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  1. #1
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    Post A Question About Chest Voice

    Hello,

    I’m a new member from Greece. I really love opera music and that’s why I’m here. I really love singers like Pavarotti, Alfredo Kraus,Di Stefano,Enrico Caruso and of course Maria Callas. But I would like to learn from people that have musical education.I have read on the internet many things about chest voice in opera music.

    My question is how often males like tenors or baritones use chest voice and how often females use it? Why tenors sing the higher notes with head voice? Can a tenor sing with chest voice? I would like to learn from more experienced people. Callas said that bel canto is about singing chest notes too.

    If somebody knows it please enlight me.

    Thank you a lot!

  2. #2
    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tolis View Post
    Hello,

    Iím a new member from Greece. I really love opera music and thatís why Iím here. I really love singers like Pavarotti, Alfredo Kraus, Di Stefano, Enrico Caruso and of course Maria Callas. But I would like to learn from people that have musical education. I have read on the internet many things about chest voice in opera music.

    My question is how often males like tenors or baritones use chest voice and how often females use it? Why tenors sing the higher notes with head voice? Can a tenor sing with chest voice? I would like to learn from more experienced people. Callas said that bel canto is about singing chest notes too.

    If somebody knows it please enlight me.

    Thank you a lot!
    Unfortunately I can't answer your question but I hope someone else can. In the meantime, I would like to welcome you to the forum and I look forward to reading your posts. You have mentioned some of your favourite singers but do you have any favourite composers and operas?
    "The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland."
    Lucy Maud Montgomery

  3. #3
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Welcome to the forum, Tolis. Alas, I'm no expert on chest voice vs. head voice either. I suspect our site owner, Luiz, will be able to say a bit more on the topic.

  4. #4
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Hi, Tolis. Welcome to Opera Lively! When you ask "how often" I'd answer 100% of the time (depending on the opera) for the voice types you mentioned, because all these singers transition between chest and head voices at different points of an opera (that is, according to the notes they need to produce; often when there are notes at or above E4 the singer will need to resonate the voice predominantly in the upper head structures (sinuses). The transition point is called the passagio. This voice teacher, for example, encourages the concept that it is a continuum rather than two separate registers; read her explanation:

    http://mollysmusic.org/blog/head-voi...ice-explained/

    Even bassos transition. The only category of singers who *might* not transition would be the countertenors who will often keep their voices within the head register, but even countertenors will also use some sort of chest voice which will correspond to their speaking voice (not falsetto) when they are singing lower notes.

    The bottom line is, it's the vocal score, and the singer's range and comfort in each register, that will determine where the resonance will be. Of course if an opera role requires no high notes whatsoever, a singer may only use the chest register for that role.

    But all singers are capable of transitioning between these registers. So, yes, tenors use chest voice too, and so do all others.

    By the way, given that you are from Greece (I think you may be our first member from there), you will enjoy reading the interview I did with the head of the Greek National Opera maestro Myron Michailidis when I visited Athens a few years ago. Here is the link:

    http://operalively.com/forums/conten...National-Opera
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); November 19th, 2017 at 11:25 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    Hi, Tolis. Welcome to Opera Lively! When you ask "how often" I'd answer 100% of the time (depending on the opera) for the voice types you mentioned, because all these singers transition between chest and head voices at different points of an opera (that is, according to the notes they need to produce; often when there are notes at or above E4 the singer will need to resonate the voice predominantly in the upper head structures (sinuses). The transition point is called the passagio. This voice teacher, for example, encourages the concept that it is a continuum rather than two separate registers; read her explanation:

    http://mollysmusic.org/blog/head-voi...ice-explained/

    Even bassos transition. The only category of singers who *might* not transition would be the countertenors who will often keep their voices within the head register, but even countertenors will also use some sort of chest voice which will correspond to their speaking voice (not falsetto) when they are singing lower notes.

    The bottom line is, it's the vocal score, and the singer's range and comfort in each register, that will determine where the resonance will be. Of course if an opera role requires no high notes whatsoever, a singer may only use the chest register for that role.

    But all singers are capable of transitioning between these registers. So, yes, tenors use chest voice too, and so do all others.

    By the way, given that you are from Greece (I think you may be our first member from there), you will enjoy reading the interview I did with the head of the Greek National Opera maestro Myron Michailidis when I visited Athens a few years ago. Here is the link:

    http://operalively.com/forums/conten...National-Opera

    Thank you a lot!!!

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by Ann Lander (sospiro) View Post
    Unfortunately I can't answer your question but I hope someone else can. In the meantime, I would like to welcome you to the forum and I look forward to reading your posts. You have mentioned some of your favourite singers but do you have any favourite composers and operas?
    My favourite composer is Puccini. E lucevan le stelle is the first aria I loved and I still feel the passion this aria has. I love Bizet ,Verdi and many more too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    Hi, Tolis. Welcome to Opera Lively! When you ask "how often" I'd answer 100% of the time (depending on the opera) for the voice types you mentioned, because all these singers transition between chest and head voices at different points of an opera (that is, according to the notes they need to produce; often when there are notes at or above E4 the singer will need to resonate the voice predominantly in the upper head structures (sinuses). The transition point is called the passagio. This voice teacher, for example, encourages the concept that it is a continuum rather than two separate registers; read her explanation:

    http://mollysmusic.org/blog/head-voi...ice-explained/

    Even bassos transition. The only category of singers who *might* not transition would be the countertenors who will often keep their voices within the head register, but even countertenors will also use some sort of chest voice which will correspond to their speaking voice (not falsetto) when they are singing lower notes.

    The bottom line is, it's the vocal score, and the singer's range and comfort in each register, that will determine where the resonance will be. Of course if an opera role requires no high notes whatsoever, a singer may only use the chest register for that role.

    But all singers are capable of transitioning between these registers. So, yes, tenors use chest voice too, and so do all others.

    By the way, given that you are from Greece (I think you may be our first member from there), you will enjoy reading the interview I did with the head of the Greek National Opera maestro Myron Michailidis when I visited Athens a few years ago. Here is the link:

    http://operalively.com/forums/conten...National-Opera

    What about the female singers? How often does a female singer uses chest voice?

  7. #7
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tolis View Post
    What about the female singers? How often does a female singer uses chest voice?
    Same thing. Every time. The chest voice (and middle or mixed) is(are) the most common one(s), used for the majority of the opera by all singers. It's when the vocal score asks for particularly high notes that they switch to the head voice. This is true of male *and* female singers (I did tell you about how it's a bit different for countertenors). Usually the majority of a vocal score will seat on the tessitura range, that is, the middle range of the register that is most comfortable for each singer. So singers will say "my vocal range is from ....(insert lowest note they can make)... to ...(insert highest note they can make)... but my tessitura is from ... (insert a low but not extremely low note)... to ... (insert a high but not extremely high note)."

    Sometimes of course the vocal score goes low or goes high. While there are some contemporary operas with roles where basically a female singer might sing high notes almost all the time, more commonly the notes stay on the middle range and only occasionally go high, often at the very end of an aria, to end with a blast (or in coloratura parts).

    Each singer will need to transition to the head voice at some point of their upper range (the passaggio point), and regarding which specific note is that point, varies a little with each individual singer. So if a singer needs to switch to the head voice to produce notes above his/her passaggio point (see below, actually their second passaggio point), what percentage of time of the opera will be spent on the head voice will depend on the vocal score (how many stretches are written with notes situated above that point versus below that point).

    By the way, some vocal scores ask for notes for the higher-range female singers (sopranos) even above the head voice. These are called notes in the flageolet (flute-like) or whistle register and usually a singer can't naturally produce it well with sufficient volume to be heard, unless she goes through additional training to have access to these notes.

    Finally, don't forget that we're simplifying a bit because there are actually three registers - chest, middle or mixed, and head.

    Here are the usual vocal ranges for sopranos, regarding these registers (and it's a *range* because like I said, the passaggio point between these registers - and since it's three, not two, we talk about a primo passaggio and a secondo passagio - will vary from singer to singer.

    Chest: G3 to E-flat4
    Middle: E-flat4 to F-sharp5
    Head: F-sharp5 to C6 or C-sharp6
    Flageolet: D6 or D-sharp6 to the highest possible for the singer

    See that like I said before, above E4 the singer already starts resonating the sounds in head cavities, but still, the chest vibrates too. It's usually above F5 that it's exclusively head.

    The interesting point about the passaggio is that it is essential that the singer maintains the same timbre of voice before and after the passaggio, to continue to sing beautifully and smoothly without voice cracking or unpleasant timbre on the upper range. This is very noticeable when one is watching an opera: good singers do it well, not-so-good singers do it poorly. Ideally the passagio point should be relatively unnoticeable when the singer does it well - they are just able to transition while keeping the same timbre. It is often noticeable, though, because of how certain composers write the score: they ask for abrupt leaps for some thrilling effects, like I said, often at the end of an aria.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    Same thing. Every time. The chest voice (and middle or mixed) is(are) the most common one(s), used for the majority of the opera by all singers. It's when the vocal score asks for particularly high notes that they switch to the head voice. This is true of male *and* female singers (I did tell you about how it's a bit different for countertenors). Usually the majority of a vocal score will seat on the tessitura range, that is, the middle range of the register that is most comfortable for each singer. So singers will say "my vocal range is from ....(insert lowest note they can make)... to ...(insert highest note they can make)... but my tessitura is from ... (insert a low but not extremely low note)... to ... (insert a high but not extremely high note)."

    Sometimes of course the vocal score goes low or goes high. While there are some contemporary operas with roles where basically a female singer might sing high notes almost all the time, more commonly the notes stay on the middle range and only occasionally go high, often at the very end of an aria, to end with a blast (or in coloratura parts).

    Each singer will need to transition to the head voice at some point of their upper range (the passaggio point), and regarding which specific note is that point, varies a little with each individual singer. So if a singer needs to switch to the head voice to produce notes above his/her passaggio point (see below, actually their second passaggio point), what percentage of time of the opera will be spent on the head voice will depend on the vocal score (how many stretches are written with notes situated above that point versus below that point).

    By the way, some vocal scores ask for notes for the higher-range female singers (sopranos) even above the head voice. These are called notes in the flageolet (flute-like) or whistle register and usually a singer can't naturally produce it well with sufficient volume to be heard, unless she goes through additional training to have access to these notes.

    Finally, don't forget that we're simplifying a bit because there are actually three registers - chest, middle or mixed, and head.

    Here are the usual vocal ranges for sopranos, regarding these registers (and it's a *range* because like I said, the passaggio point between these registers - and since it's three, not two, we talk about a primo passaggio and a secondo passagio - will vary from singer to singer.

    Chest: G3 to E-flat4
    Middle: E-flat4 to F-sharp5
    Head: F-sharp5 to C6 or C-sharp6
    Flageolet: D6 or D-sharp6 to the highest possible for the singer

    See that like I said before, above E4 the singer already starts resonating the sounds in head cavities, but still, the chest vibrates too. It's usually above F5 that it's exclusively head.

    The interesting point about the passaggio is that it is essential that the singer maintains the same timbre of voice before and after the passaggio, to continue to sing beautifully and smoothly without voice cracking or unpleasant timbre on the upper range. This is very noticeable when one is watching an opera: good singers do it well, not-so-good singers do it poorly. Ideally the passagio point should be relatively unnoticeable when the singer does it well - they are just able to transition while keeping the same timbre. It is often noticeable, though, because of how certain composers write the score: they ask for abrupt leaps for some thrilling effects, like I said, often at the end of an aria.
    Thank you a lot! Amazing informations! I asked because I read on the internet that there are sopranos that were not able to use chest voice. But the same time I know that Maria Callas used chest voice extensively.

    All this information is educating for me. My questions maybe sound a little foolish sometimes and I’m sorry for that. I just want to learn and that’s why I’m in a forum like this!

    Thank you a lot!

  9. #9
    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    Your questions aren't foolish; we're all learning here in one way or another. Being able to ask questions on all sorts of opera-related subjects and to share information are what makes Opera Lively such a great forum.

  10. #10
    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    I agree with MAuer! None of us is born knowing about opera and there are no foolish questions. The only fool is the person who thinks he/she knows everything.
    "The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland."
    Lucy Maud Montgomery

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tolis View Post
    Thank you a lot! Amazing informations! I asked because I read on the internet that there are sopranos that were not able to use chest voice. But the same time I know that Maria Callas used chest voice extensively.

    All this information is educating for me. My questions maybe sound a little foolish sometimes and I’m sorry for that. I just want to learn and that’s why I’m in a forum like this!

    Thank you a lot!
    You're welcome. Like my friends here said, there are no foolish questions here. One of the main characteristics of Opera Lively is that we are not snobs and we welcome people of all levels of expertise or lack thereof, from a person watching opera for the very first time in life, to a veteran with 50 years of experience, and everything in-between. We try to share what we know and love, and by the way we're not always right, so when we aren't, we learn too. You shouldn't be ashamed of asking any question whatsoever. You came to the right place. Unlike other Internet venues, nobody makes fun of anybody here, there are no arrogant, show-offish people, and our members are all civil and friendly with each other. In the very rare occasions when this wasn't the case, our excellent moderators took care of it. Someone with a negative attitude doesn't last here. We are all a bunch of happy friends who love opera, and we take good care of our "house" here so that it stays this way.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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