All Classical Ain’t Bad!

Weekly Teaching Tip – Feb. 23, 2015

“My name is Rocio, and I’m a recovering Classical Singer.” This has become our internal IVTOM joke line when referring to those of us who were classically trained. And frankly, I’m a bit bothered by this “joke”, so here’s why.
When I first found out about mix, and then became a mix teacher myself, it was sort of standard among mix teachers to go about criticizing the Classical world, as in “all that’s Classical is bad”. But through the years I got older, wiser, and less arrogant about my knowledge about singing (or lack thereof). I’ve been getting countless emails and comments from fellow IVTOM members after my presentation on Resonance Mapping at the Denver conference last summer, thanking me for the insight into the “upper chest” register, and the 9-tone-scale as a new tool. Well, newsflash: I credit the Classical world for this!
One big difference between mix teachers and Classical teachers is where we define the first bridge for women. Mix teachers believe it to be around Ab4, while Classical teachers believe it to be around Eb4. So let’s talk about registers for a moment. One of my favorite authors, Richard Miller, defines a register as follows:
“A series of consecutive tones of equal timbre and similar resonance sensations, which can be distinguished from adjoining series.”
So if I look at the chest register (as we define it in mix) a little closer, it is obvious that the “lower” chest and the “upper” chest have different timbre and resonance sensations (use the 9-tone scale for this). And guess where the “upper” chest register begins: yes, right around Eb4.
This doesn’t mean that I’m going to start teaching females to begin mixing head voice at Eb4. But it does mean that I’m not going to force full “lower” chest resonance up until G4. One of my first mix teachers made this mistake with my voice, and that took longer to “untrain” than to undo the Classical training I’d received prior. I didn’t have a strong mix after my Classical training, but I didn’t have a break in my voice, either. My first mix teacher gave me a break, believe it or not. So I find it extremely important to let students start mixing where it’s comfortable for them. And as you strengthen their voices, their bridges may wander a bit upward. Dean has said it repeatedly and I will say it again: Our goal is to have the student stay in the mix for as long as possible during each lesson. Insisting on full chest until G4 for a student who’s just discovering chest, and then have a flip on the way up, is NOT the way to go about this.
You guys also have seemed to crown me as the “queen of hard mix”. Another newsflash: I can do hard mix very well, but I actually reside mostly in the Jazz category, where we tend to mix a bit sooner. And I still like to practice my Classical exercises, since they keep my voice very flexible around the 2nd and 3rd bridges. Plus, I do have a few Classical students as well. So how do I go about working with them?
The tricky part is to satisfy the vocal aesthetic of the Classical listener. A female engaging in full chest for the lower notes is just not a desirable sound. Here’s a beautiful clip by Dawn Upshaw singing “Ach, Ich Fühl’s” and demonstrating how much chest is acceptable for Classical in the lower notes:
So once I establish the chest voice for a Classical singer, I work with her to use a slightly lowered larynx (without covering the sound) within her chest register, which will help her mix in a bit more head voice earlier, and therefore satisfy the expected aesthetic. I also use two Classical methods to help them learn the art of singing legato and train up mordents, runs, etc. with “Vaccai”, as well as “Lütgen” for daily exercises that help them achieve flexibility through the bridges. Of course, “24 Italian Songs and Arias” is a must-have as well.
But I’ll also be very honest with my Classical singers: I am *not* a Classical repertoire specialist. If their goal is to go beyond the 24 Italian Songs and Arias, I will refer them to a repertoire coach for his, and focus solely on their technique.
It’s only a matter of time before you encounter your first female Classical student. You can either turn her away, or read up, listen, and go on an adventure together.
In conclusion, I’m going to change my future intro to “My name is Rocio, and I’m a recovering clueless singer”. Much more specific. We are an *inclusive* association of mix teachers, and there are a lot of Classical teachers who teach mix. After all, some women and most men are trained correctly in Classical, ergo: All Classical ain’t bad 🙂
Have a blessed day,
Rocío Guitard, Owner
RG Vocal Studio


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