More on the chesty passaggio

The following quotes are a continuation of the previous post which dealt a little with the chestiness of the passaggio.

Even when the vocal fold length decreases, it is still possible for some degree of stiffness to remain in the body of the folds. 

(Titze, 1981, The NATS Bulletin)

The varying degrees of stiffness in tissues of the vocal folds, then, result from coordinating the groups of internal laryngeal muscles, all subconsciously controlled by the singer’s concept of vocal timbre and through acoustic responses (by what he hears).

(Miller –  Training Tenor Voices, page 5)

Just thought I would pass this information on to you which clearly seems to buttress the ideas from my previous posts of variations in vocal fold length in the passaggio.  Again, I would specify that I am not particularly interested in proving anything scientifically.  It just interests me to understand that the passaggio can have a varying degree of vocal fold length and that active vocalis will in fact, NOT cause a loss of stiffness in the vocal folds within limits.

This information seems to correlate with certain concepts which contrast the traditional Italian school with modern approaches to tenor voice.

The idea that the passaggio should be “alleggerito” – lightened up, a change in timbre that allows the tuning of harmonics with velvety timbre,  is achieved by nourishing a deep OO, among a few other things, which tends to lower or even tilt the larynx forward.  This would seem to indicate the presence of longer vocal folds.  

Modern tenors that sing with lots of chest tend to produce more buzz…  I think relatively shorter and somewhat thicker vocal folds are sufficient to create the typical cloud of singer’s formant buzz typical of many modern tenors, with accompanying buzzing resonance extending upwards of 6-8 thousand hz., in contrast to the very specifically tuned singer’s formant of the longer posture.

The quotes seem to tell us that it is very much possible to have variations in fold length on a given pitch and that stiffness of the cord can present itself thanks to a combination of muscular actions.

Concluding, my ideas about WHY the singer with chestier passaggio produces less of a refined and tuned singer’s formant, and rather a more buzzy cloud of resonance, is not proven science, but rather hypothesizing. 

What I know for sure is not the science, but rather the principal at hand.  If you sing the passaggio too chesty, you will not be able to tune singer’s formant as exactly as you would with a balance leaning toward head register.  There are specific exercises meant to aid in this quest, and very specific ways to tune harmonics correctly. 

So the question then arises “where am I along this continuum?  Do I sing too chesty in the passaggio?  Is my resonance too chesty or is it tuned correctly?”  I have in my mind the voice of a tenor I have worked with who has a very singificant “cry” in the middle voice but unstable in the passaggio and higher as he tries to keep that cry.  In his case, the cry… the ring… is not based on  a deep and firm OO position but rather is very chesty.  Sometimes the “cry” can be misleading in this sense.  It takes a very well trained ear to hear the difference between chesty resonance and refined resonance.  Tenors like Pavarotti and Corelli have shifted our expectation very much toward the buzzier type cry sound; a very different sound compared to someone like Gigli, Lauri Volpi, Martinelli, Caruso, etc.  Not judging one or the other… just pointing out a difference.


6 responses to “More on the chesty passaggio

  1. I have done some spectral comparisons between Björling and Pavarotti (you may remember me pointing this out before), and, indeed, Björling has generally a stronger, lower-, and narrower-in-frequency singer’s formant. A comparison at C5 can be seen in
    which also show that you can mimic very well Björling’s strategy! (Analyzed from one of your old posts).

    However, I have a hard time believing that the main mechanism behind this difference concerns fold postures. This difference is so much suggesting two different vocal tract resonance strategies. The Björling style suggests a longer, narrower epilarynx tube compared to the broader and shorter one of Pavarotti. The difference is completely consistent with the differences in resonance frequency and Q value of cylindrical tubes of different lengths and cross sections. This difference will certainly provide different acoustical loads to the vocal folds, and will therefore feel differently (the Björling strategy is likely easier on the folds), but I believe that the fundamental difference is in the shape of the epilarynx area.


    • Hello Martin,
      This definitely has to do with vocal tract positioning, but has much to do with how the vocal folds themselves work too. I can sense that very vividly. The chestier set up compared to the boyish one is very vividly felt.

  2. This is such an incredible concept, and has been indispensable to my development of the passaggio and top.

    I think that it is important to remember the economy of teaching (especially when based on an incredibly old and successful tradition) and let science catch up when it is able.

    The unfortunate thing is that when working on your own you might make a sound that you think is right, but it is not. And, in my experience, when you make the RIGHT sound, the tendency will be to skeptical of the new and raw form of the sound to come.

    Trust the tradition (and by default, a teacher who knows the tradition), and let science catch up.

  3. Jack could you please tell me what you think about unlocking the jaw ? It seems to help me a lot and make everything way easier. By unlocking the jaw I mean making sure there’s space in the jaw joint that’s right in front of the ear. It really seems to be great help.

    Thank you,

  4. So I’ve tried it again today and it seems to be awesome. The only problem I have is that it’s a bit against what I’m used to so I sometimes forget to open my mouth that fast. But when I do…Wow, the voice seems free and way more vibrant and also it doesn’t go back anymore. It’s also way more stable. I also don’t need to worry about vowel modification, it happens automatically or in a strange way doesn’t that much.
    Here’s a sample. Let me know what you think :).
    Also doing this I show my upper teeth a lot and my mouth opens the size of a freight train.
    [audio src="" /]
    Thank you a lot !

    P.S. Sorry if I’m annoying.

    • Hi Andrei,
      I do not think one should impose a set position on the jaw, like this unhinging. Should this happen? Sure. But this should be done in order to tune the voice. Because unhinging the jaw, in my experience, tends to increase the amount of chest voice one tends to bring in, I think one should start with the concept of a small voice, but extremely well focused, and then learn to gradually increase the level of weight. There is no need to unhinge the jaw initially. Based on your clip, I think you should work principally on developing a thin edge of resonance as right now your voice is very head voice dominant. Your sound cannot lean on the breath in this mode right now. The sound is not compressed enough. I would not worry about the jaw as much as learning to discover a very thing edge of ring – squillo.

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