How to Build a Bridge (Hot Tip: Don’t Force It)
One of my biggest and easiest pieces of advice for singers?
Don’t force your bridges.
If that read like Greek to you, allow me to digress (ahem, nerd out) a bit about classical singing technique.
Bridges, aka Passaggio
When a singer moves between vocal registers, it’s called a bridge (“passaggio” is the fancy, Bel Canto pedagogy name).
But wait: let’s back up a little further.
Actually, Vocal Registers
All voices, whether male or female, have three main registers. The registers are named for the area in which the singer feels the vibration of the tone in the body. Broadly defined, these registers are:
Chest register - lowest tone, typically used while speaking
Middle register - falls in between chest and...
Head register - highest tone
If we got into the nitty-gritty of studying voice we’d also discuss the many other registers that exist, but for simplicity’s sake these are the three that really count when working with passaggio.
Back to Bridges and Passagio
Now that you understand registers, let’s dive back into bridges. Moving between these registers is called a bridge, and is an incredibly significant part of singing. If a singer can maintain the same timbre while transitioning between these different levels, chances are they’re experiencing balance between the muscles of the cords and their own airflow. (Check out previous blog on the importance of balance).
So how do you build beautiful bridges in your singing voice?
The answer is a little counter-intuitive: you stop trying.
When a singer tries to force or help along a transition between registers, it’s obvious - you can hear the struggle, and it throws the sound all out of whack.
My teacher, Dean Kaelin, sums it up beautifully:
It is very important to understand that if the singer sings with consistent airflow, consistent resistance on the vocal folds and a centered vowel that these transitions will occur naturally. The singer needs to "allow" these changes to occur and not try to force or help them by trying to "let go" or "reach up", etc.
Building to a Bridge
If you notice when you sing that the transition between registers (where you feel the music/resonance in your body) feels rough, challenging, or awkward, your job is to figure out where the imbalance is occurring. Are your cords too compressed? Are you letting too much air go through the cords?
Like their physical counterparts, singing bridges need to be well-constructed and built gradually.
Work on your airflow and vowel pronunciation. Relax into singing and let it come naturally. Notice when you talk how balanced everything is in the neck area. (If that is not the case, then it’s time to talk about your speaking habits. They often can use a bit of an adjustment as well.)
Never try to “assist the pitch”. Your job is to balance the cords muscle and airflow, with the help of a well centered vowel.
The more you ease into and out of your bridges, the better you will feel and the better you’ll sound. Remember, it’s all about how good it feels. This is about YOU!
Happy singing until we meet again!