How To Get Better At Singing – The Bottleneck Octave

Most singers will spend much of their career learning how to successfully navigate the bottleneck octave, trying to achieve a smooth transition from one end of their range to the other. You may have heard this concept referred to as the “mix”, or mixing/blending the voice.

What ever name people will give it, they are essentially all talking about the same thing. In this article, I want to answer the question of how to get better at singing by exploring the bottleneck octave, defining what it is, why it is the cause of so many problems and how we can learn to smash through it.

What Is The Bottleneck Octave

The bottleneck octave is the range of notes from middle C to C one octave above. This area will cause every singer trouble at one time in their life, unless they learn to coordinate their voice properly to sing through it successfully. Some of the symptoms that can point to the bottleneck octave causing issues are:

Symptoms of the Bottleneck Octave

  • The voice “shifting gears” giving the singer a different tone as they sing higher
  • The voice cracking or breaking as the singer attempts to sing higher
  • The voice moving towards a falsetto sound as the singer attempts to sing higher or lower for females

 

It’s interesting to note that all voices, male or female, tenors, sopranos or basses, all have the greatest difficulties on the same pitches – between middle C and C one octave above.

Why Is The Bottleneck Octave Such A Problem

Before we answer this question, we need to understand the vocal registers……..

The Registers

So, most, if not all of you will know that the voice is made up of registers; the chest register, the head register and the middle register. The chest register (which actually does not resonate in your chest), consists of the low notes in a singers range, pretty much up to middle C.

The head register consists of the notes one octave above middle C and upwards, while the middle register consists of the notes between middle C and C one octave above. The reader will note that this is the same range as the bottleneck octave, so it is this register that we will concentrate on.

Now we know a little about the vocal registers, lets now turn our attention to resonance………

Resonance

The source of the bottleneck octave issue is resonance, or a lack thereof. This causes the singer to employ a variety of mechanisms in order to compensate, generally by “driving” the voice through this area (especially true for male singers). We covered resonance and how to improve singing power and tone using it, in another article.

Vocal resonators help reinforce and amplify the pitches produced by the vocal chords in the same manner as wind instruments. Different pitches are reinforced by different resonators.

High tones are reinforced by the Nasopharynx (nasal cavities), low tones are reinforced by the Laryngopharynx (just above the vocal chords) and the tones in between are reinforced in the Oropharynx (the back wall of the mouth and up into the soft palate). The resonator for the bottleneck octave is the Oropharynx, which is where it gets interesting.

The resonators that reinforce the upper and lower tones are completely fixed i.e. there are no moving parts, so not much can go wrong. The Oropharynx has two moving parts – the tongue and the soft palate, and this is where problems can arise. If the soft palate is not in the correct position, then the pitches won’t be reinforced properly and the singer will start to struggle around F#.

For an F#, the resonators should share the reinforcement of the pitch at about a 50/50 rate. Too much lower and the singer will drive the voice which can damage the vocal chords (male singers and deeper female voices are in particular danger from this), too much upper and the singer achieves a weak, falsetto like quality (more prevalent in higher female singers e.g. sopranos when coming down the scale).

So – now you know why the bottleneck octave is such an issue, lets now look at how we can successfully navigate it.

How To Get Better At Singing – Learn To Navigate the Bottleneck Octave

soft palateWhat is the secret to successfully navigating the bottleneck octave and achieving a consistent line in your voice? The answer is surprisingly simple and complex at the same time.

The simple part is keeping the soft palate back and away from the back wall of the throat (see the diagram on the right), the complex part is training the soft palate to do this as you can’t “feel” what position the soft palate is in.

Keeping the soft palate in the correct position will allow the correct resonance chambers to be used when reinforcing the pitches as you go higher. Once you learn how to do this, you no longer will need to try and drive the voice as you go higher because the note will be reinforced by the correct resonance giving you the tone you want.

The foundation for all this is correct support. Correct support will allow you to control the vocal chords correctly without interference and also control the adjustments for the resonators. You can read how to improve your voice quickly using support by clicking on the link.

I hope you found this article insightful. Please feel free to like, tweet, +1 etc, as well as leave a comment.

To success in all your singing endeavors.

Andy Barnes

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4 Comments

  • Nsikak

    Reply Reply April 22, 2016

    You hit the nail on the he head! I’ve been having problems with smooth transition from “chest” register to my head voice. I think I’ll just have to be more conscious of my soft palate. thanks a bunch

  • Raffi

    Reply Reply May 18, 2016

    Andy,

    Since it is difficult to determine if the soft palate is in the correct position, how can we make sure it is in the correct position? Is there a feedback or some tell-tale sign that it is correctly “back and away from the back wall of the throat”? For example, would a yawning sensation ensure that the soft palate is where it needs to be, or alternatively, a “smile” posture with the mouth?

    Obviously, if the sound coming out of the mouth has a “ping” to it, then chances are that it’s in the correct position. However, if there is no “ping”, then it would be good to know what adjustment is required to get the correct placement of the soft palate.

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