Understanding the Vocal Bridges

Weekly Teaching Tip – Nov. 19, 2012

Question: I am a bit confused about the “bridges” in the voice. I find that many people ask me about them and I want to make sure I am explaining things correctly. Can you please clarify?

Answer: The first thing I want to say is that I rarely, if ever, talk about bridges anymore. I feel our main goal is to create “One smooth, even and consistent voice” that goes from as low as possible to as high as possible. You don’t analyze the piano and see where the different sections are. You just realize that the strings gently, smoothly and evenly go from a bigger condition to a smaller condition, yet the tension remains relatively consistent throughout. This is what creates the smooth and even tone throughout the entire range of the piano.

My experience has been that if singers think too much about the bridges they start making adjustments to try and accommodate the bridges, which just leads to inconsistencies in the voice. I tell people that really we want it to seem like we just have a chest voice that keeps going and never stops. Yes, singers will feel resonance shifts as they ascend their range, but these will happen naturally without any help from the singer. When the singer becomes too aware of these places they start to “help” and whatever they do to help ends up hurting! Remember my favorite quote on singing, “Good singing is an ABSOLUTE REFUSAL on the part of the singer to HELP the pitch in any way.” (Seth Riggs) My experience is that if a singer will focus on the things he or she has control of, and generate consistent air flow with a consistent, medium amount of resistance and most importantly, a consistent, ‘centered’ vowel, the body works wonderfully – the vocal folds go through their proper adjustments and the resonance shifts as it is supposed to without any help or undo attention from the singer. In other words, the less a singer thinks about “how” to get pitches and how to get through bridges and where they are, the better and smoother he or she will sing. People are worried enough about the one big “break” in the voice, why make them worry about 3, 4 or 5 breaks (or bridges)? Just realize that the sound is going to gradually shift from lower in the body to higher and the vocal folds are going to gradually thin as the pitch goes higher. Be aware of it and ALLOW it to happen, but don’t be too aware of it or try and “help it”.

Having said that, my experience is that the majority of men experience their first bridge between D4 and E4. (Most men are second tenors.) This is where they feel a resonance shift. True bases (rare) have an additional bridge between B3-C3. Men experience another shift from G4-B4, then again from D5-E5. Some, but very, very few, can get through another bridge from G5-B5. The female bridges are the same as the males, but they start later with the first typically being from G4-B4. True altos (rare) have their first bridge the same as the tenors at D4-E4. If I had to “draw a line in the sand”, my experience is that the first male bridge occurs from Eb4-E4 and the first female bridge occurs at Bb4-B4. Having said that, the bridge can shift slightly from voice to voice and also depending on intensity of singing and the style being sung (if we are going for a ‘heavier’ or a ‘lighter’ mix). (This topic is covered more extensively in the book “Teaching Good SInging” by Dean Kaelin – Chapters 5, 7 and appendix 12.  The book refers to the bridges as “floors” in the voice. You can look there for a more detailed explanation.)

If the person is singing correctly with a centered vowel and even resistance and air flow the vocal folds are consistently and gradually making subtle changes to get the proper pitches. So, there is always muscle changes going on (TA, CT, etc) and resonance shifts occurring, along with ‘passive’ vowel changes. But again, I have found that the less a singer thinks about these things and just realizes that there will be muscle and resonance changes in the body and they should not worry about them and just worry about the things they have direct control over the better off they are, the faster they will learn and the better singer they will be. You don’t want a singer on stage thinking about “how” to get the pitch and what changes and adjustments their body is making, or what bridge they are going through. You want them thinking about the word and the story and communicating and connecting to the audience. The brain should think about the word and the body will worry about the pitches and adjustments. So, “It’s all about the vowel”, “be True to the Word”, “Sing it like you speak it” are all good things for the singer to remember.

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