Q&A – Bass Singing in Tenor Range
First of all, thanks for the information you’ve provided on your site. It’s very informative on the “why”s of vocal technique.
Can bass singers (especially a basso profundo like me) sing and sustain the tenor range in full voice in a healthy way? David Jones has talked about the dangers of singing in the wrong fach in some articles but there seems to be quite a few singers who have a 4 octave range (like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bOtqt7OFjg for instance. No idea how healthy it is.).
Thanks for reading my site and for your feedback. I appreciate it.
I guess to answer your question about bass voices sustaining the tenor range I would first have to define what style of music was being sung. Full voice is defined slightly differently between classical singing and non-classical singing. The difference is not really in the nature of things, but more in degree. Full voice in classical singing implies using the complete potential of the instrument to a greater degree of connection between the registers. (I think David Jones’ article is more geared toward classical singing. So it doesn’t really apply to the examples in the video.)
This is more of an issue for men. Especially lower voices. Women in classical singing connect more to their upper register (because this is where the voice naturally lies. That is why the music is written there), which is easier to deal with because there is less weight. This is the very reason why we all need to include the upper register in our singing, to drop the weight. But there still needs to be a strong connection to the lower register. This is what would make it difficult for a bass to sustain the tenor range in classical singing. And it even could be unhealthy depending on how it was done. The big danger is altering the natural voice to compensate for singing out of the comfortable range. This is why singing the wrong fach is dangerous.
In non-classical singing there is more lee-way in this balance. So even if someone has a bass voice, if they develop the coordination to access the weightlessness of the upper register with some connection they could sustain the range of a tenor. Some might call it head voice. Some might even call it falsetto. Others refer to it as the mix. It all depends on the definition of the terms. That is why it gets difficult to discuss in just words. But with the help of amplification this lighter voice can do the job.
In the way I define these terms, falsetto is too weak to be of much benefit ever. It is a sound production that I would describe as an attempt at the upper register without larynx coordination. It includes an exhalation of breath, which completely dilutes the vibration. And it is completely separated from the rest of the voice. It is not able to descend in pitch and transfer into lower register without a break.
If this condition is adjusted by not exhaling so the vocal folds can come together and make a pure vibration, then this is what I call pure head voice. It is light but not airy. It still doesn’t have much strength but is useful for singing quiet. The break tends to still be there, but it is less significant. And can be eliminated with some smart vowel adjusting. (Many still call this falsetto.)
If we take this another step forward and strengthen the adjustment of the folds we can connect to a stronger head voice. This starts to have some ring. It feels like speaking solidly on pitch. Just like how the lower register should feel, only it is in the upper. This is the basic function of the voice throughout the range and does not have any breaks between the registers. In this condition we can speak through the complete range of the voice through all adjustments of register.
This level can be considered connected and usable for non-classical singing. Since amplification with a microphone is the norm, this level of connection is appropriate and sufficient. There is a sense of ease that allows the singer to feel comfortable. And it connects back down to the lower register without major adjustments. (Adam Lambert is a good – not necessarily perfect – example of this vocal condition. This is where he basically lives, and then makes distortions or whatever based on how he wants to express the music.)
In classical singing there is one more level of connection beyond this speaking level. So far we haven’t mentioned the breath at all yet. The degree of connection for classical singing requires we take this to another level because we are our own amplifier. The previous level of connection would be appropriate for piano singing. But to try and use that level of connection for forte would be risking ridicule.
This extra degree of connection incorporates the addition of two more elements to complete the coordination. One is an increase of energy, what many call support. This energy from the air pressure must be coordinated or else it will just end up being force throwing the function out of balance. The second element is the adjusted form of the resonating system. The proper adjustment of the resonators allows us access to the reinforcement of the tone through acoustic amplification and the reinforcement of the stability of the larynx. This is what creates the “larger than life” sounds of the good classical singer.