Dec 04 2013

Q&A - Comparing Sensations of Differing Voices

lillilehmann10Hi Mr Mayer! here is a question that puzzles me:
I find Lilli Lehmann’s profile very helpful for myself.
(I am referring to the picture page 44 in the Dover edition of “How to sing”)
Like many singers, I have a tendency to think any pitch too low, especially those of the medium. Remembering this picture and having some pitches as landmarks is a good reminder.

This picture shows “vocal sensations of soprano and tenors singers” as it is written under the picture.

…To my questions (2 of them in fact)

1) how am I to change the picture to adapt it to a baritone? to a mezzo?
Do I write a C sharp instead of a E for instance for a baritone?

2) the second question is a more delicate one I think.

It appears that, for Lilli Lehmann, the sensations of the tenor are the same as those of the soprano Jerome Hines would not have agreed. In “The four voices of man” he writes that the male high voice is actually to be compared to the soprano’s middle voice (page 123) In other words,i assume, men would have no sensations at the level of the forehead.

(I am here quoting two books the reading of which I find very difficult, I understand perhaps a fifth of what is written…. But on this subject at least they are clear enough.)

On behalf of Lilli Lehmann’s opinion :

I saw on You tube a lesson given by Nicolaî Gedda to a tenor. He says to the tenor who is going to a high pitch “not here!” (pointing to the lower part of the face) “there!” (pointing to the forehead)
What do you think ?
Thank you for your website.

Thanks for your question. The picture you are referring to illustrates sensations. Sensations can be somewhat subjective and difficult to apply to other people. Because of that I usually recommend to keep concepts like this fairly general.

I would suggest rather than trying to apply the illustration to each person with specific pitches, use the concept but use general pitch areas for the changes. Point out that the person may feel these things happen around these pitches, but maybe lower or higher.

I feel this is important because each person may have slight differences from others. Also, this way you can use the concept with all types of voices. This approach is actually helpful with many types of exercises and concepts.

Think of discovering where these sensations happen instead of dictating where they happen. Then the singer is more likely to stay flexible and free. Plus they will likely have more meaning to them. If they are told that it should happen on these specific pitches they are more likely to try to make them happen by interfering with their natural, instinctive coordination.

Your second question is kind of an extension of the first. There are a couple different aspects that need to be understood relating to your questions. One is registration and the other is location of resonance.

The sensations of resonance are basically the same in the different parts of the range between male and female voices. The registration is slightly different. And to confuse the issue, registration contributes to the sensations of resonance. But to explain that would take a lot longer than I can give in this answer.

So the sensation of resonance on a high note does move up into the head for both males and females. But the statement by Jerome Hines about the Male high voice relating to the Female middle is referring to registration.

Registration means the nature of the source vibration from the vocal folds. The vibration changes its size in order to be faster or slower to tune the pitch. So in a sense it is a product of absolute pitch. Which is why the Male high voice relates to the Female middle. They are the same absolute pitch.

But resonance is more a product of relative pitch. For example an A440 is a high note for a tenor and it is a middle note for a soprano. The registration is basically the same but the resonance sensations are different. They will be higher in the head for the tenor, as a high note, than they will be for the soprano who is in her middle voice. But since the pitch is the same the vocal folds will be basically the same to tune the same pitch.

Another aspect that applies to the situation is the difference in the dimensions of the mechanism between male and female larynges. This is where the statement by Jerome Hines is a little mistaken. Because the male larynx is larger, the nature of the adjustment to tune the pitch that corresponds to the soprano middle range will have more longitudinal tension than the adjustment of the female.

This is what makes it a high note in the male voice, the increased longitudinal tension necessary to thin the folds to tune the pitch. Because of this increased tension it also requires a higher level of subglottic pressure to feed the vibration than is required in the female version of the pitch.

If the female voice creates the same kind of longitudinal tension on the same pitch they will be functioning like a male voice, which is how belting is accomplished in a relatively safe manner. They then make a middle voice note into a high note. (This contrasts to the dangerous version of belting that is just pushing the low voice up into the middle range with no lengthening/thinning of the folds. This practice is injurious in the male voice as well.)

For the female to naturally experience this increase in longitudinal tension they need to ascend into their natural high range, approximately an octave higher than the male voice. Then the corresponding sensations of resonance moving into the head are experienced as well. But now the size of the vibration in the female voice has gotten even smaller because of tuning the higher pitch. Which is possible because of the smaller size of the larynx mechanism.

So although it is true that there is a similarity between the male high voice and the female middle in the sense of size of vibration for the same pitch, the nature of how that size of vibration is created is different. This can get a little confusing, especially since there can be even more contributing factors.

One other aspect to this relationship can illustrate how complex this is. If we take this same example of the A440 pitch, I stated that for the male high voice there is increased longitudinal tension created to tune the pitch. But if the male singer doesn’t keep a completely engaged mechanism and relaxes that tension we observe the result of what I call “pure head voice”, which some call falsetto. (I have described in other blog posts how I define the difference between falsetto and head voice)

This vibration adjustment more closely equals that of the female voice. Most male singers have experienced this in an undesirable fashion when trying for a high note and cracking into falsetto. This is a typical result from a lack of coordination in the mechanism. Generally it is caused by an attempt to increase the tension of the tongue, throat and jaw muscles rather than coordinating the adjustment of the vocal muscles to a new register balance.

(I should point out that the tension I am referring to in the vocal folds is not really experienced as “tension” as that word generally represents. Throat, jaw, tongue tension is experienced as “tension”. The longitudinal tension of the folds that represents register adjustment that I am talking about is experienced as a feeling of “connection” and elastic thinning accompanied by an increase of brilliance in the tone.)

This is what Countertenors do on purpose to accomplish their female-like expressions. They basically use their voice with a female oriented function. If done well there is enough engagement to produce a clean vibration with true tuning, but not enough that would create the degree of “connection” required of a “male” approach to those pitches. Which would likely be impossible to sustain.

In much the same way, a female singer can vocalize in the lower part of their range and allow the vibration to get bigger and basically equal a male voice. Because of this ability for both male and female singers to produce vocalizations that equate to those of the opposite gender I often refer to the registers as male and female voice rather than chest and head. It just is a more obvious way of referring to the raw adjustments.

These basic principles apply to mezzos and baritones as well. The registration changes may not be much different from sopranos and tenors but the resonance sensations will probably happen slightly lower. But like I said above, try to avoid concrete applications and allow some experimentation for the singer to discover when these things happen in their voice.

I hope this makes sense and answers your question. Please leave your questions and comments below. Thanks.

  1. Sorry I won’t comment on the above but I couldn’t find the area where I could ask another question not related. I love your blog and thankyou for all I have learnt by reading it. My question is. I have a female contemporary vocal student that cannot sing in a heavy voice. Everything is in a light register. She also speaks with a light register sounding like she is pulling her head register down to middle C and further without changing registers to a heavy/thick register. There is no power in her lower notes besause of this. I have tried certain exercises to get her into this speech register with no luck.If I ask her to speak loudly it is still done with mainly lengthener and not enough shortener. Can you suggest anything that I could do to get her to feel this sensation.

    Kind regards
    Sue Bond

  2. Thanks for your question. I’m happy to hear you have been learning from my writing. This issue of a female with no lower register happens sometimes. I’m curious to know her age. Obviously this is even more possible the younger the voice.

    It sounds like you have tried most of the things I would suggest. Generally the lower register is associated with speaking, so that is where I would start. But she speaks in the light register. Usually the easiest way to discover an unfamiliar voice quality is through imitation.

    But it sounds like you’ve been doing that. If demonstrating isn’t working, I might try having her imitate a man. Sometimes imitating a cow does the trick. But when working with a male singer trying to find the light voice I have them speak like a woman. So the same idea, but reverse, might work for her.

    This is why I often refer to these registers as male voice and female voice. We all have both to some degree. Generally females have less male voice and more female voice, and vice-versa. Occasionally a male will have more female than male voice and a female will have more male voice than female. This situation for the female is getting more common because of vocal habits in popular singing and common speaking.

    Then there are some voices that don’t have an obvious, raw chest voice. And if this is the case we really shouldn’t try to force it. The best option is just to try and strengthen the voice as it is. Maybe as she matures the chest voice will grow, but there really is no way to create it if it isn’t there naturally.

    We need to be open to what the individual voice is naturally and cultivate that. There is always the possibility that a voice is not suited for certain types of musical expression. Small light voices are not suited for Wagner operas and heavy, robust voices are not suited to early music.

    The same principle applies to contemporary musical expression. Not everyone is suited to strong, belt-like expressions. And to make them do it risks damaging the voice. So we must be careful to allow a voice to be what it is and not try to change it.

    I hope this helps. In a nutshell a good rule of thumb is – don’t train the voice that is not there trying to make it more, train the voice that is there and it will become more naturally. Voices need to be cultivated like flowers. Thanks again.

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