resonate. Actually, the body parts are in fact not body parts but the free room for the air to resonate. The tones in the middle can be supported from both sides: your chest and your head voice. So in the beginning try intentionally to stay in either the high or low range when practicing, so you do not get into a dilemma to have to choose between the chest or the head voice support system. Train them separately, extend their range to overlap more and more. Later try to smoothly change from chest to head voice and vice versa. Remember the function of the vocal chords stays the same; it is just the supporting system, which has to change.

Vocal Break on piano

If you want a big range you have to use two support systems, the law of physics demands that. Listening singing teacher will get you feedback on the loudness of your singing: If you can effortlessly reach a high volume when singing a note, you have chosen the right support system for that note. The emphasis in the previous phrase lies in the word “effortlessly”, there are not your vocal chords, which make the sound full sounding, it is the resonating support system. You can compare this with an acoustic guitar: If you take the underlying resonating body of the guitar away and just use the upper parts, the sound would be very weak. Even so the production of the sound is still the same: you start the sound by bringing a string into motion in both cases. But the resonating body makes the sound sound full.

In reality things are much more complex. For example your bones will also be involved in the end product of your sound. And the bones have a different speed for waves than the air. Another example: Mathematically the middle C (C4), which swings with 261.63 Hz, has a wavelength of 1.31 meters (Air speed 343 m / frequency 261 Hz = 1.31 m). You will have to reflect the sound on internal "walls" to resonate the desired wavelength. C5, which is an octave above C4, still has a wavelength of 0.65 meter. The bass note C2 has an impressive wavelength of 5.25 meters. You can see this impressive length in old organ pipes. Since it is sufficient to produce only the part from a node to an anti-node of the waveform to define the sound, the pipe length has only to be 1/4 of the whole wavelength. That is our body needs to approximate resonating rooms from 1.31 m for the bass note C2 down to 0.08 m for a C6. To add to the complexity: Our primary producer of the pitch, the vocal chords, function a little bit different for the production of low and high notes. The vocal researchers speak of 4 vibratory forms of our vocal chords (from the lowest to the highest): Vocal fry, Modal, Falsetto, and Whistle. So it may help to know that there a different vibratory patterns, but do not let you confuse by trying to get control of all the parts involved, or try to start counting the openings and closings of your vocal chords per second: Your brain will do this for you automatically. So don't make things too complicated, just relax and imagine the sound you would like to produce. It may help if you think to produce the sound from the belly or from the upper body parts. The main goal is to produce full sounds effortlessly by choosing the support system which suits you best for a specific tone. Let go and feel the power of resonance.

 

How do I find a vocal break?

Maybe you do not have a vocal break: If you sing since Kindergarten and have it done without interruption until now, you probably will not have a problem with the two support systems. You are so used to it that you switch automatically between them. Still you should be able to feel if the main resonating support system is the chest or the head. Of course both support systems are always active. A low note gets supported in the oral cavity by reflecting the sound several times until it has the necessary wavelength to resonate. However this is not as effective as the resonating with fewer reflections in the chest. High notes get also supported by the chest, because the higher overtones will also resonate in the chest. In this way, if you have no problem going from your lowest note to your highest note, do not worry about where and when you switch between the two support systems. Just be happy and sing.

Pitch curve feedback as given by Listening-Singing-Teacher:

Head and Chest Voice

If, however, you get difficulties to sing a higher note when coming from a lower note and vice versa, you have a vocal break, since you can sing the low notes and the high notes individually, but not connected. With listening singing teacher you can find this point with any pitch exercise, just ignore the notes on the staff (e. g. take the "Scale: Sing after me" exercise and choose "Show exercise options". After clicking "Start" choose "NoNote" for "Note Assistance". This option suppresses the preceding reference tone before each note, so you can sing without interruption). Start singing from a low note and raise the pitch continuously, so that the pitch curve shows a steady line going up, until the line starts to break. Repeat this exercise but this time go from a high note to a low note. In the ideal case the two lines overlap in the middle range. If not try to slowly extend each area separately until they overlap (do it slowly, do not expect this to happen in one session by forcing your voice). If you have an overlapping of the two support systems, sing a scale going up until you reach a note in the overlapping area. Soften your voice until it is nearly un-hear-able, but keep the pitch. Now, with the pitch still formed by your vocal chords, start getting louder, but this time try to activate the upper support system. If you are not sure how the head voice feels, start in the head voice from a high note and go down until to the note in question. Try to remember the tense and relaxed body parts. Start the exercise again and try to remember the previous state of the muscles when getting louder. Remember, both support systems are always active, just try to let the right system do the main resonating of your voice. Do the same exercises going down from a high note instead coming from a low note. Then start to soften the voice less and less during the switch until you feel comfortable doing the switch with normal voice loudness. This is a vocal technique. Listening Singing Teacher does not teach vocal techniques, however, we hope with these tips to help you overcome a vocal break.

To connect the two resonating chambers smoothly, is for many people very difficult and takes a lot of practice. So, you should begin your training also only with one voice, and then two separated voices. And if you do not want to be an opera star, it might be sufficient to master only one voice or two separated voices. Do not stress yourself by the idea that you should have one big range, so you can cover all kinds of music styles. Keep in mind that many stars are using only one voice (either only chest voice or head voice) or have separated passages with only head voice and only chest voice.

For more information and other tips about vocal techniques search the Internet for "vocal break wiki". However it may be confusing to read: "The chest is not an effective resonator. Although strong vibratory sensations may be experienced in the upper chest, and although numerous voice books refer to chest resonance, the chest, by virtue of its design and location, can make no significant contribution to the resonance system of the voice. The chest is on the wrong side of the vocal folds and there is nothing in the design of the lungs that could serve to reflect sound waves back toward the larynx. (from wikipedia, McKinney, James C. (1994). The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults. Nashville, Tennessee: Genovex Music Group)". While this may be true, it is what you feel what counts (Ask any singer, if he feels his chest resonating for low notes and if he can feel the head resonating for high notes). You cannot guide yourself, if you feel nothing. And if it feels, like the chest is resonating, let you guide by that sensation.

 


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