Dean Kaelin: Understanding the Bridges

Weekly Teaching Tip – Feb 10, 2020
by Dean Kaelin

Understanding the Bridges (Passaggi) in the Voice

Hi Dean, I have a question regarding the bridges (passaggi) in the voice. I was taught before this way about the bridges:
Tenor: (chest voice) – 1st bridge E4-G4 – (head voice) – 2nd bridge A4-C5 – (head extension) – 3rd Bridge E5-G5 – (whistle voice)
Soprano: (chest) -1st Br A4-C5 – (middle) – 2nd Br E5-G5 – (head) – 3rd Br A5-C6 – (super head) 4th Br E6-G6 (whistle)

I like so much your explanation in the your book about the floors. The explanation in your book is a bit different than what I was taught before. Can you explain further please? Thank you.

Answer: First, it is VERY important to realize that the bridges are not “fixed”. They are flexible. They move based on the individual, the style of music being performed, the tone and intensity preferred, etc. The most important thing to know about the bridges (passaggi) is that there are “transitions” in the voice. A singer cannot just “pull” one voice all the way up or all the way down. It is like shifting gears in a car. As a singer goes through a bridge there is a shift in resonance, and there is an adjustment between the TA and CT muscles. It is important that a singer is aware that these changes and transitions will take place, but it is EXTREMELY important that the singer does not try and “help” the transition. It is very important to understand that if the singer sings with consistent airflow, consistent resistance on the vocal folds and a centered vowel (singing “straight out”) that these transitions will occur naturally. The singer needs to “allow” these changes to occur and not try to “force” or even to “help” them by trying to “let go” or “reach up”, etc.

My very favorite quote on singing is: “Good singing is an absolute refusal on the part of the singer to help the pitch in any way.” (Seth Riggs) This means that the singer should not try and help the transitions (passaggi). The singer can (and should) be aware that these transitions will take place, but they should not force them, help them or even be too overly aware of them. The singer needs to allow these transitions to occur. And as I said before, these transitions are flexible based on several factors.

The key to getting through the bridges is to realize that there must be an “approach to the bridge”. The bridges are not fixed points, but general areas that can can change slightly based on factors I mentioned before. The singer must be allowing movement toward the next bridge as he/she approaches it instead of waiting until the very moment and then trying to switch all at once. Getting through a bridge is a gradual process. That is why I like to think of it like the piano where each string is slightly smaller than the one preceding it. It is a gradual change and not all at once. This is also true with playing the guitar or violin where the musician gradual slides his finger up the string to change the pitch. Think of the bridge as the point that the musician has to change to the next string or change hand position to keep moving up the scale.

Again, this will change slightly based on style of the song and intensity of the sound. A guitar player can buy heavy gauge, medium gauge or light gauge strings. If a singer is singing with “heavy gauge strings” (more aggressive singing), the bridges will occur later (higher). If the singer is singing with “lighter gauge vocal cords” the bridges will occur earlier.

So, I do not necessarily disagree with notes of the bridges you mentioned in general, except that you can’t say specifically that the bridge will always occur in the same place, even for the same singer. It will depend on the style and intensity. And the bridge will definitely adjust from singer to singer. It is just important (as I said before) for the singer to realize that there will be “changes” and adjustments both in physiology and acoustics as he/she moves up and down the pitches.

A bass will feel his first bridge as low as the B just below middle C, where a true tenor may not feel any transition until the E just above middle C. However, again, both singers will feel a “movement toward the bridge” or a “thinning” feeling as they approach their bridge. So, even the tenor may feel something as low as a B and the bass may actually feel a “lightening” even before the B3.

The same is true for the alto and soprano. A true alto will feel her first bridge as low as the E4 (and some women with extremely low voices can even feel their first bridge clear down at the B3 the same as the men, although this is quite unusual). The soprano will probably not feel her bridge until the B4 if she is singing aggressively. However, even the soprano will feel “lightening” around the G4 as she approaches her bridge usually.

And if the soprano is singing a more classical song she will feel her bridge earlier (probably the E4), but when she is singing a “belt” song or a heavy pop song she may not feel it until she approaches the B4. This is true with the men as well. As I said, the bridge will move based on the style and intensity of the song being sung and if a more aggressive or a “lighter” sound is desired.

I would say that the transitions you mentioned overall are a little high. (The adjustment should at least begin earlier than the points you mentioned.) These might be the bridges for specific voices, especially if they are singing aggressively, but in general I would hate to see all tenors waiting until the E4-G4 to transition. If they are transitioning that high there is probably too much pressure in the voice.The same is true with the females. If a female is waiting until the A4 to feel any “thinning” of the vocal folds and moving to the bridging process it is often going to be too late and the voice will be too heavy. Although, for certain aggressive styles of singing (like Broadway belt and rock/pop) it is true that sometimes the female will not feel much of a “shift” until the A4.

Hope that all makes sense! Dean

Related Articles

Warning: Unknown: Reducing allocation from 134217728 to 33554432 bytes. (code: -1, state: unknown, reason: '', x-resp-id: '') in Unknown on line 0