A Little More on the Contralto
by David L. Jones
I have sometimes been asked about contralto register transitions. They are quite a bit lower than the mezzo, sometimes a major 3rd lower. I have one contralto that goes into head voice at F-natural when performing the laryngeal tilt. This is exactly reflective of the bass singer.
By the time the contralto gets to high E and F (beyond the upper passaggio in this voice type) she is in her high range. At this point, the singer must use more and more body connection or what many call support. When teaching a singer, this can be a tell-tale sign that this is a lower voice.
So it is not just color and a low, dark, ringing sound that makes them a contralto, but it is registration and tessitura. Most of the contraltos that I have taught were pushed up to soprano when they were young. Do you know what this does to their throat? It often means that it requires up to 2 or 3 years to release the laryngeal squeeze and the tongue tension. The singer need not go through this if they are guided correctly and are allowed to sing their true vocal fach.
I must say that the prejudice against the contralto voice is frustrating and inappropriate. It is a beautiful type of vocal instrument and it requires being taught much the same way as the contralto cousin, the bass. I use the laryngeal tilt with the contralto just like all other voice types, and usually their head voice comes in at F, F-sharp, or G at the highest. This head voice turn is usually reflective of the thickness of vocal fold mass, meaning that the lighter lyrical contralto would usually transition into head voice at the higher pitch. But remember, there are no rules in this business. There are always exceptions to the rule. Usually the lower the pitch, the larger and more dramatic the contralto instrument.
What I have often noticed is that some contraltos cannot ‘narrow’ the upper passaggio like other voice types. This is often true of the helden tenor as well, but not always. But this is a subject that is for another article. It is just an interesting fact to note.
The bloom of the contralto upper register starts at about high D. Then by E and F they are in their higher register. The contralto likes to go up and visit a high note once in a while, but does not like to live up there even as much as the mezzo. It is NOT a dark mezzo voice, but a true voice type in its own right. It is my sincere desire to help the public acknowledge that the contralto is a special instrument and should be celebrated greatly. Yes it is rare, but it is more rare today NOT because there are no contraltos, but because they are not being trained in their true fach.
Have a good day! David
© David L. Jones 2013
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