Counts the head voice in one voice

Singing research: vocal folds filmed at the transition to the head voice

Vienna - A balanced passagio, i.e. an inaudible transition from the chest to the head voice, is one of the most important qualities of classical singers. A group of vocal researchers, including the Austrian Christian Herbst, have now recorded the vocal folds during this change of register using innovative camera technology and have determined that there are many ways up.

"It was amazing," said Herbst: "With ten test subjects, we found four different strategies for singing through the upper passagio." The participants in the study published in "Plos One" were professional sopranos. An endoscopic camera was inserted through their noses and the vocal folds were filmed for the first time at 20,000 frames per second. This speed of recordings is necessary in order to be able to observe anything at all - the vocal folds of a soprano vibrate up to 1,000 times per second.

Anatomy and strategy

Before studying biophysics and his current position at the Institute for Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna, Herbst himself worked as a vocal teacher for many years. "The passagio has of course been a topic for centuries. How do you get that under control? There are many different theories, especially for the upper passagio. Now we see: This is probably because people actually do very different things - even the professionals . " In the experiment, vocal experts assessed the audibility of the register change - the more the vibration patterns of the vocal folds varied, the easier it was to hear the transition.

One can only speculate about the reasons for the many different techniques. They could be anatomical or related to training in a particular subject. "There is a lot that we don't know yet. Actually, we don't know the reason why a voice becomes a lyrical or a dramatic soprano," said Herbst. While lyrical sopranos have a "lighter" voice in terms of volume, timbre and load-bearing capacity, the dramatic soprano has greater impact - the roles in the classical opera repertoire can be divided according to these criteria.

Difficult implementation

In any case, the new empirical data could mean a breakthrough for vocal pedagogy. Herbst: "We are two steps away from using it." One thing is clear: the mechanical processes of the voice when changing registers are more complex than assumed. "That will have to be reflected in new vocal pedagogical concepts," said Herbst. The results would also show that the transfer of individual strategies from teachers to students can by all means miss the target, namely individual disposition. "We will investigate this further in the interests of less voice-friendly teaching."

A difficulty for the didactic implementation is the limited possibility to consciously control and verbalize the processes beyond singing intuition. Singers' self-descriptions of what they do with their vocal mechanics have proven to be of limited use in experiments. The singer's "inner conception" of the processes of the voice is sometimes far removed from reality if one observes the vocal apparatus empirically in action. (APA, 4.5.2017)