Singing Better

Sotto Voce &  Passaggio



Having some control of the falsetto, I now suggest you work on the passaggio.  The passaggio is the technical term for the break area between the modal and falsetto.  For men  and some altos, this is usually around Middle C (on the piano) to Eb.  Control of this will allow you to sing in sotto voce (half-voice) as well as full voice. This control of the passaggio is a very valuable skill for expressive singing, as it is necessary when singing high modal range notes softly when necessary and loudly at other times.  With practice a person can develop a range of several notes that can be sung in either the modal OR falsetto register - ideally up to a range of an octave.


An important exercise for passaggio development is this:

  1. 1.Take a note such as D right above Middle C.  Sing it in full voice, then in falsetto.  Then flip flop back and forth between the two on the same note.  If D doesn’t work for you, try another note.

  2. 2.Go up a half step and do the same.

  3. 3.Work it thru the range that is possible at your stage of development, gradually expanding up to at least a range of a 5th and hopefully to an octave or more.

  4. 4.Work to get the quality and dynamics as even as possible between the two registers.  Start in one register and flip VERY GRADUALLY to the other.  You should be able to feel the muscular release or tension. Gradual is the goal.

It will probably take some time - even YEARS to fully accomplish this smoothness - at least it did me.  Remember you are developing muscles.

For  further exercises to develop the Passaggio see the following craft page - Craft 7 under the “Vocal Health. Warm-Ups & Singing Crafts” topic.


Once the passaggio is under control and this flexibility is coming along, it is an excellent vocal warmup to flip back and forth between the modal and falsetto, trying to match the volume and quality so that ideally the change would be indistinguishable between the registers but remember that smoothing over the passaggio will probably take quite a while.


The common way to sing high modal notes is to sing louder as you go higher.  When you try to go soft on these high notes you tend to break into falsetto abruptly and often on a different pitch than the intended note.  This is embarrassing so people try to avoid it by clamping the throat area.  This is where poorer tone quality comes from.  Instead, we need to develop control of this high area of the modal register.  We need to be able to sing in “sotto voce”  (“half-voice”, “head voice”).


Now let’s talk about improving your tone quality throughout the whole modal register range.  As we said previously, untrained singers tend to hold the “falsetto muscles” rigid as they ascend up the scale.  This is particularly true of Basses but also with barbershop Leads.  The quality instead needs to lighten just a bit for every note as you go up.  Think that you are gradually moving toward the falsetto with each ascending note.  Another good exercise is to take a single note and gradually crescendo (get louder) on it by pushing more air thru (NOT by clamping the muscles in the voice box area).  The natural tendency is to tighten up in the voice box the more air you pushed to make it louder.  This is the exact wrong thing to do.  Instead, as you get louder, feel a lightening in the voice box area.  Another way to think of it, is to feel a “yawning feeling” the louder and/or higher you get.

Ideally your modal register should be flexible enough to sing both loudly and softly throughout your range.  This cannot be attained without solid control of these “falsetto register muscles”.  Good expressive singing requires this flexibility.  But understand that the range of dynamics possible on extremely low notes is less than on more medium range or high notes.

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