Register Break Defined
Let's define "register break" as those few transition notes that cross-over from your lower to your upper register where your voice suddenly cracks, becomes weak or is difficult to control. In classical voice training, this is called the "passage" or passagio (passageway between two sections of vocal range). This is usually between one to three cross-over notes which suddenly become weak or crack and are difficult to control.
Though there are some variations, this break is normally experienced from the E to F# above Middle C for men and for women it is either the same notes an octave higher, or a Bb to a C# above Middle C. Above these notes, the singer may be able to regain a sense of vocal control and recapture some vocal quality. The register of notes above the register break is often thought of by men as their "falsetto" range and by women as their "head voice."
Register Break Anatomy
To understand why register break occurs, you need some knowledge of your larynx more commonly called the voice box. Your two vocal folds, incorrectly called vocal cords, lie horizontally side by side across your wind pipe inside the larynx which is enclosed by the thyroid cartilage. The front tip of this thyroid cartilage is your Adam's apple.
In order to achieve faster vibrations (higher pitches), your larynx tilts down into the center of the throat so that the vocal folds can lengthen. As they do so, the muscles of the folds become thinner. Simultaneously, the inner rims of the folds press together permitting only a shorter section to vibrate. As you sing lower, the larynx resumes its original horizontal position allowing the vocal folds to become thicker so that a longer length of them can vibrate. This is similar to fretting guitar strings (shortening them for higher pitches) and the various thicknesses of strings on a string instrument: thicker = slower vibrations and lower pitches, thinner = faster vibrations and higher pitches.
These small variations of movement need to be accomplished smoothly and to different subtle degrees, depending on the pitches intended. It is important to know that this tilting, thickening and thinning process will happen automatically. You don’t have to make this happen with your external throat muscles, jaw movements or tongue positions!
Register Break - What Causes It?
So why does register break occur? The usual cause is too much air pressure under the vocal folds due to a lack of regulated breath support. Excessive air will push your vocal folds apart. Instinctively, your throat muscles tighten to hold them together. However, for your voice box to tilt downward (which it must do as you sing higher) your external throat muscles must relax. When they relax the excessive air blows your vocal folds apart and voila – register break! Those few transition notes will crack, sound breathy, or be entirely absent depending on how excessive the air stream is and how tense the external muscles are.
Register Break Solution
The solution is a regulated air stream that provides just the correct pressure to vibrate the vocal folds with no excess pushing them apart creating muscle tension.
So the keys to singing without register break are: 1) a properly regulated air stream is sent to your vocal folds and 2) the tongue and throat muscles are relaxed and permitted to function naturally and automatically – not manipulated.
The next blog post will give you exercises to relax tongue and throat muscles. For regulated air stream open the search tab at the top of any page on our site and type in “rib cage expansion.” You will find related articles and The Contemporary Vocalist Volume 1 and learn the best method of breath support.
on May 29, 2016 at 9:27 AM said:Well I can't wait for these exercises because this is ongoing problem for me, even though i already do lots of exercises. Which is not to say that my voice cracks when I sing but despite all the exercises I do, i do not feel that i'm singing in a "connected voice". I have to be very conscious when i transition over my break in order to their to be no problems. Also I do not understand why it is said that women's break is so high. Mine is where you describe the mens and I am definltey not a man. What I mean is F# is where I should transition in order to avoid cracking higher up. If i sing in my chest voice up to Bflat, i won't be able to get into my head voice at all unless I'm trying to belt but then that's another tricky area. So yeah, i consider my break to be at about F# above middle C because that's where I have to transition.
on May 29, 2016 at 6:33 PM said:Dear Andrea, Thanks for your post. If your transition is at F#, then it is. In the blog Jeannie says there are variations, so you are one of those with a slightly lower register break for a female. The exercises in the next blog will be to relax tongue and throat muscles which will help you. However, the rib cage expansion breath support is the most fundamental factor in giving you a connected smooth range. Wishing you continued success.
on May 30, 2016 at 8:18 AM said:I am a mezzo-soprano, with a fairly wide vocal range, i guessm. My break is Middle C, D and E..with anything below E being fairly weak. I can reach as low as the F below Middle, but have a lot of trouble volume-wise in that lower register. My upper register is quite strong, and myr limit is a high D - on a good day (two octaves above Middle C) - though the B natural just below is as high as I can comortally go most days. It frustrates me that I cannot get my lowrr register to work as well as it should. Is this simply a breath-control issue?
on May 30, 2016 at 2:09 PM said:Dear Marci, We can tell that you have done a lot to develop your voice. The lower range issue may be related to breath support but we couldn't say for sure without hearing you sing. A voice consultation with one of our certified instructors would be the best way to get an accurate assessment of the lower range issue. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have further questions.
on October 12, 2016 at 9:27 PM said:Is it normal to have multiple breaks, or "longer" breaks - breaks that are multiple notes long? I have a wide range & feel like I have one from F#4 (F# above middle C) all the way to C#5. That area is a weird area for me; I can sing through it but if I sing in that area in chest voice for an extended period of time, I wear out sooner. I also feel like I have another break from F5-A5, and then another one from F6-F#6. Is that normal or am I maybe doing something wrong to feel like I have multiple breaks
on October 13, 2016 at 12:01 PM said:Dear Gigi, As Ms. Deva says in the blog post, while register break is unfortunately common, it is not normal or natural. It is a sign that something is wrong with the singer's vocal technique. Jeannie Deva had a four octave range with no break. We can't advise you without knowing more about your training as a singer. The best way to discover why you have several breaks including a rather large one from F# to C, is to have a consultation with one of our teachers. After hearing you sing, the teacher will be able to identify what is wrong. You can always email us with more questions. Good luck.