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September 26, 2021 4:05 PM   Subscribe

Perennial student of voice, female, in menopause. My voice tears and breaks up in the midrange. How do I get B3 to F4 not to sound like Mel Blanc doing Elmer Fudd?

My midrange has always been weak, and unfortunately the teachers I studied with when I was younger did not note it, or show me how to work through it.

Now that I'm in my fifties, my voice tears, wobbles, and breaks in the B3 to F4 range routinely. Often I can't even hold a tone in that range steady at all. It's worse when I'm poorly rested, but it never "just works."

Outside of that range, all is well.

A recent session of voice lessons, while fruitful in other areas, did not help address the issue. I did the prescribed exercises to "strengthen the vocal cords" diligently and ... still with the Elmer Fudd.

I want to sing Irish and traditional folk repertoire, much of which crosses or sounds best when anchored in the problem range. Clearly We Have A Problem.

You can assume I'm drinking enough water.

Has anyone been able to get through this, or at least diminish it?
posted by Sheydem-tants to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What’s your tongue doing? Teachers I’ve worked with/talked to have ascribed a lot of vocal problems to tongue tension rather than vocal cord or breath support stuff. One practice I’ve found useful is singing exercises on a “phlbbttt” raspberry kind of noise.
posted by mskyle at 5:08 PM on September 26, 2021

Have you explored this with an Alexander Technique teacher?
posted by lewedswiver at 7:32 PM on September 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Better abdominal/lower body support is often the key here. If that is weak, we compensate with the tongue, jaw, shoulder/neck etc. which is often not even realized. It creates a lot of tension as mskyle noted above. Over time this can wreak havoc. Anything that helps get you more connected to good diaphragmatic support would be good. Have you tried blowing through a straw as a warmup?
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:54 AM on September 27, 2021

Best answer: Contrarian here. Aging changes our voice and assuming you’ve been singing and getting lessons a long time, I’m also going to assume you have good breath support and technique. It may be necessary not to fight it but to come to terms with your changing voice. Luckily you aren’t singing classical music or musical theater or other genres that demand cookie cutter uniformity and anonymity. Folk and Celtic genres not only accept “flawed” voices, they value them. Learn to sing with your idiosyncrasies present and accounted for. Own them. Use them. No one at a folk jam or Irish session will ever care that your midrange isn’t buttery smooth.

I’m a professional rock and country singer, lots of Celtic music too, with an aging craggy voice that once did everything I demanded of it, and a scholar who has written about voice and vocal technique in popular music extensively. “Trained” singers are often at a real disadvantage in pop (and “folk,” which is pop) genres. You’re overthinking it, in other words. Listen to any number of famous folk and Celtic singers of a certain age (and even younger ones) and you won’t often hear a perfectly consistent timbre across their entire range.

Relax into singing naturally.

Also I have never ever believed you can “strengthen vocal cords” by “exercising” them. That isn’t how the apparatus works IMHO. It’s singing teacher woo.
posted by spitbull at 3:53 AM on September 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

That said have you ever had an ENT look for polyps on your vocal cords? Rule out any physical injuries before you try to sing through them, which absolutely can damage your voice.
posted by spitbull at 4:01 AM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

In fact, I can’t hardly remember how many times I’ve been at folk, country, Celtic, or rock jam sessions or auditions over my 40+ year life as a pro musician when a “trained singer” managed to make everyone chuckle and roll their eyes at the inappropriately flawless, vibrato-infused, plummy tones of many such singers, as actively *inappropriate* for the genre context. What about finding a singing teacher who has mastery of the styles you want to sing? Find material and key choices that work with your instrument stylistically.
posted by spitbull at 5:05 AM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

64 year old female singer here.

In my 20's and 30's I sang as a belting rock-n-roll alto, but in my early 40's I decided I wanted to explore my soprano range.

I expanded my range by consistently practicing songs in that range for at least 30 minutes a day. I would sing hard enough to feel a pleasant tiredness to my vocal chords, but no more. It helped me to record this and listen back, once in a while, to critique power and pitch. Think of it as lifting weights for your voice.

The advancement I made was so gradual that I didn't even realize it until I did a before/after comparison, after a month or two, but after six months I was really happy with the improvement.

Also, breathe/diaphrahm support is important for any kind of singing, but I find it even more important for pitch and tonal control in my upper range.

And now that I'm old, I can feel that range slipping away, gradually.

Just my two cents. Good luck.
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 11:05 AM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

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