Today's question is about how to sing higher without falsetto. The question comes from Reed:
I'm struggling with my mixed voice/head voice. I am very comfortable in a baritone/chest range but the music I love to sing and write sounds much better an octave up.
I have gone through courses and can hit all the notes but my tone is inconsistent right around the chest/head transition. I don’t want there to be a distinct tonal difference, I want my “upper chest voice” and “lower head voice” to blend into one smooth voice. Right now my “lower head voice” is not rich at all.
I'm sure you can relate to this: as you sing higher in your chest voice at some point you reach a point where you have to either push and strain in chest voice, or flip to a flimsy falsetto. So you look everywhere for an answer and everyone is telling you that you need to "smoothly transition" or "bridge" in order to "connect" the two "voices".
So what’s happening is you’re letting your voice collapse to falsetto (or headvoice) and you’re trying to “smooth” out that transition and "trick" the audience into thinking it's one voice.
You go through vocal exercises where you basically just try to "pretend" you're singing in one voice by "smoothly transitioning".
The only time you should be in falsetto/headvoice is when you WANT to be!
But if you're singing that way because you were told it's going to "grow" into a fuller/chestier sound later then you're wasting your time!
If you want to sound like you're singing in full voice then you HAVE TO BE SINGING IN FULL VOICE!
"But Phil! If I stay in my chest voice I just strain at my vocal break! So what do I do?"
You have to learn how to adjust your vowels in a certain way while in your chest voice so that they don't "grab" or get "caught" as you sing higher.
See, if I tell you to sing an EE vowel in chest voice, at some point as you go higher, your EE vowel is probably going to start changing into something that doesn't sound like an EE. At this moment you will also start to experience a loss in freedom. Usually your vowel will pull out wider and "splat" into a shouty kind of sound "EH".
Instead you need to learn how to shade your EE vowel in a better way so that nothing "grabs" or gets "caught" in your throat. And then over time you'll start to see that your "vocal break" going away. And you didn't have to leave your chest voice or "transition" into anything.
When your vowels are not shifting properly as you sing you'll start to get tension that will magnify until you hit a wall and experience a "vocal break". See the video above to understand what I mean.
The vocal break is simply you getting tension somewhere in the notes preceeding it, and as you go higher the tensions get worse and worse until you hit a wall. So If your vocal break is on the F4 usually this means that there's something going wrong with your vowels a few notes before there. The problem may be very subtle and you don't notice it. But as you go higher it magnifies until you hit a wall on that F4 (or wherever your vocal break is).
A good singing teacher will be able to hear when your vowels are not working the right way because they'll have a good ear. They won't mindlessly run you up scales hoping the problems fix themselves.
So if you're singing an AH vowel, the vowel will shade more to OH as you go higher. But the actual WAY you shade it to OH has to be specific. If you miss the timing of where the vowel needs to shade, or over shade or under shade, you will experience strain, loss of freedom or a vocal break depending on how wrong you mis-shaded the vowel.
Basically imagine you're aiming a gun. If you're slightly off, the amount that you're off magnifies as the bullet travels more distance. Basically if you're slightly off in your approach in your lower range, it will magnify more and more as you go higher and when it gets REALLY off, you will experience a "vocal break" or a "wall" that your chest voice rams up against.
So learning how to sing higher in full voice is not about trying to find some "trick" around your vocal break. It's about going a few notes down and overcoming whatever issue is happening there.
You can do all the scales and exercises you want, but if your vowels are not working the right way you will just strain in the same way you always have before.
"But why just vowels though Phil? What about support? What about breathing? What about other things?"
All of these things are important, but the reason why I am talking about vowels only today is because if your support is off, breathing is off, jaw is not opening freely, tongue is restricted or any other unnecessary tension is happening, your vowel WILL BE OFF! So at the end of the day it comes down to the VOWELS. If the vowel is off, you will encounter loss of freedom/strain/vocal breaks.
So if you want to learn how to sing higher without falsetto, the answer isn't to run away into head voice when you strain. Most of the work will be done in chest voice. Yes there is a time and place for chest to falsetto transitions and it IS something you should be able to do, a requirement if you will. But once that is there, the real work will be to get proper instruction from a good singing teacher who can show you how the vowels need to adjust IN YOUR CHEST VOICE.
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