WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
The passaggio is an Italian word meaning passage, passing or crossing.
In singing it describes the acoustical shift or transitional area between one vocal register and another – commonly, the chest register and the head register. It is also called a “bridge,” “break” or “transition.”
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?
Singing is a complex process involving structures and processes that we are unable to see as we sing. Functionally there are many components to sound production at pitch, including the larynx, the vocal folds, the resonating chambers, the articulators and formant tuning. There are two muscles involved with vocal fold length. I don’t want to scare you with their long names, so I will simplify.
The TA muscles shorten and thicken the vocal folds. Their main role is used in the lower range or chest register of the voice.
The CA muscles lengthen and thin the vocal folds. Their primary use is with the upper range or head register. As we pass from Chest to Head Register each set of muscles becomes more dominant. If the handover is not smooth it will result in a flip, crack, or break as the vocal folds pop open.
WHAT IS ITS IMPACT ON THE VOICE?
For most singers this area is a tricky spot to cross over. They may experience a crack or break as they sing through it. Sometimes in order to get over this area the contemporary singer may “flip” over; others try and plow through by staying in the lower register as long as possible. The result is a strained sound, “splatty,” that often goes flat in pitch. On rare occasions I have seen singers never have a problem with this at all… Pretty lucky for them! No matter what, the passaggio will always be there; the trick is in learning how to negotiate the transition (or cross the bridge) efficiently by developing the right vowel modification, muscle strength and coordination through vocal training.
WHEN DOES IT HAPPEN?
There are certain points in the vocal range where an acoustical shift occurs. These vary between male and female voices. Other influences are:
-Melodic passage (ascending, descending)
-Health of voice/singer
-Amount of air pressure
-Amount of extrinsic muscle involvement