The trouble with fach these days: Part 1

Part 2: male voices. Part 3: female voices.

People are so determined to find their vocal fach in the same way that everyone is trying to find their sense of ‘belonging’ in the world. As if finding their vocal fach will instantly make them happier and a far better singer. There is some truth to this notion. Finding your true fach is definitely one of the most helpful things you will find as a singer. It means that there is no more doubt about whether you are singing the right material or not.

What a lot of people do not understand is that until the larynx has found its natural tilting motion, until there is absolutely no tongue interference of the larynx and until the voice has a natural ‘inhalare di voce’ space (open vocal tract), the natural fach of the singer will not reveal itself. This is best done through singing music that sits in a more comfortable part of the range until the natural tilting motion is achieved, and by having an excellent teacher.

I would like to put forward three main end-results of being incorrectly fached. You may or may not have encountered such singers before, but rest assured they can be found almost anywhere, particularly in areas where one particularly poor teacher or teaching style is prominent:

  1. The grandfather/grandmother: Have you ever heard a 20 something year old baritone or a mezzo soprano (other fachs included) who sound like they are in their 50s-60s when they sing? This singer is applauded for their vocal maturity at such a young age. They have a thick and powerful sound, but for some reason, the have a massive vocal wobble, their diaphragm shakes when they sing and there is no freshness to the sound.

    The reason:
    These singers will have been prematurely (or wrongly) allocated to a ‘dramatic’ fach. To gain the ‘oomph’ that they think they need, their tongue is retracting and the are singing as if they are at the widest part of a yawn (over-opening) and their diaphragm is locking as they attempt to support their larger sound. As a result, the larynx drops far further than it needs to and the tongue root pushes it down while reducing the space in the vocal tract. This creates something called ‘false darkness’. Alternatively, this can happen when a young singer (18-23) is told to make their sound ‘darker’ without any kind of guidance. This will potentially result in a temporarily pleasing result for the singer as they enjoy a richer sound, but ultimately the false darkness will cause vocal fatigue to develop that causes the voice to prematurely ware out.This is also a result of having too much emphasis on the openness of the throat. The Swedish Italian school suggests a balance of an open, relaxed vocal tract and a tilted larynx combined with a healthy forward ring.
  1. The floater: This is the singer who constantly sings in an un-supported head voice. They have a lot of mobility, but the females will sound squeaky/breathy at the top and males will sound extremely nasally and will lift their heads as they ascend. The quality of the voice is ‘fast and flexible’ but with absolutely no ring, presence or dynamic colouring.

    The reason: These singers may have been mistakenly given the ‘leggerio tenor’ or ‘lyric coloratura’ fach by a teacher who has not taught them to connect the voice to the support. They were probably allocated this fach because they have a very large range, particularly if their top notes are extremely easy and free. However, if you were to make these singers “hiss” for as long as they can, and then separately sing for as long as they can, you will feel no muscle co-ordination in the abdominal, side and back area and the rib case will not feel healthily suspended. You will also notice a high larynx. Even though the larynx is high, they can still sing the top notes (albeit not as well as they could) because they are not using any proper sub-glottal pressure.This is also a result of the ‘light, bright, forward’ school of teaching. These are teachers who constantly emphasize the ‘forward’ placement and resonance without ever helping the singer develop any release in the body during inhalation, or openness in the vocal tract.

  1. The laser mouth: This singer has an extreme amount of bite or ‘ping’ in their sound. It may cut across a small orchestra and it will be very nicely contained within one, single octave. Outside of this however, the singer will not gain any of their full potential above the passaggio. They will reach a ceiling whereby the voice cannot climb any higher. The sound is also fairly unpleasant to listen to.

    The reason: This is when someone is told they are a ‘light’ baritone/tenor/soprano/mezzo. There is a school of thought out there that everything can be sung with a very small embouchure as long as the pharyngeal space is open. This is true especially through the passaggio, however, above the passaggio, the singer needs to take advantage of a slightly lowered jaw and more lift behind the eyes (soft palate).This singer also relies so much on their nasal resonance that they forget about opening their vocal tract. The voice is narrow, ‘small’, contained and limited to very light repertoire. More often than not, this is a result of a teacher who hides their own limitations behind creating a ‘safe sound’ for their student, rather than developing their full potential.This is another result of the bright, high, forward approach to teaching, but it tends to be more of an issue for more dramatic voices. Voices with a larger range will likely be ‘floaters’.

In summary, there are two basic ways to avoid being put in the wrong fach:

  1. When you are in your early stages of training, stick to songs that do not demand as much of your range until you have developed a natural laryngeal tilt and you are singing with absolutely no strain. For classical singers, 24 Italian Art songs and arias (medium-high voices here, medium-low voices here.), French and German art songs and folk songs are the best. For more contemporary singers, most of the best singers came from a background of church music. If you are not this way inclined, then folk music is also good. Musical theatre can also be suitable too assuming they are suited to developing voices. For instance, the music sung by Marius (Les Miserables), Maria (The Sound of Music) and almost anything by Frederick Loewe, Stephen Sondheim,(with the exception of extreme fach-specific roles like Pirelli or Beadle Bamford in Sweeny Todd), Rodgers and Hammerstein and Stephen Schwartz. These musical theatre pieces can be sung by developing singers of almost any fach as they do not require an intensely mature ‘belt’ sound. They also encourage the singer to develop their natural tilt within a more comfortable range before exploring their upper and lower extremities.
  2. Make sure that your teacher is well respected in singing circles. I’ve written another blog article on the kinds of teachers to avoid here so that you are in a good position to recognize whether you’re getting the best advice.

Thank you for joining me and be sure to check out our facebook page or follow us for an update whenever we release an article. Part 2 and 3 are both out (male voices and female voices) and the link can be found at the top of the page.

 

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