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If you ever had singing lessons online or in person, or even if you did some online singing videos, you might have come across “the bridge”. But what is the bridge in singing?
Also called the passagio, or the voice “break”, the bridge in singing is that zone of your voice in which you transition from your chest register to your head register. In a trained bridge, this process is smooth and the voice feels connected. However, in an untrained singer, the voice often cracks in this zone, or it becomes really breathy, losing power almost completely. Or, you end up yelling – which can sound powerful to some people but you do end up losing your voice over time.
The bridge in singing is a zone within your voice in which some configurations change in your voice production and resonance mechanisms. You have more than one bridge, but to simplify, today we are focusing on the first bridge of your voice, when you have to let go a bit of your full chest voice.
If you are new to singing, all that terminology might seem like nonsense!
So, let’s start from the beginning
Simply put, your chest voice is the lower part of your voice range. It sounds fuller and stronger and if you place your hand on your chest, you can feel vibrations there. Not everyone’s chest voice is strong though! Some people have a very weak chest voice – which can be trained.
Some singing methods prefer not to refer to this zone of your voice as chest voice as it is old terminology. You might find people referring to the “mass register” as well. I am choosing to use chest voice register to refer to it as it is familiar to most people.
You can feel your chest voice working if you pretend you are calling someone next block with a loud “hey!” sound. Your chest voice is generally the voice you speak with.
Head voice sounds generally lighter and higher. When you are singing with your head voice, you might stop feeling so many vibrations on your chest when you are singing in this register. Not everyone has their head voice activated though! But this also can be trained.
You can feel your head voice working if you perform a “whoop!” sound. Also, you might be able to feel it if you imitate a police siren with an “oo” sound.
On a trained voice, this transition happens smoothly, giving you a fully connected voice that gradually goes from full chest to full head. When this happens we are singing in what we call “mix” voice, which gives you a strong voice without yelling, and high notes with power and without strain.
However, when we are untrained in singing, most often we are unable to find that sweet spot. Why? Well, many reasons. The most common reason is that the body is not set up for singing! On the blog I have talked many times about breathing, posture, and other elements that are part of the building of your singing instrument. In order to sing properly through the bridge, we have to have a functional instrument in which all our body allows us to have a free voice. We also have to have a strong enough voice. Sometimes I have new students that tell me they never sing in their day to day life and then complain that they don’t sound strong. It is a bit like expecting to have strong arm muscles without ever working out or doing any exercise with them.
So… what can happen when we have an untrained bridge in singing? And that is one of the most common concerns by singers!
You might notice that when you try to sing higher, your voice either breaks, goes breathy or you simply push it until it hurts. Let’s talk a bit about that:
This is when you hear a little flip coming through your voice. Nothing to be ashamed of. Technically a flip is more desirable than just yelling until breaking your voice… although of course, that is not how we wish to sound when we sing. When we flip, there is a change in the air pressure below your vocal cords and that produces the flip. When this happens usually the voice system doesn’t quite understand what you are trying to do – yet. Because you haven’t made those connections yet. You will get there – with practice 🙂
This is when you start singing higher and suddenly your voice becomes super breathy and you go into what we call “falsetto”. When we are singing with this configuration, there is no possible power because you are not fully closing your vocal cords. You have completely let go of your chest voice suddenly and that is why your voice suddenly becomes weak and breathy – although as I said above, some people don’t have a strong chest voice to start with and you might feel your voice breathy through your whole singing range. Your sound will be weak and if you spend a lot of time singing like that your voice will be damaged. Plus, you are using your air quite inefficiently with this vocal configuration. You might use falsetto as an artistic and interpretative choice, but as a choice now and then and not as a primary technique.
This is when you start singing higher and you feel like you have to really “push” your voice to keep going. If you look at yourself in a mirror, you might find yourself tightening your neck, spreading your lips wide, and lifting your chin.
When you are singing with this configuration, basically your chest voice configuration doesn’t want to let go for you to invite your head voice to take over. This type of singing is unhealthy and will bring you vocal problems rather soon. It might even produce vocal nodules for you, as you are working with a lot of pressure here.
So how do we get started in the process of singing through the bridge?
The first tip is that you really start taking care of the foundations of your vocal technique. Breathing and posture take a good while to modify and many people disregard that training because they can’t see the importance of it. But when you start trying to sing through your bridge is when you start seeing why working on those foundations is not only important: It is absolutely essential for a healthy vocal bridge.
So firstly, make sure that you set up your singing instrument (your whole you!!) in a functional way. What do I mean by functional? In another article I touched on this topic, click HERE to take a look. But summarising, you want to set up your instrument for “singing mode” and not for “yelling mode” or “survival mode”, “freezing mode”, etc.
From this starting point, you should invite the voice to participate now. Some exercises that can help you train the vocal bridge for a healthy mixed voice are:
Be very patient with this process. If you start yelling, stop and reset. Breathe. Stretch. If you find yourself tightening your abs strongly, try singing while walking on the spot, or bouncing on a gym ball.
Hope that helps!
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