Apr 12 2011

Q&A - Transitioning to Operatic Singing

Hello! I took voice lessons for about 5 years…I had a 2 1/2- 3 octave range..was told I was a lyric soprano. I always wanted to sing operatically..I was told the difference is creating a more round sound. How does one accomplish this? Also I have a very hard time smoothing out my break between my chest and head voice…this tends to happen a little over an octave above middle C like most Soprano’s and Mezzo’s. My E flat or E is always weak and my head voice always weak. Though everything below that seems to have strengthened. I would really love to be able to sing high and full sounding like opera/classic musical theatre. But I have no idea how this is accomplished. I haven’t been in voice lessons now for 7 or 8 years..and can’t afford to return yet. I had a good grasp on my range then but still found my voice didn’t feel “open”. Now my voice feels more open but my high notes are VERY restrained and I am unsure how to even produce my high notes completely without the larynx going up on me. I don’t want to strain for those notes. How does someone sing high without closing up their cords?

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Thanks for your question and for reading my blog. From your description it sounds to me that your voice just isn’t quite “lined up”.

This is a feeling we get when everything is where it should be. For instance, regarding your first question about a “round sound”. We can try to create a round sound deliberately, but that will be an imitation. That is an example of what I have talked about before in terms of trying to do the result rather than doing the cause.

What we really want to do, that causes a round sound, is get the resonating spaces lined up. Your question implies to me that you don’t sound “round” now. This is a sign you aren’t using your resonators to their fullest potential. And by extension, you’re not using your voice to its fullest potential.

If we sing using all of the resonators along with a pure vibration of the vocal cords the result will be a rounder sound. This “lining up” will also help the break you are experiencing. When there is a break in the range between the registers it is a sign that things are “out of whack”. (pretty scientific terminology, huh?)

I get the impression that you have done more contemporary musical theater singing. If that is the case you might have fallen into the trap of using too much vocal cord mass too high with too much mouth resonance. You probably need to feel like you are in head voice much lower than you think. And resonate through the full length of the pharynx up into the head behind the mouth and behind the nose. The strength and fullness comes from acoustic amplification/resonance and not from the voice actually being strong or loud.

The feel of head voice gives the needed flexibility to create an easy vibration that has a lot of acoustic energy. That is the way to easily producing very full tones. Many mistake this freedom as being a product of the breath. It seems like that because it is vibrating air, but it isn’t actually the breath.

This condition only exists if the airway stays open. I think that is what you really mean by your last question. We don’t really have any feeling of our cords. So we can’t feel them close, which is what they should do so they can vibrate purely. What we don’t want to close is the throat or airway. When that happens it restricts the voice and makes it feel difficult. This is usually linked to a poor vibration and poor breath control.

I could go on and on, but the “how” of it can’t really be communicated through written words. The bottom line is we need to develop the coordination of all of the parts of the instrument. When we do that and the conditions are correct all of these problems go away and we feel good.

I hope this gives you some idea of what is involved. Unfortunately you might not get what I’m talking about if you haven’t experienced something like it.

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Thanks so much for your reply! I’m not even sure how this happened but..a couple days ago I went up the scale and I somehow ended up in head voice I think. I wasn’t sure so just once I decided to push the air a bit harder just to see if it would crack…it did not. (I wont do that again I know pushing it isn’t good ;) ) It came out a good volume and I could feel a weird sensation in my head (not my throat). I think it was resonating up there but I wouldn’t know how to describe the feeling. Before when i would try high notes it felt like something was stopping it..with this i felt my larynx area and it didn’t feel like it was up anymore…now it kind of feels like it’s coming up the back of my neck almost and into my head…I really can’t explain it but I really like it. It’s the first time I ever felt it like that I just hope I don’t ever forget it again LOL. I definitely understand what you were talking about now..I don’t even know if I was explaining it right. It didn’t feel forced and I got up to E6. C’s are coming out almost effortlessly! My husband said I sound operatic up there the only thing missing sometimes is vibrato which I hope with practice will come as I get more comfortable. I didn’t even really have to do anything it just feels completely natural. Like suddenly the feeling is second nature. Hopefully it’s like riding a bike and once you figure it out you don’t ever truly forget? :) I’m actually scared one day I’ll wake up and forget how to do this now. haha

thanks!

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These sound like very positive descriptions. The biggest thing is how it feels. Most people tend to get distracted by how it sounds, and this causes them to do unhealthy things. Now, of course we want to sound good. But we should first be focused on how it feels. If it feels good we can then start to explore the quality of sound.

A key point to remember is to keep the vertical resonating space lined up and stay in it behind the mouth and nose. If we allow our pronunciation to move forward to the front of the mouth, or farther, we won’t be able to transition into the upper register. And the tone will get less round and lose color.

I’m glad my suggestions were helpful. If you ever want to meet directly for a consultation to go more in depth just let me know. Thanks!

  1. Hello
    I am a faithful follower of your blog and advices, I can’t tell you how much you helped me with your writings. It is very helpful to know what we should feel at body levels when singing.

    I have a couple question
    I am very concerned about the size of my voice.
    I am a tenor, light tenor apparently.

    My first question is: I don’t seem to have a break in the registers. From the note d upwards my voice starts to sound with an alto color and I don’t seem to find the way to sing with a “tenor” color…The lowest note I can reach is C… Am I doing something wrong? or is it possible that it is the natural quality of my voice.

    My other question has to do with the size of the voice and it is somehow connected to the other question I made.
    When I sing I have the impression that my voice is very small. But people singing next to me have told me that my voice isn’t as small as I think. Also, when I sing in choirs I have the impression that the sound of the people around me “swallows” my voice and again I fell like I have a very small voice compared to theirs…but when we sing and we end a phrase it seems to be my voice color the one which keeps resonating with reverberation…I assume that my voice must reach further than what I think.
    Have I all impressions wrong?
    Thank you!

  2. Hi Santiago.
    I’m not really sure what to make of the first question. I certainly leave that to Michael and/or the more vocally-knowledgeable users to discuss that. However, more details would be helpful. All I can say is to not fall into the trap of pushing or contorting the voice to sound like something it isn’t. Don’t push the voice – discover it.
    However, about the second question, I’ll put this out there – you cannot hear your voice in the same way other people can. Since your voice is going out and away from your head, it is only reasonable that it might sound small to you and larger to everyone else. Also, by your description, it seems like you have a fairly clean, adducted upper range vocal production. Otherwise, the voice wouldn’t carry very far.
    I don’t claim to be a vocal expert or a source of authority here, but I can make educated guesses. More details of your vocal experience would be helpful. However, probably the best thing you could do is send Michael a clip or set up a consultation. Words only go so far – hearing is believing!
    I hope I could help.

  3. thank you Joseph
    I know it is hard to give some advice just by reading some descriptions…I was more interested in an answer for the second question for the reason you mentioned…When I feel my voice is small, I push it to try to get even with the surrounding voices, and of course, the result is the opposite. It is helpful to know that what I feel is normal then…(though of course, there must be a lot to correct yet).

    Going back to my first question, after some thinking I realize that what I want to know is this:

    I know it is hard to connect the head voice to the chest voice, the chest voice is more natural to us since we speak in that register…but, is there a possibility that I am strongly familiar to my head voice and can’t find the way to reach my chest voice? That might be the reason why I don’t have good low notes and why I don’t find the “tenor” color.
    I am 35 years old and I never felt a break in my voice during puberty, there was a break but I didn’t suffer it like most boys do. My speaking voice is usually high pitched (but perhaps because there’s to much tension in my voice while I speak)…some voice teachers have told me I am a true tenor (don’t know what they meant by that) but lately some have told me I could be alto countertenor, but I doubt it (or I lack the technique) since I feel there is a change of register or should be some “adjustment” in the Bb (middle line in the pentagram) upwards, I feel it an octave lower to and nowhere else (as tenor I should feel that near E or F right?)

    So, I am confused since I don’t know what is the true personality of my voice, therefore I don’t know what is the most appropriate technical approach for me.

  4. Thanks, Joseph, for offering your observations to help. Santiago, thanks for your feedback and questions. I’m going to answer them with a new post.

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