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- Debra Bonner, Professional Vocal Coach in Hollywood, CA
What is a register transition?
Where we typically speak will usually be "chest voice". It is in the lower part of the range of a singer and gets the name from the sympathetic vibrations one feels in the chest.
The high notes where we can feel vibration in our head are called "head voice". The highest notes above head voice are called "super head voice" or "flageolet" or "whistle tones".
Above chest voice is "low middle voice" and above that is "high middle voice". A most famous teacher doesn't differentiate between high middle and low middle voice but instead calls it simply "middle voice". There are multiple changing "events" as you go from low to high involving changes in the direction of the sound and changes in the adjustments made in the vocal cords (folds).
Between any of the singing registers (or even in a register) there is a possibility of a "glottal stroke" or "crack" or "break" which is simply an abrupt change in tone quality which is a result of losing vocal cord adduction. The vocal cords don't close properly and the tone quality becomes breathy or "airy". This is called a transition problem. Some singers never overcome this and rather than studying and training, they sing through the break in a yodel-like fashion or try to "sing around" it. Some singers have made careers in spite of the problem. Many singers find the break or crack to be extremely embarassing and disturbing. The break can even occur in a register, as well as between registers. Some singers have multiple transition problems but usually there is one and it is about the size of a tritone. Below it things are easy and above it things are easy but in it...treacherous!
The primary cause of the transition problem is the habit of singing with the problem of a transition. Being improperly trained or not trained at all can cause it. Singing too loudly at the top of chest voice can perpetuate a transition problem. Forcing and pushing are not the solution.
There are several exercises to help with a break in the voice. There was a time that I truly believed it was hopeless. With voice lessons and the right exercises at the right time, I was cured of this affliction! That was about two decades ago and since then I have helped many singers to overcome transition problems.
By the way, "head voice" is not a "sound". It is a range. It is quite possible (even easy) to sing with a breathy sound in head voice and also with "full voice in head", the sound of which is indistinguishable from a full voice in chest as far as tone quality.
When the transition problems are fully handled, as a singer, you feel you have ONE VOICE, not different registers with transitions. The feeling of freedom of expression of this "one voice" concept is beyond words!
If you are singing correctly, you will not have cracks or breaks in your voice. You also will have no problems with range, power or endurance.
Cracks or breaks are a sudden change in tone or power and are caused by a sudden change of the position of the larynx, followed by a loss of vocal fold adduction. Some singers find this to be horribly embarrassing, sounding like a very young man going through a voice change. Some singers never handle the break and have a career despite it. It is a very small percentage of recording or performing artists because most audiences do not like it.