Vocal Crack: A Singer’s Worst Nightmare

July 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Singing Articles

What is the most embarrassing thing that can happen to you when you sing?  Having a vocal crack is certainly high on my list! This has happened to me in the past in both a private and public situation.  While it is hopeful to think that people will remember the hundreds of perfect notes you have sung in the performance, the reality is the moment your voice cracked will be first and foremost in their memory. In this article I am going to share with you the reasons why your voice breaks and how you can prevent it from happening.

What is a vocal crack?

A vocal crack is a sudden shift or jump between your vocal registers.  The most common break is from chest voice to head voice.  Another break is from chest voice to falsetto.  This is particularly problematic for male singers who haven’t developed their head voice.  Have you had the experience of singing low in your range and find that as you sing higher your voice flips into a weak uncontrolled high sound? That’s a vocal crack.

Why does it happen?

There are many reasons why your voice can crack:

  • Wrong muscle coordination
  • Wrong airflow
  • A rising larynx
  • Fear
  • Control
  • Loss of connection

So what do I mean by muscle coordination? There are muscles that are attached to your vocal cords.  These muscles are responsible for lengthening and shortening the cords which results in changes of pitch.  The chest voice has different muscle coordination than head voice.  When singing low in your range the cords are “slack” and relaxed.  When you sing in head voice the cords lengthen and become tighter.  The reason your voice cracks in between these two registers is muscle balance. There is too much influence from the muscles that control the chest voice as you sing higher.  Your muscles will get to a point where they can’t stretch any further and a sudden “shift” or break will occur.

Airflow can be the cause of vocal cracks.  Too much air can bombard your vocal cords with pressure and tension.  Too little air can have the opposite effect leaving your cords struggling to vibrate.  There needs to be a balance between the two.  Your vocal cords need a consistent amount of pressurised air to vibrate efficiently.  You can find out more about airflow here.

A rising larynx is one of the major reasons for your voice breaking.  It is very closely related to muscle coordination.  Your larynx is the bump you can see and feel in your throat.  Next time you sing, watch yourself in a mirror and notice what your larynx does as you start to sing higher.  Does it also start to move higher?  If it does, that means that you are pulling chest voice up too high.  This is also referred to as vocal weight.  You will reach a point where your tone starts to resemble a “yell”.  If you try and take this weight up any higher your voice will crack.

Fear can do strange things to your mind and body.  Perhaps you have had the unfortunate experience of your voice breaking during a public performance?  This is certainly embarrassing and something you will want to avoid happening again.  Unfortunately when this happens once, you can get into the habit of thinking that it will happen again.  I know I have had this experience.  It’s as if I can see the note coming from a mile away.  My body starts to tense, my throat seizes up, my heart rate increases and then……..”crack”.  Fear can cause a lot of tension in your body and throat and can actually be the cause of a vocal crack.

People feel the need to control things in their lives.  This makes a person feel safe.  When we are not in control what do we feel?  Uncertainty.  So how does this relate to singing?  I’m sure you have heard the expression “that singer has great control.”  I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that control, for a singer, is not necessarily a good thing.  I believe it is also a big reason why vocal breaks occur.  If you are trying to control your voice then I believe at some point you are going to run into tension problems. Your voice is designed to be relaxed and free.  We complicate things by trying to control our voice, wanting to sound good, trying to sing higher, trying to sing louder.  Our voice will do these things naturally, if we let it.  I’m suggesting that in order to fix your vocal breaks you need to stop trying to control your voice around your problems areas.  Experiment with your voice, don’t be afraid to make some mistakes and you will gain a greater feeling of freedom when you sing.

The biggest and most obvious vocal crack is complete loss of connection. This occurs when your voice flips into falsetto.  Falsetto is very different from your “connected” vocal registers.  When you sing in chest, mixed and head voice your vocal cords remain connected the entire time.  Sound is created on the inner edges of your vocal cords.  When singing falsetto, sound is created on the extreme external edges of the vocal cords and a breathy tone is created due to the space between the cords.  The break occurs when a singer extends chest voice far beyond the speaking range. It is impossible to continue to sing higher in this muscle and vocal cord position so the muscles and cords basically “give up” which results in a break into falsetto.

How can a vocal crack be fixed?

As you would have realised by now one of the major reasons for the breaks in your voice is incorrect muscle coordination.  You need to learn how to transition between your vocal registers smoothly. You can reprogram your muscles by learning how to sing with mixed voice.  You can learn about mixed voice in this article.

Vocal exercises to achieve a smooth voice.

I recommend the following exercises to help you “iron out” the cracks in your voice:

  1. Ascending and descending lip roll slides
  2. Ascending and descending lip roll slides followed by “vowel slides”.
  3. Ascending arpeggio using a lip roll to a descending 8 note scale.
  4. Double octave arpeggio using “nay”.

Access 5 FREE Video Lessons HERE and learn to transition freely.

Eliminating nasty cracks in your voice will boost your confidence as a singer and allow you to sing with freedom without the fear of an embarrassing break.

Ian Castle

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Comments

9 Responses to “Vocal Crack: A Singer’s Worst Nightmare”
  1. Steve Harris says:

    Thanks Ian
    Since commencing your course I have stopped trying to make my voice be something it is not and just letting it be what it is.
    I have also practiced the ability to slide up from chest voice (vibrations in the chest) to head voice concentrating on feeling the vibration up in the cheeks and I am pretty sure I can reach higher notes now than I ever could before. I still than get a little crack every now and then.
    Thanks again
    Steve Harris

  2. Aussie Vocal Coach says:

    Hey Steve,

    I’m glad you are getting a lot out of the course and making some positive discoveries about your voice. Hey, even the best singers can get a little crack now and then ;)

    Ian

  3. riza says:

    this is, i think a major problem of mine. thanks for this article that’s very easy to read and understand!

  4. Jerome says:

    Hey what’s up Ian, first off I’m absolutely in love with your free vocal course, I’ve also downloaded many of the free excersises you have provided and have tried working them into my practice sessions. The only problem I have is after my 8 week program, I’m not sure if I should still work on everything you provided in the order you provided(I hope that made sense). Let me attempt to explain what I mean: Chest voice- work on for a week, Mixed register- work on for a week etc. Should I continue in that pattern or SHOULD I mix it up, and or put lessons together? Maybe you can do an article on this. I’d love to know this because being a broke college student hinders my chances of getting proffesional lessons and a set schedule, AND BESIDES, YOUR THE BEST PROFESSIONAL I KNOW SO FAR!…Oh! and one more thing when should I practice vocal fry?(GREAT! I just bombarded you with questions…smh)

  5. Aussie Vocal Coach says:

    Hey Jerome!

    Great question! What I suggest you do is mix it up. Start by combining exercise 1 from each lesson into what I would call an “easy routine” then do that for the corresponding exercises throughout the weeks. That way you will end up with 4 or 5 routines that will gradually get more challenging.

    About vocal fry, I would use it as a warm up technique.

    Ian

  6. Jerome says:

    Thanks Ian! That’s great advice. I don’t think I can thank you enough, but thankyou, thankyou, thankyou! :-D

  7. Aussie Vocal Coach says:

    You are welcome! :)

  8. Ted says:

    Hello Ian,

    I had an idea what was going on with my unfortunate “Flippy” thing. You’re absolutely right when you mentioned the cause is from an under developed head voice. First, I didn’t even know I had one and I was always told it was wrong to sing that way. This is a great aricle. I will be focusing on this area heavily and keeping my fingers crossed as far as development.

    The videos are so awesome! I love watching and listening to some of the phrases you use, like “I’ll demonstrate for you” and when you say, “Finished!” I love it! :)

    You have a great talant Ian. Thank you so much for sharing.

    -Ted

  9. Aussie Vocal Coach says:

    Hi Ted,

    Thanks for the kind words. Honestly I feel like
    a bit of a fool when I watch my videos hahaha. It’s
    nice to know you like my phrases :)

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