Voce di petto – Chest Voice

Maria Felicità Garcia( 24 Mar 1808 – 23 Sep 1836) known as Malibran, was born in Paris as the daughter of the Spanish tenor Manuel del Pópolo Vicente Garcia.

“Exercises for strengthening the low and middle notes of the voice are more important for sopranos than for voices of any other class ; first, because, in general, that part of the voice is most feeble ; and next, because the transition from the voce di petto to the voce di testa tends to deteriorate the purity of some tones, and to impart a feebler, or, if I may so express myself, a stifled effect to others. It is, therefore requisite to keep up a continual practice of the defective note with the pure note which follows or precedes it, in order to obtain a perfect uniformity in their quality. This practice was one of the greatest difficulties which Maria Garcia had to surmount, the lower notes of her voice being strong and well toned, whilst the notes of transition were feeble and husky.”

Memoirs of Madame Malibran by the Countess de Merlin and other Intimate Friends, Volume One, page 20.

Practising Chest Voice so that it unites seamlessly

The most important exercises to practice are scales. We must begin nice and slow and be very critical of how the registers unite. Here is an example of how I practice Number Five in Manuel Garcia’s ‘Treatise on the Art of Singing’. I don’t launch straight away into the vowel [a]. I usually begin with something easy like ‘bree’ or ‘zee’ and then I will sing ya and then finally an ah vowel. In this example below, I was pleased on the ascent that I used chest on the first E and then mixed on the next E and they blend in nicely. It was a little more obvious and clunky on the descent and needs more practice. This happens around 1 min 48 seconds in this recording below. (Please note the guitar is tuned to 430HZ).

Here is an example of me battling through Number 5 of Garcia exercises – I began with bree, then ya and then a. It is a very difficult exercise to blend in the chest voice to the mixed register.

Do I use chest or mixed?

Some singers may have the question, which notes are chest? Which are mixed. The answer is that it depends. Some notes can be either chest or mixed. In the opening exercises of Manuel Garcia II’s book on the Art of Singing (Manuel Garcia II was the brother of Madame Malibran and son of Manuel Garcia I) you will find exercises devoted to uniting chest and mixed register. These exercises will also aid the technical skill of being able to chose either a chest or mixed tone colour. The choice will depend on the context, piece of music, period, emotion etc.

A very important exercise, especially for Sopranos

Applying chest voice

In the first example below, a You Tube video, at 1 minute 20 seconds, you will hear the uniting of the chest voice with the other registers. This occurs on the descent down from the head voice, through the mixed and then to the chest lower notes. I was pleased with this because the different parts of the voice (chest, mixed and head) blended in nicely.

If you forward to 1.20 you will hear the transition from head to mixed to chest voice.

Using chest is sometimes an artistic choice. In the second example below, the audio file, I do not use chest voice on the lower notes. I could have but it would not have sounded delicate.

In this piece – an Arietta by Giuliani – I chose NOT to use chest voice. Some notes can be sung either chest or mixed.

Finally, if you are singing folk or popular styles, chest can be taken up as far as you dare. However, it is really tough on your voice and if you do too much of it you could be in for a problem! When I sing Karanga (a traditional Māori call) I use chest up as high as I can go. If I sung in Head Voice the whole Marae would be laughing their heads off!

In this last example, you will hear me singing in chest voice on the stave. This suits the style of music but is heading into dangerous ground!

COME AWAY WITH ME – NORAH JONES

Published by Deborah Wai Kapohe

I am a classical singer and guitarist. I have created a project called 'The Lilli Lehmann Project'. The project, lasting from 2020 until 2023, aims to refresh my voice and prepare me to be a singing teacher. The scope of the project is that I am studying Lilli Lehmann's singing book, bibliography, recordings and her reviews, as well as other historical vocal pedagogy. I have chosen this platform in order to blog about my discoveries, demonstrate techniques and exercises, and perform pieces of music. I have done so because I wish to be transparent. I think that if a student is prepared to learn from me then I should stand up to public scrutiny.

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