“Chest Pullers” vs. “Flippers”

Weekly Teaching Tip – March 27, 2018
by Dean Kaelin

This week’s teaching tip comes from a question a teacher sent to me.

Question: What constitutes a chest puller versus a flipper in both a female and male? How do you treat the 2 different issues differently? In my mind a chest puller would be a flipper because you can only pull so far before you would eventually flip. So, is there a certain note in both sex’s range that says, “okay this person is a puller not a flipper or the other way around.”

Answer: Aha!! Now you’re thinking!!! You are exactly right; a chest puller will always eventually flip (unless they have no head voice at all and eventually just get stuck or stop singing.) Where you would make the distinction is “where they flip” or in other words, “what causes the flip?”

If the singer’s intention is to just keep pulling up chest and they flip simply because they can’t pull up chest anymore, then he/she is a “chest puller”. If the singer gets to a point and realizes that they need to move into their “head voice”, but they “let go” as they try and make the change, then they are a “flipper”. Usually “chest pullers” will pull past the bridge and “flippers” let go before the bridge. (Male should release by at least their 1st bridge around Eb4-E4, but the chest puller will try and carry it higher. Female 1st bridge around Bb4-B4. Females can release as low as the E4 if they are classical or have a light mix, but the chest pullers will try and take it all the way up, even past the B4.)

However, having said all that, I personally don’t like putting singers into categories. I don’t think it is all that beneficial. Putting people in categories comes from the old SLS days. When I am teaching, I simply constantly ask myself. “Is the singer too heavy or too light? Do they need more vocal cord closure or more release? (more chest or more head?)” Based on my answer I can then choose an exercise, vowel/consonant combination to get more cord closure or more release.

And even better than that, if I can get them into a centered place with consistent air flow and consistent resistance, I don’t even have to work on that too much except for fine tuning, since the balance of air flow, mild resistance and a centered vowel will most often put someone into their mix.

“Flippers” are usually easier to “fix” then “pullers”, since they realize they need to make a transition and have already found both “chest” and “head” and are just trying to figure out how to move smoothly between the two. Usually an octave and a half scale with “bubble” or “zhhh” or “zzz” will be a good place to start. “Squeaky mmm” can be good as is “ng” or even “nn”. Often times I can go right to “kee, kee” or “koo, koo”, (“ee” and “oo” getting a release and “k” helping create a light cord closure). If the larynx is high then “gee gee” or “goo goo” is often better. Then gradually moving to other vowels and consonants (and more difficult exercises like an octave) once they have found a “connection”. Always make sure that each exercises forces them to cross over their problem spot (bridge). I also LOVE the ee-ah-ee-ah exercise as it also helps a singer to find a “centered vowel” (somewhere between ee and ah that will accommodate both vowels) that will allow them to cross through the bridges (as long as they keep their consistent airflow and mild resistance as they go through the bridge.) The ee-ah also encourages the singer to release tension in the tongue and jaw. I often say, “throw the jaw down and the tongue forward.” You don’t want the singer to tighten the jaw or pull back the tongue.

If the singer is really a committed “chest puller” (and simply helping them find the balance of air and muscle with a centered vowel does not work), the best idea is to make them find a note way above their bridge, even if it is falsetto or just a squeak. Basically, as high of a note that they can find. As far above the bridge as possible so that there is no possible way they could ever try “pulling chest” that high. Then have them slide down from their “head” to their “chest”, even if there is a big hole (or crack) in the voice (which there probably will be). Once they start getting relatively smooth doing this, then I go from high to low, back to high, then back to low again. I like doing this with a 2 octave, major chord and I do it quite quickly so that the focus is on moving from high to low and back again, not trying to match all of the pitches exactly. It is usually best to use sounds like “wooo” or “wee” since “oo” and “ee” are good vowels to help find “release” and the “w” sends a little bit of extra air through the vocal cords so the singer doesn’t grab or try and “pull”. It is very important that the singer continue to blow air through the bridges. Many singers will stop airflow when they are at a bridge area, mostly because they are afraid. And it is also very important that as consonants are added that the singer keeps the air flowing and not allow the consonant to stop the airflow.

The trick is not to get them sounding good, but simply to help them find their “head voice” and then get used to moving back and forth from the “head” to the “chest” and back and forth. Once they start getting smooth (which can happen quite quickly in some and can take quite a while in others), then I can move to either the octave down scale or to the octave and a half scale, usually still staying with “oo” and “ee” and then gradually adding different consonants and eventually wider vowels. If the singer starts to “pull” again, then just go back to what worked earlier and gradually slide them back into the more difficult sounds again.

This used to only be a problem for male singers, but more and more females seem to be “pulling up chest” now, so I often find myself following this approach with females as well as males.

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