Unusual Vocal Characteristics
by David L. Jones
It is interesting to me that these characteristics occur mainly in one voice type. They include (1) a full chest register with a dark smokey colour (2) a chest register that moves quite high in pitch, sometimes as far as up to the F-sharp (lowest space on the staff), (3) a head voice that needs a lot of ‘u’ vowel in the pharynx to sustain strength and solidity, (4) a lower tessitura, (5) the desire to only go up and touch a high note occasionally and (6) a short middle range, often involving only about 1 step in range, and (7) a slight weakness in vocal fold approximation at the G or F-sharp in the lower middle register.
These characteristics are truly common in the contralto voice, yet many instructors refuse to guide singers toward their true vocal fach, often tossing off the sentiment, “There are no contraltos these days!” NOTHING could be further from the truth. While it is a more rare voice, it is a valid vocal category and it needs to be known that it IS a true vocal fach and DOES exist.
About a year ago, I had a 23-year-old contralto come to my New York Studio for a series of lessons. She was in a school where her instructor refused to train her as a contralto and vowed that she was a mezzo soprano. This caused vocal fold irritation, registration problems, and constant vocal fatigue.
It is a case where the instructor refused to listen to the singer, a HUGE mistake and one that I consider quite unprofessional. I vocalised this young singer as I do all of the contraltos, working a lower range with a wide throat, working on healthy vocal fold approximation at the head voice transition, which is quite low, and managing the breath through the ‘inhalare la voce’ or inhaling the voice. Avoiding the over-blowing of the vocal folds in this voice type is critical to vocal health.
Within the first hour of vocalising this young singer, it was obvious that she was indeed a lyrical contralto. Many teachers try to avoid this truth because they fear that the repertoire is too limited. But we CANNOT avoid the truth of our vocal instrument. We must stay true to our real voice type.
We had 5 lessons, chose some repertoire, and this young lady sounded as though she had never had a vocal problem.
I have one HUGE bit of advice for instructors, “LISTEN to your singers!” I tell singers, “If it feels wrong, it IS wrong!” Vocal freedom can only be accomplished when we sing in the correct vocal category.
This young singer later changed teaches because her instructor would not listen to her and acknowledge her true voice type. When ego overrides logic, you have a young singer who could develop many vocal problems. These problems could plague the singer for decades all due to one inappropriate instructor.
My advice to young singers? "Listen to your voice." Stay true to what feels good. Find an instructor who is flexible, not one who is ego-centred, and enjoy your study and your vocal growth.
© David L. Jones 2017
More Articles by David L. Jones
Training the Contralto Voice
How often have you attended a concert and felt the excitement of the audience, as a real Contralto was about to take the stage? Whether in opera or oratorio... (click here for full article)
On the Contralto Singer
For those of you who do not believe there is such a thing as a contralto voice, THINK AGAIN! There are great examples of this voice type. Sadly many younger... (click here for full article)
Types of Contraltos
I still find it fascinating that there seems to be a consistent denial that contraltos exist. They DO exist and are alive and well. Perhaps those in the teaching field think... (click here for full article)
A Little More on the Contralto
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... (click here for full article)