Known by various names: the ‘Passagio’ (or ‘passage’ in Italian), the ‘break’, ‘gear change’ or ‘gear shift’, ‘bridges’ , ‘register changes’ etc, this is the place where a major adjustment can be felt and often heard when going from the lower range into the higher, lighter range of the singing voice. It is a foundational area of vocal technique that most singers and coaches like to address early on in vocal training.
When going from what is often called the ‘chest’ voice into the ‘head’ voice, the change that is taking place is similar to shifting gears in a car, from one set of vocal muscles to another – in essence, the muscle ‘bulkers’ in the lower range (the Thyroarytenoid or ‘T.A.’s for short) to the muscle ‘stretchers’ in the upper range (the cricothyroids or ‘C.T.’s). It’s the smooth transition of this change-over that is desirable to most of us and results in a seamless sound as the singer “passes” from the chest resonance to head resonance.
To use a different analogy, when we’re first learning to drive a manual car, learning to change gears smoothly is one of the basics, but it’s not easy at first - much juddering and crunching of gears goes on. Eventually, through practice, one gets so good at smoothly changing gears that it feels like one continuous gear – this is also the goal of singing; a sensation of continuity from bottom to top. The metaphor of shifting gears in a car is great for explaining the challenge and expectation for what it might take to have smooth bridges.
Getting over the ‘break’ may well be a bit clunky and for some singers there will be an unwanted engagement of the constrictor muscles. This engagement of extrinsic muscles inside the neck is one of the biggest problems. The singer must train coordination to “isolate” all extrinsic muscle engagement, including the constrictors. Add to that, deltoids, pectoris, and other upper body extrinsic muscles. However as you learn to negotiate the change from the TA to the CT and back again, neural linguistic connections will begin to take root and a new attractor state will set in. In simpler terms, new habits and coordination’s to facilitate bridging. Your audience should not hear it, but you’ll still feel it profoundly. And let me make this point clear. Bridging Passagio is merely a stunt, we are trying to create the illusion to the audience that the chest voice is one voice that can sing 4-5 octaves, when in fact, the secret is building bridging coordination as described above and then working on strong vocal fold closure in the head voice to provide the vocalist with tones that are full, “chesty” and convincing. The 2nd step is known as, “connecting”, or turning Falsetto tone into full tone in the head voice.
Exercises such as lip trills, buzzing of resonant track and slowly controlled ‘sirens’ (i.e. controlled sliding from one end of the singing range to the other), form part of a group of exercises that are called ‘semi-occluded’ because they include super and sub-glottal resistance to the airflow. They help the body “calibrate” the proper wind pressures above and below the vocal folds and thus, assist in creating efficiency in the phonation and ironing out the bridges. To be sure, they are very effective in addressing this area. These are standard exercises found in many methods, but can also be found in my training system, “The Four Pillars of Singing: Definitive Techniques for the Modern Vocalist”.
It is important to note there are also voice qualities which result in the feeling of no transition at all when going into the upper range – e.g. ‘twang’ and ‘belt’. The addition of ‘twang’ (and ‘tilt’) when approaching the part of your range where you experience your ‘break’ can take you seamlessly through your passagio with an edgy, penetrative sound. Training this is one of the core techniques at The Vocalist Studio. What is great about twang mode is it not only assists on bridging the Passagio, but once you are into your head voice, the twang mode is also the number one mode to use if you want full, chesty and aggressive head tones. Twang mode, especially for contemporary singers that practice extreme singing, is probably the 2nd most important skill set that needs to be trained.
In summary, at The Vocalist Studio, we train vocal athletes to “Bridge & Connect”. The two-part mission is to first develop seamless, smooth bridging between the chest and head resonance. The second mission is to induce vocal fold closure, eliminate Falsetto mode and replace that with strong twang and belt vocal modes. Once the singer can master these two “stunts”, their voice can be unbelievable. Learning to “bridge and connect” takes the singer from “good” to “great”.