The struggles of two voices……

I still remember when I was 16 and had ‘two different voices’. That’s right. I had my ‘not-so-great’ American Idol voice, and I had my ‘choir-like’ sweet voice. They were two separate voices coming from my throat, and they never met each other in the same performance.

I struggled with the challenge of deciding “which voice to use” for years. I would go out and sing with my band, or at a party with my ‘power’ voice. I now know that this was my chest voice, and I was pulling like crazy. It wasn’t uncommon to become hoarse after a night of singing.

Then I would wake up the next morning and go to church and sing with my sweet voice. My sweet voice was breathier and not really that powerful…..but my choir director seemed to like it a lot. Every time I tried to add a heavier sound in the choir, I was instructed to blend with the other voices. I know now that I was singing in my head voice only….I wasn’t mixing… wasn’t until years later, that I finally figured out how to mix my two registers (mostly chest to head mix) to get a nice balance of both registers.

It took me 20 years to figure out how to mix my voice!! I’m 50 now, and my voice is sounding better that ever before! And that’s because I now know what I’m doing. I now understand exactly how to coordinate my laryngeal muscles to achieve exactly the sound and textures I want.

I still continually challenge my voice in new and different ways. IMHO, you never stop learning, and you never need to settle for “what is”.

I’m currently working on my 4th passagio.  And, although I may never make a noise beyond F6…..I know I will continue to vocalize everyday in the same manner that I have for the last ten years. Because, before the age of 40 I could never sing C6!  That’s right….these notes have transpired in the last ten years.  Who knows what notes I’ll be squeezing out at age 60!

Tilting is good, rising is bad

The ability to tilt the larynx happens at the thyroid cartilage and the cricoid cartilage (in the larynx) which are connected at the cricothyroid joint. There is a space in between that can be either open or closed. Tilting happens when the space is closed.

Working on the ‘ng’ sound through your break will work the small muscles that tilt the thyroid cartilage. If you are breathy as you ascend through your bridge, then you need to practise the thyroid tilt daily.

Another great sound that helps tilt is the puppy dog whimper. Again, key is ascending upward through your passagio without getting louder. (Use your breath control and body anchoring from your neck down to try and achieve this sound).

How did it go? Can you do it?


An easy way to find your mix is when you moan.  Yes, really exaggerate that whiny moan. Notice this makes you sing less loud……….that’s a good thing.

Can you get through your bridge now? Did it make those high notes feel easier? It should because you are tilting your thyroid cartilage.

If it’s not helping much, then take the volume even lower and engage the muscles in the upper part of your abdomen. Do not flip into falcetto. Control that feeling without tensing your throat……….voila, MIX!!

Ladies, this one’s for you

The female voice has so much potential. Typically our range extends much farther than the male voice, and because of this fact, the first passagio (or your break) can really feel like it divides your voice in two.

Men don’t have to deal with the same sensations at the first bridge. As the male voice drops after puberty, it is usually clear to them what their “chest voice” is. Then the challenge is usually how to negotiate their register shift so they can sing higher. Without the ability to thin out their vocal cords (mix) as they ascend, they may feel strain,  or they may “flip” into falcetto. There are many great exercises available to singers who want to increase their range from their chest voice up.

However, ladies…..your scenerio can be much different.

Quite often vocal training for ladies starts with focus above the first bridge (rather than in the chest voice which is below the first bridge). In other words, from about E above middle C to F or G above high C.  This is  a common range when working with female voices in a choir. Your first bridge is around A or B above middle C and your second bridge starts around E flat. Notice that this range of pitch encompasses TWO passagios. Included with this traditional approach  is the purity of Italian-formed vowels and a low tongue (open throat).

What you might notice is songs requiring you to sing below middle C are breathy or light. Or, you might notice that some songs have the sensation of singing from the bottom and going up……..while other songs have you feeling like you are singing from the top and going down… you the impression of two different voices; a low voice for low songs, and a high voice for higher-pitched songs. Does this ring true for any of you?

I draw attention to this because knowing how to negotiate the first passagio from the bottom up is important when singing certain styles of music including pop, musical theatre, gospel and R&B. Working from the bottom up will usually have you using less air, and work muscles that require the larynx to tilt as you sing higher, which in turns will let you move through your passagio without flipping into your “other” voice.

Do you experience this? If so, please leave a comment. Tell me what it feels like and how you handle this break in your voice. Susan