Mary, 19, was a singer songwriter who had been working on her vocal technique for two years with much success.
Mary had spent time developing her technique exercise programme and her commitment had paid off; she was becoming a confident, expressive and creative singer.
However, Mary had recently been experiencing a very marked but inconsistent ‘yodel’ sound at the place where her register shifted to falsetto. Many singers move between their lower and upper registers with this awkward and often unwanted ‘break’ in the sound.
Like many singers, Mary was unhappy with this, as she wanted to sing with strength at any part of her range and effect a consistently smooth transition from low to higher tones.
It was important to try and identify the most common reasons for the inconsistency in this breaking.
Our Physical State is Reflected in Our Voice
When we feel tired, unwell or perhaps if we are a little dehydrated, our range and timbral quality can be affected; we can feel tension and this often results in less management of register shift.
Mary needed to re-establish her confidence with the newfound control she was developing overall.
A careful and very specific exercise was required.
The Slow Slide
Mary sang short interval slides from 1 to 3 on an ‘ah’ shape but specifically with a slightly breathy quality and moving very slowly and gently on both the ascent and descent.
I instructed her to feel the minute shifts in laryngeal shape as she gradually ascended her range and to note that these were present wherever in her register she slid through the three tones.
Mary acknowledged that she could feel these shifts and so when she ascended to a high F with no break in her tone, she was very pleasantly surprised.
Because she was focusing on the shifting shape at all parts of her voice, she simply didn’t tense up as she moved towards her falsetto range; her task took her through the range with ‘no fear’ and so she relaxed and produced excellent results.
Naturally as soon as we introduce lyrics to these register shifts, the task becomes more demanding.
Mary sang through the same sliding 3rds in various shapes such as‘oh’ and ‘eeh’ and preceded these shapes with varying consonants such as ‘moh’ or ‘neeh’ etc.
When Mary returned to her song, the yodel had completely disappeared.
If a singer tries too hard to push through the weaker areas of register shift, the muscles cannot establish the new shapes required, as these are small and subtle changes.
The more generally the singer acknowledges that these shifts occur all over our speaking and our sung sounds, the easier it will be to explore them at more demanding parts of their range.