I read the answer to my question about the passagio, and it was extremely informative. I would also like to thank you for simply taking the time to reply to my questions and provide thoughtful answers.
It took me some time to reply to your e-mail because I was thinking of the right question to ask. In your response to my question of the passagio, you referred to the need to strengthen the upper register.
“The upper register needs to be strengthened and connected. Otherwise you will have to resort to muscling the lower register up. Which is strenuous and uncomfortable.” (From “Passaggio Question” http://vocalwisdom.com/311/passaggio-question)
Perhaps you could elaborate on exercises to strengthen the upper register?
I have done some research and I have came across two plausible exercises that are claimed to strengthen the upper register. One is from Maestro Anthony Frisell’s book “A Manual for Training the Baritone Voice”, which advocates descending scales with the [u] vowel and with the falsetto from the A above middle C and down. Unfortunately, I am incapable of producing a tension-free falsetto above the middle C, and thus using this exercise seems counterproductive.
Another is from Maestro Denes Striny’s “Head First: A Concise Study of the Head Voice”. He advocates also the [u] vowel, from the B descending (below middle C I presume) down to the E flat below middle C. I am not sure whether to use falsetto or sing with the inevitable constriction (pulled chest voice I presume).
Perhaps you could give your evaluation and opinion on these two exercises, and it would be absolutely wonderful if you could offer some exercises that would strengthen the upper register.
Both of the sources you quote are good examples. They are essentially describing the same thing. And they are based on the same approach I would recommend.
The first step is to simply identify the two basic registers. An obvious way of doing this is to speak a low note in a very male character. Most people speak in the lower register so identifying this is not too much trouble. To identify the upper register speak a higher note thinking of imitating a female. This will usually feel very weak to a male, and often times to a female as well. At this initial stage it is very helpful to just imitate sounds. For instance in this previous example imitating a male and a female. (We can also imitate animals. Like a bear for the lower register and an owl or a dove for the upper.)
The registers have a strong identification with male and female. This is part of the reason men have a hard time incorporating the upper register in their function, out of fear of sounding less like a man. But this is not what happens. You still sound like yourself, but the feeling is much easier and flexible. It may be weak at first, but through regular use the muscular coordination strengthens and becomes the foundation of the function. I should say that it does feel weak as long as it is separated from the rest of the voice. It has to be combined as a part of the complete system, then it retains the natural character of the individual. This is true for women as well.
The next step after identifying the two registers is to do simple exercises in each register. I prefer to do short ascending scales starting on a low pitch for the lower register. These should only be taken up to around the lower E on the treble staff. For the upper register descending slides or octave arpeggios on [u] are ideal. These should be taken down through the middle range to the point where the voice wants to transition to the lower register. This varies some for each voice, but generally I go until the same lower E on the treble staff for males and all the way to the lowest notes for the female.
It should be noted that the voice will adjust some on the lower portion of the pattern, this should be allowed. Don’t force the voice to stay in the same register balance all of the time. With repetition we start to discover the feeling of the voice migrating from pure upper register to a hybrid that has been termed middle voice or mixed voice by some. This is good. We just want to make sure we don’t fall into the trap of forcing the voice from the lighter upper register to a heavy lower register condition. This would include excess breath pressure and likely throat pressure as well. This is very undesirable.
Over time this type of exercising of the two basic register adjustments will condition the tuning muscles of the larynx to be more flexible so it can remain in the hybrid condition most of the time while singing. This gives the feeling of having one long register. It is the basis of some people’s assertion that there are no registers. When the voice is freely flexible in its adjusting and functioning it gives the impression of no registers. The opposite then is also true. When there are obvious register imbalances it is a symptom that the voice is functioning out of balance. This is where the belief that good function comes down to proper register balance originates. When this is found many of the more common exercises can be introduced, as well as repertoire.
As always, it is critical that the phonation not be diluted by the escape of excess breath. This will make register balancing impossible, just as excess tension or constriction will. It demands that we increase our level of awareness and sensitivity. We need the vocal mechanism free to make the necessary adjustments in order to accomplish these fine differences in condition. But the fine distinctions are just an outgrowth of the larger, more obvious differences. That is why we start with the big opposites and then work them towards each other.
The basic register conditions have three components that influence them. Pitch, vowel and intensity. We can use these to help us make sure we are exercising the registers properly. For the lower register we want these characteristics – Low pitch, open vowel (like ah), and full intensity. For the upper register we want higher pitch, closed vowel (like oo), and low intensity.
The registers act similar to vowels and colors. They behave like a spectrum, with possible gradations between the two extremes. Pitch is like that as well. We only really acknowledge the pitches that fit our western aural conditioning, but there are gradations of pitch just like with color. Dynamics or intensity behave the same way. So we have to become sensitive to, and learn how to balance, the infinite number of possibilities along the spectrum of each of these elements.
For the registers, it is this spectrum of gradations that allows the voice to physically execute the historical “messa di voce”, which is an example of the spectrum of dynamics. In order to have some degree of physical ease in executing a messa di voce the piano start requires the voice to have the balance tipped toward the upper register. Then as the swell, or crescendo, is performed the voice naturally brings in more of the lower register in order to stay balanced during the increase of dynamic levels. We can also use the influence of the vowel to assist in this skill. But I should point out that most of this adjusting happens unconsciously. What the singer needs to be thinking is to stay engaged throughout the entire exercise.
It has often been recommended by voice teachers that singers should exercise the voice from the middle of the range out. I disagree with this opinion. Starting from the middle is only effective if the middle is balanced and properly adjusted. What I have described here is the process of establishing a balanced middle voice. It is more sensible to exercise the voice from the outer extremes towards each other, overlapping the two basic conditions as much as possible. Then as I described, the hybrid condition starts to appear. This is when the voice is ready for more complete activity.
The proper register balance is the foundation of freedom of function. Comfortably easy singing is impossible without it, at least over a wide range of pitch, dynamic, and vowels. There is more to it, but this is as much as can be explained in words. Anything more can only be understood through experience. But this should give you a direction in your process.
Thank you, Dinko for your observations. Again, I agree with everything you’ve said. Joseph, Yes, in a way what you said is true. But even in a mixed sort of condition it still isn’t static. The dynamic nature of the registration is always changing as needed for the pitch and dynamics. And the vowel to some extant even. So when you go far enough you will notice there has been a change. That is the reason behind the statement to not take chest beyond E natural. Beyond that point the ratio of the “mix” is such that it feels like you have dropped the chest portion. In reality we have just changed the ratio enough so it feels that way. The “head’ portion has become the majority.
But none of this is anything we try to consciously control. We need to prepare the voice by getting to our full voice from our thinner cord adjustment. And then we need to make sure we don’t resist these adjustments by forcing the larger vibration ever. But especially as we go higher. That is a big source of confusion. We assume that chest voice automatically means thick. But we need to realize a thin cord mass in our chest voice so it will “line-up” with and match the necessary adjustment of the upper voice. When that happens and can be strong while doing it the “break” disappears.
I just remembered something what might fit to this topic perfectly…On youtube there is a video called “Divas Discuss Chest Voice (Hint: They’re against it”)”. Youtube it! It is an amazing testimony of what I wrote in the last post. Giulietta Simionato was closest to it. And she even demonstrated it very nicely. Fascinatingly, most of the time the outside listener can’t hear this, they don’t understand this is a mixed sound, and not a raw chest sound. I first saw this video in 2007 and I also didn’t understand it. I thought “nonsense, listen to her, of course she is using chest voice!”. The youtube comments down there are the best testimony on this. And perhaps even better than that, the comment of Leyla Gencer on the later part of the video. (the translation is not that amazing, I don’t know how much you understand Italian, but it might still be helpfull.)
Yes, it’s a question I ask myself too! :D You’re not misunderstanding. In fact, I’ve spent quite a while having singing lessons with a teacher trying to acheeve this what you describe (Sisyphus’s work actualy).
Actually my misunderstanding was progressive. First I was on the right path, because naturally I noticed the connection of the head voice to natural singing. Then one teacher brought me on the wrong track and I started considering the pushed up chest sound the only good full voice sound (thinking on the top I only need to place it in the head) and falsetto useless. Then as I “pro”gressed I started to look for alternative teachings and reading books. Then I was in a phase I was thinking I need to sing in chest voice to the A bellow middle C, then start to mix the sound, and around the F-G transition to head voice. Then I had a phase I was really into messa di voce, based on someone elses teaching and old books. But due to unexplained terminology I was doing it in a way that I would start each tone in the range in head voice, hoping to get into a sort of mix on let’s say mezzo piano dynamics and then transition to what I considered full voice on forte, what was actually a pushed chest sound. So, it was still changing vocal mechanisms, but on one tone, trying to go from one to the other. Which is wrong, you never switch the musculature. But yeah, I didn’t know better. And inbetween I had some more misunderstandings, but I never made them up, they were always based on experts sayings and by listening to them. (Can you believe I’m 23?! It’s amazing what you can go trough in a few years time…it schocks me to think about it and the fact I can sing at all now.)
And then Michael in one mail wrote one very important paragraph, that we don’t really use that heavy speaking chest voice for singing, nor do we switch the mechanical adjustments of the voice.
Then it all started to have sense for me, both theorethically and practically. I mean, we use it, but as an addition to the lighter sound. It’s the famous state of getting the “complete musculature to work together on every tone”, a statement I never really understood before. The legendary voix mixte. Or the Lili Lehmann’s famous “each tone is a register”, because with each step up, we feel less of one and more of the other, and the other way around, but the point is that we always feel both, they are always mixed, it’s always together, the complete voice. And it mostly feels like head voice, just with much power. Lilli Lehmann describes the sensation of it that even when she sings on the very bottom, she leaves a little bit of head mixed in it, so that it carries. To someone observing without knowing this can be very very misleading. Her whole book in fact. But it turns out she was very right about it. It was just hard for the people of the time to explain it I guess.
I might be harsh, but I will blame the master teachers of the past for this misunderstanding and the fact what you describe is still being taught. Nobody of them could explain this properly, what they do and what they teach and how they get it…But they all wanted to write and talk about it! And that’s where the problems arise. Mancini was one who actually wrote the best, because he didn’t go into any details. But stated a few simple and true things. Cirillo’s book as well, because he names just one single exercise and it’s actually true. On on hand it’s understandable, their desire to write about this knowledge they have. On the other hand, it’s extremely difficult to write about it and make some “it hast to be like this statements” when you have left so much undefined, because it’s so easy to misunderstand each of the statements. If someones statement can be understood in 2 different ways, it’s wrong and not good. A good definition should do exactly that, define it in a way that can’t be misunderstood.
For example, even in Garcia’s writtings (which are so so horribly written – pardon me master!), you will read that the pupil may never sing above the E in chest voice. He even continues that if you round it, then, you can continue without problems to the top of your range. (I’d have to find the book now to quote you exactly, but it was something in this direction.)
And that is just not true. Well, at least if you understand the termoinology in a way from todays perspective.
I for one could never sing above A BELLOW middle C without tension. No matter how round it would be. And the E and F were unimaginable for me. I remember that after I’ve read his book for some 3 times, all of them actually, I’ve just decided to throw them on side and never look at them again, because the man clearly didn’t know what he was writting about.
After I’ve discovered the mixed state, I then started to notice what he was talking about. And indeed at the passaggio, the presence of chest musculature gets smaller and smaller and the resonance does indeed switch (not the phonation) and if one continues in this fashion to the top one can reach the high C quite easily, and it all gets darker etc. BUT only if the bottom was sung properly. Lilli Lehmann writes about the “dangerous” “a” vowel on the bottom and how it is extremely wrong to try and vocalise with that vowel to the top. That one should always round it sufficiently and then one can do it in a healthy and musical way, “like an italian”.
Before I used to think she also doesn’t know what she is talking about, because I would sing an “aw” or an “a” with a round mouth, and the problem would still be there, I wouldn’t be able to pass the middle C#.
However, it was only after I’ve dicovered how to sing a mixed voice “a” that I understood what she meant. And she was right (again). If you sing a raw chest “a” it will be impossible to take it up. If you sing it in the mix it will in fact appear rounder and you will be able to take it to the top with minor adjustments. And you will notice how it changes by itself and how there is less and less chest in it, and the placement points and everything…But she didn’t know how to else explain it.
It even starts having sense what people as far as Caccini (the writting on Le Nuove Musiche) wrote about how you need to add a crescendo at the start of every tone, because like that the tone becomes “sweet”. And it indeed does if you crescendo the flute head voice! But tell it to someone who doesn’t know that (I’ve been there and I was thinking he was mad as well). I can’t explain you how many times I’ve tried to crescendo each tone of Belle Rose Porporine hoping I would get the proper tone and agility needed. But since I was singing in a pushed chest sound, it was so useless that if Caccini heard me he would laugh like crazy. But facsinatingly, some have careers today singing like that.
It never helped…Until I discovered from what I need to crescendo, in which way and to what, and what to take care of.
But it all only makes sense only after you’ve discovered it, or actually discovered what it really means.
And the reason why people do what you mention Joseph, at least from my experience, is they don’t know what they do, they can’t do it properly, and there is a disconnect between what they think they do and what they actually do. Also, the lack of properly explained terminology doesn’t help either. And another intersting thing. Someone who is a natural singer (we use the German “Natursänger” even in Slavic singing terminology her) especially doesn’t know how to get this in someone who doesn’t have it. Because for them it’s easy, they mostly don’t know what they do, and they mostly don’t get it explained either. It’s enough for their career, but not for teaching. They might read the book and notice it on themselves and say, yeah, Garcia was right, it rounds. But it’s just a superficial level of understanding. And the problems with it arise only when you encounter a student who doesn’t have that reaction at the beginning.
In my opinion, voice teachers should abbandon the task of writting mega complicated scientific books on singing. (Miller and the likes) But they should devote their time and make one single 20-page book to explain the basics of vocal technique (nothing else) of how the voice works and functions and come up with one single terminology which then everyone will use. It’s all it’s needed.
And the exercises are so simple that it’s laughable at times.
If someone told me 6 years ago that by crescendoing the flute head voice I can get to full voice, I would be singing at the MET today! (Ok, I wouldn’t, I’m just kidding now, but you get my point…but I would have saved much money in any case!)
The point is, all this literature, and as a consequence, people who are studying from it (or better said quoting it), are full of platitudes. It means nothing and helps nobody. And singing teachers LOVE them. And I mean really really LOVE them. How many times does one hear about the ostrich eggs in the troath? The spot behind the nose? The pineapple like tone? The mouth full of water? The nose on the belly? Or even better the noses in the armpits? (This one is epic!) I’m actually collecting these statements on one list, because I find them absolutely fascinating.
If you would take some of Michael’s great posts here, you would have a smaller paper which would probably provide you with 10 times more useful information than some 30 old writtings brought together.
I have to say that even though I found David Jones’ wirtting some years ago, it was useless at first. Because to even understand many of the things he writes, you need to know what it is. Especially exercises. And I’ll tell you, there is nowhere, in neither one book, nor a web site a clear explanation of some so simple things. And not even sound samples always help.
Did you believe I at first exercised the cuperto on a tiny “u” in chest voice, placing it in the head and then staying surprised that the exercise just doesn’t work for me? Of course it didn’t work. But at that time I also didn’t have anyone to tell me its wrong. I actually had someone to tell me it’s right!
I tend to be a huge geek when it comes to my hobbies or studies. (By one definition, a geek would be a person who tends to simplify the knowledge so much that it’s understandable in it’s basic nature and then builds from there) And I was absolutely frustrated by how complicated can something as simple as singing get and how badly explained many things are. I seriously believe singing will improve on a world level, when people start talking about it in simple, tested natural terms. The level of explanation on Michael’s blog is I would say what one should aim at. After that gets understood, it’s so easy to start getting into actions of crico-thyroid muscles, connecting it to repertoaire etc…But it all needs a simple, explainable, testable foundation. The very basics. The very model of good sound. Of knowing what it consists of.
And that’s exactly what is lacking. And without the basics, you can’t progress properly. You can’t build a house without the foundation.
If people would know the basics, many of the platitudes would vanish by themselves, since people would see they are only that, meaningless sayings. But currently, many don’t have anything else to grab on.
However, I believe it’s a problem of our society in general. People, especially academy and professors tend to really WANT to complicate simple things. They live from it, they give themselves value by doing it. (Will you believe I’ve read a doctoral studies on the shape of a stairs handle? It’s mad! A thing which is as simple as -if you can keep it in your hand, it works, if it’s too big and slipery, it isn’t, has been turned into a huge book of ergonomic studies and test subjects with collaboration with multpiple doctors and scientists!)
And until this changes, people and choir directors will desperately try to switch from chest to head voice and will continuously fail asking themselves how come it doesn’t work (or they will adapt that and pretend it works, or even create a new form of expression based on that), I think.
I like your insights, Dinko. I wonder what it would be like if more choirs adopted such exercises. It seems that developing and utilizing the ‘small voice’ isn’t emphasized sufficiently these days.
On that note, if singing is mainly meant to be done in the “mixed” voice, then why do I hear people mentioning transitioning from chest to head or visa versa, or middle to chest/middle to head? If the majority of singing is done in a mixed fashion, wouldn’t “transitioning between registers” be superfluous? Or am I misunderstanding something here?
I’d like to add a comment on Joseph’s post about choirs…there are ways on the other hand of exercising a choir in a healthy way, which can lead to, in the worst case, semi-balanced singing. Especially in chamber choir’s I’ve heard some impressive singing. In fact, if one was to look for balanced singing somewhere these days, I think chances are you’ll come closer to it looking inside a good church or especially a chamber choir than looking in a local opera house. Because the prefered head voice training in those surroundings turns out to be a better foundation than the most modern solo singing methods practised in the solo singing sections of schools. (Not sure why, but maybe due to direct acoustic response of exercising in a church environment, because they all can trough experience hear that this light mechanism, though weak, rings much better than the powerful chesty sound.)
In fact, there is a German choir director, Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden (Tölzer Knabenchor – try youtubing them or the director) who preocupied himself a lot with choir vocal training and even wrote a book on it. While the exercises themselves won’t neccessarily put you 100% on the right track, they will be very very useful. The reason is that he gathered the knowledge on how the voice works trough experience and observation trough many years, so if you would sum up his teaching, you will see that it’s actually a series of descending “u” scales, what I think every voice can benefit from. He teaches that one should always practise descending scales, primarily on “u”, starting in head voice with something called a “soft attack”. And then after the voice is accostumed to it, slowly modify the scales to the point when the voice is “tricked” that it’s moving in the upper direction, while keeping the same adjustment of descending. (by for example singing descending triola’s in the first part, where the voice still moves down, but on the middle note moves slightly up…then you widen the intervals and the complexity trough time) It’s in fact an interessting approach, which though not perfect is much much more connected to natural function of the voice than many modern day solo singing methods. I believe probably because he gained most of his knowledge from experience, not trough “beliefs” on how he voice works. In fact many of his choir singers and people who came out of his choral method of teaching (he applied it on solo singers too, all of ages, but he orientated most to children voice training – which is sometimes so impressive that it’s unbeliveable what he managed to get in those children) turned out to be singers with pretty good function. He then continues exercises with various pure vowels all swelling from the position that has been set up by the “mu”. Even a “voweled” variation of a messa di voce, where you start on a pianissimo i, swell on e, end on a forte a, then go back trough o back to pianissimo u. But the goal is not to change the position set up by the i. (It’s interesting, because trough this modification of all vowels on a single tone, you learn to sing all possible vowel variations, from middle to pure ones, in one troath position, in one continuous slide) And there are even some yodel exercises which balance the voice. (Though he doesn’t call them like that, they do work like that on the voice)
Many choral singers trained by his method (and directors who use his teachings in their own choirs) I heard have sung pretty well and some extremely well balanced. Not that it was perfect (especially in a bigger choir it’s hard to control how each person responds), but it was all on a very good track and the overall sound was a beautiful ringing tone with very good diction and no breathiness (what in choirs happens so often due to overpronounced vowels with the mouth opening). I myself was part of one such choir for a while and was really fascinated by the teaching, I wasn’t able to stay there however due to some circumstances. But at least I learned much from it.
But I do agree that there are many choirs in which directors simply don’t know what to do and warm their singers up with tons and tons of useless scales. I’ve even heard people complain how their voice, I’ll quote, “hurts”, after choir singing. That is just abusive and never creates a beautiful choral tone.
Yes, Joseph. That is exactly what I mean. These exercises that everybody does are good for general warming up and strengthening. But they will not be effective at that if the voice is not balanced beforehand. So what I was saying is we want to establish the balanced registers first. Then when that hybrid, combined voice is accessible we can do the typical exercises to strengthen that adjustment for full voice singing.
Michael, I find it interesting how you mentioned that “more common exercises” can be introduced once the registers are balanced. Lots of the time nowadays, high school and college choir teachers will “warm up” their students by having them vocalize on scales, raising the key by a half-step, even if the singers’ voices are not conditioned to make the necessary adjustments to traverse the upper range. As such, many students find themselves “pushing harder” to get the high notes using just the chest voice, even if they must strain the voice to compensate. Some of these students are actually very good at doing it; they can reach high notes and sound fairly decent, but I very much doubt they would be able to sustain said notes in a pianissimo function without using pure falsetto.
These warm-up exercises seem like they would be good for students who have already been through the basics and have developed decent-to-good vocal coordination. Unfortunately, the choir directors don’t exactly have time or enough of a budget to give all the students individual lessons. It’s not a matter of the choir director being incompetent so much as it is not having the resources to help everybody out.
Unfortunately, this “pushing” approach has also found its way into voice lessons as well. Some of today’s “voice teachers” tell their beginning students to do such-and-such scales without first giving exercises to coordinate individual areas of the voice (the latter approch is the one you took with me). So you’ll have young students going through great difficulty to hit high notes, and they’ll celebrate when they do hit them, but in the end the coordination is just wrong.
Myself, I would think that these other exercises would be introduced after the student has a solid foundation in developing the various components of his/her voice.
What is your take on this?
This is an interesting comment. Developing the upper range is often very hard for men, and for some women as well. I was taught this method, and it works. But once the range of the voice is established, more exercises of a slightly different nature are needed.
Michael, you mentioned not having too much breath-flow escaping when approaching the Head Voice or balance is impossible. I agree with that completely.
When I studied, this was called “Drinking the voice.” I am not aware of how that term was defined for you, but this is what it meant to my teachers. As we all sing, in the lower and middle to upper middle range, we have a sensation that air is leaving the body. I am NOT saying that we actually feel it passing over the vocal folds. Of course, we NEVER feel any air nor should we feel any exiting our mouths. All we feel leaving us directly is sound. But the body still feels it is deflating.
As we enter that area of the voice called the head voice (and the sensations must be the same even with a falsetto or even the high whistle areas of the female voice) the sensations change. Gradually as we pass through the passaggio the breath takes on a more suspended feeling, almost as if nothing is leaving the body at all. As we approach the highest notes, they feel as if the air is fully suspended somewhere over the head, almost like drinking back, or like one is inhaling with a happy surprise feeling. Of course, air is still passing through the vocal folds, but this is the sensation we feel.
It is accompanied by a very strong feeling, a very deep feeling, in the body. The larynx feels low (it should, otherwise we are putting the larynx into a high position and actually straining the muscles). The breath seems even deeper into the body, and the support is much lower. The outward pressing of the solar plexus increases but feels it descends deeper below the navel. There is no loss of appoggio in the solar plexus area, it just seems to cover more area, and not just in front, but all around the entire body. The support muscles or abs seem to want to pull in more, but are resisted even more so there is no movement at all. It is as if an entirely new foundation is built under the foundation/support we normally have. The high notes then come of themselves, effortlessly.
What happens that causes that “drinking back sensation” is the fact we have removed all pressure, or undo pressure, from around the vocal folds, thus allowing them to phonate without an overly huge amount of moving breath.
This same sensation occurs on ALL VOWELS.
The exercise you have given is excellent, but often when telling a student to withhold breath pressure, they stop breath flow and tense up the throat. The same thing will happen if a student tries to “create” the drinking back sensation, and often they will force the voice deep into the throat.
When I was first learning this concept, I did try to actually create that floating/suspended feeling, and it never worked. My teacher explained the reason was I was concentrating on a position where I imagined the sound to be hanging. That was wrong. That would only create false sensations of “highness” which would tighten the throat.
Her solution was to concentrate on that low feeling in the body, don’t make it more than what it must be (that is pushing too much muscle pressure into the work, or over-muscling the tone) but to really concentrate on it. As I ascended in the scale, I began to notice that the solar plexus area of itself would begin to press outward more, and the pressing out descended deep into the lower ab area, and I felt the lower abs seem as it they were wanted to pull in more strongly, but because of the pressing out, never actually did move at all. I also learned that it didn’t matter whether the note was sung forte or piano, the sensations were exactly the same. Forte did NOT require more breath, and in fact, the notes would crack off if I pushed any extra breath through the larynx to form forte notes. One simply thought forte and an opening sensation happened of itself in the pharynx area. What openness, or lift, one felt simply increases, but not just up, but outward sideways, backwards, and even down. And ringing forte notes resulted. But again, it was really just allowing this natural happening to occur, concentrating only on support/appoggio and nothing else.
Although the notes came out easily, they also felt strange, like what some singers call “Disconnected.” Now by that they don’t mean disconnected from the body (for you are more than aware of how connected to the body they really are), but they seemed apart from the singer, like they were coming from somewhere else. That was the suspended feeling. And yet, when singing forte, they would vibrate in such a way that one (at least for me, the sensation varies with different singers, some feeling it more some feeling it less, so again, don’t strive to achieve any one sensation, but be aware of what is your own sensation) actually could feel like ones face or top of ones head would blow off. But you NEVER felt any breath leaving the body. In fact, to prove to me just how little breath was needed, by teacher would place a lit candle right next to my mouth, not a few inches away, but right there by the opening, and the flame would not move at all. Every particle of breath that left the body left as sound.
Once I really got the hang of this way of drinking in the sound, it was easy to grab any high note out of the sky and then descend with it like you are talking about in your exercise.
The lower notes also took a sort of “very open” feeling. My teacher didn’t like the use of vocal frays for she felt they taught one to scratch at the sound, or scrape across the folds to create it. Instead, we simply thought of a very expansive throat and the low notes just emerging from the lower expanse. It worked for me, but for some students I have had, I have needed to have them start the tone with a K or an N sound. The only problem I had here was the fact that low sound (and it was very low in the range, much lower than I would ever use in singing) seemed so “Manly.” It was almost baritonal, which really scared me, being a soprano. She informed me that all I had discovered was my raw chest sound, and it was just as important to develop it as it was to develo the hightest sound. I soon learned, like you said to the young person writing you, that it was MY SOUND and not something unnatural. That low sound would of itself gravitate to the mixed chest that most women use when singing in the chest and into the middle register. I actually learned how to take it all the way to the top (but there were other exercises to accomplish that, which are far outsie the needs of the person writing you at this time). I also learned to take the highest sound down into the lower range, and it too gravitated to its various qualities of itself.
But what got me was the amount of strength needed to accomplish all these things. One could not just imagine support/appoggio, one had to very consciously use it. One had to be fully aware of how engaged it was in all one was doing.
Because it is often said (and I do not really agree with the statement, though I understand why it is said) it takes lots of air in the lower range and more support in the upper, many singers really don’t engage their support until they enter the upper range. In reality, all they are describing is the sensations I mentioned earlier, where we sense air leaving the body in the lower range (or the sensation of deflating) and the support more fully engaging to create the drinking back sensation. But in reality, no more breath is used in the lower range than the upper range. The physical sensations of where our bodies are working more fully are simply different.
You mentioned the “Messa di Voce.” That is an interesting term, as in Italy they will tell you that the term does not exist, or at least, how we seem to define it in English texts is wrong. To us, it is always assumed to be an exercise dealing with dynamics, or with swelling the tone to a forte and diminishing it to a piano. That is technically what one is doing, but that is nothing more than a description of the exercise, not an explanation of what it is for. Because of the comments made by contemporaries, one often thinks it is a breathing exercise, all because writers comment on how long a castrato could do the exercise before really singing. But again, it is NOT a breathing exercise, though of course, when on has a well/perfectly balanced and functioning voice, on can do it as long as ones breath capasity will allow.
To fully understand the reason for this exercise and why it was always seen as one of the hardest to do (along with the grand scale, which is not the same thing as we now call the grand scale), we must understand what its purpose was. Simply put, it was developed as a way of proving to the singer that his voice really was balanced, without undo pressure, without a high larynx, and without any muscular interference that would impede the tone.
The term MESSA means “To Place or put.” Thus the entire exercise really means, “To place the voice.” Now days when we think of placing the voice, we think of some placement either forward, or in the pharynx, or what have you. Originally it meant only to make sure that the voice was functioning or placed where it needed to be to create the best sound, one free to sing at any dynamic level.
If the voice is under any pressure or muscular strain, it simply cannot swell in volume, or do what is even harder, diminish in volume to a ringing whisper. One should actually be able to do the messa di voce exercise on any note in the range. If you can’t, then you are experiencing some form of pressure, some sort of restriction. It is a test really, a test to see if the voice is functioning as it should. Of course, if your voice is functioning well, you can use it as a musical decoration, but if your voice is not functioning well, then you won’t be able to accomplish the exercise.
Many singers can sing very strong high notes, but cannot diminish them. The reason is something is wrong, something is out of balance and strong breath pressure is required to form/create the tone. If a singer cannot do a messa di voce on a high note, then they must go back and learn what they are doing wrong that is creating the strain. It is the same in all areas of the voice. If you cannot sing the messa di voce, then something is not in balance, there is something causing strain or constriction.
The old version of the grand scale was basically singing an entire scale starting from your lowest to your hightest notes, but singing a messa di voce on each note. Of course, breaks were needed to accomplish this, but the purpose of the grand scale was to make sure the entire voice was free to function as it was intended.
Even the mouth is not static when singing a messa di voce, for it opens slightly more on the forte and closes on the pianissimo.
The vibrazione is often used to help begin training for the messa di voce. It is similar, but is done very quickly, like instantly increasing the volume and the intensity of the note, but only for a moment. Even to do this exercise (which is often used in all vocal music to accent notes) one must have everything functioning in the correct way, or the sound will not instantly swell to a forte from the beginning piano.
Now, when we say forte and piano, it is absolutely important to remember that those dynamics are completely related to the voice of the singer. A Mozart singer, for example, will have a super delicate piano but a much smaller forter than a dramatic voice. Just as a dramatic voice will have a much larger forte, it will also have a much fuller and louder piano than a Mozart singer. So, how piano we sing and how forte we sing, when singing a messa di voce, is entirely dependant on what sort of voice we have. Too often I have witnessed singers with very small voices pushing their guts out to create what they feel must be the correct forte for a messa di voce, and conversely, I have seen dramatic singers nearly strangle themselves attempting to create the delicate pianissimo of a Mozart singer. No matter what exercise anyone does, it must be done to fit the voice you have. You may admire a Caballe pianissimo, but if you are a Dimitrova you will have wonderful pianissimi, but they will be in relationship to the size of the rest of your voice, and you won’t get it any tinier. If you are a Kathine Battle you will never have a Jessye Norman forte, no matter what you do. It is that simple. And so it will be with the mess di voce exercise: you will be only as piano as is natural for your sound, and as forte as is natural for your sound. The purpose of the exercise is NOT to learn to swell the voice to the loudest limits, but to test to make sure your voice is balanced, placed well so it functions without restriction, and uses your breath efficiently creating only tone.
This is what I felt to add to you excellent advice. I hope the writer you answered really takes the time to learn everything required. He will notice a great difference if he does.