Passaggio – An Introduction to Vocal Transition Points

This tutorial on Passaggio is aimed at the complete beginner, who we suggest should read the article on Vocal Registers first! The majority of singers searching for information on this subject may find this article somewhat basic – do not despair! Click Here to jump down to the related articles aimed at intermediate to advanced singers available at external sites.

Passaggi, passaggio, passagio, passage, bridge, crossing, break and yodel spot are all terms used to describe the transition area between a series of notes, usually occuring between registers of the voice (i.e., between the chest voice and the head voice or middle to the high notes of the vocal range). Where the transition point/s occur differs with each individual although it is generally somewhere between B flat below C to the F# above and can encompass anything from three to seven semitones.

The terminology can be particularly confusing to beginners as the term Registers tends to imply that the singer has ‘several’ voices whilst the words bridge, passaggio and break are also used by some people to describe ANY area of the voice where the singer encounters difficulties. Although we have tried to be clear with our explanations these terms are best understood when demonstrated, visit Dave Stroud’s Vocal Studio and click on the ‘speaker’ icon to hear an example of ‘bridge’ or passaggio, also visit the main page and click on ‘Instructional Videos’ hear and view the vocal folds working & on film!

Can you tell me where MY Passaggio is?

It is impossible to provide an ‘absolute’ answer to individuals on where their particular passaggio is without actually observing and/or listening to them. This is because both male and female voices vary considerably in range and voice type whilst the placement of the passaggio can also change with the type of vowel sound used and through changing techniques.

How can I recognise a Transition Area?

The vocal folds are muscles that change in thickness and length. As you sing ascending pitches the vocal cords (folds) automatically lengthen and thin, whilst singing descending pitches causes the folds to become shorter and thicker. Sound is produced by passing air through/across the vocal cords (or folds) as they open ( ) and close ll (known as adducting) causing the cords to vibrate and be amplified by the bodys resonating areas, whilst an individuals range or amount of notes that they can use is decided by their physical make up i.e., the length and thickness of the vocal folds and their elasticity plus other factors like the shape and depth of the resonating chambers (mouth and nasal passages), training, age and experience.

During all this ascending, descending and adducting, a region of the voice may be encountered whereby the notes overlap and join. Up to that point the notes are clear and strong, but when the singer attempts to carry them on past that point the voice feels and sounds heavy or uncomfortable going in one direction whilst light, thin or soft sounding in the other. These are the transition points. The notes in between and at either end of this area is referred to as the passaggio or bridge and usually occurs in a part of the vocalists range where resonation moves from one area of the body to the next, for example, the upper part of the chest register and the lower notes of the head voice. These notes are usually stronger at the top and weaker at the bottom, however, personal experience has shown that some female singers who are unused to using their chest voice, may experience the opposite effect. Indications of transition areas in the voice include:

1. A change in note tone and quality
2. A sudden shift in vocal registration
3. Note drops or “breaks” in the voice
4. Difficulty blending or creating a mix

It should be noted that this is not a definative list and other vocal issues can also cause one or more of the above to occur. Terms used to describe this passageway between registers differ considerably, as do opinions on the best way to achieve a smooth seamless transition along the whole of the vocal range.

How can I sing through Passaggio?

The most recognised solution is to develop a nice smooth transition between the registers to produce a consistant sound. To achieve this the singer has to learn how to take the head voice down to notes that are normally sung in chest voice and the chest voice up to notes that would usually be sung in head voice. These notes can be developed to sound more consistant in tone with the rest of the voice by learning how to use the vocal mechanism to it’s greatest effect, i.e., using vowel adaptations to lighten the tone or pitch, controlling the airflow through the vocal folds and directing the sound into particular resonating chambers (nose, mouth etc.)

What exercises can I do?

Ideally all exercises should be provided by a Singing Teacher who can observe, listen and provide specific exercises suitable for your voice plus objective feedback and advice as you progress. Suggested exercises listed below should be started from the middle (or most comfortable area) of the singers range:

Humming

Octave scales on a whiney ‘nay’
Messa di voce (gradual swelling and diminishing of sound on a given pitch).
5 note ascending / descending scales using /i/ /u/ /e/ and /o/
Descending scales on ng from Vocal Repertoire (opens in new window)
Sirene-exercise from Vocal Repertoire (opens in new window)

Also Read
Should I Sing This in my Head Voice or Chest Voice?
A discussion about range, register and tone placement for intermediate and advanced singers, Part I.