What Is a Voice Crack & Why Does It Happen?
First of all, what constitutes a voice crack or a voice break? A voice break is the point in a person’s range where you’re moving from one part of your register into another. (See my post on How Many Vocal Registers Are There?) Sometimes that transition can be smooth, and sometimes it is not. When it isn’t, people often call it a “crack.”
There are a lot of reasons why a voice will crack:
- At puberty when the entire vocal production apparatus just gets way bigger in a short period of time
- Pushing your voice higher or lower
- Vocal chord lesions due to extreme use of the voice like screaming
- Tension due to nerves
(You can see this short article on Why Does My Voice Crack? to learn more about each of those reasons.) But the reason I would like to discuss is the move from one register to another. It most often happens when someone has not developed their “mixed” voice, and they are moving straight to head from chest voice.
You Have Four Choices In Dealing With Your Break
If you are using the full extent of your range, you have to switch from one register to another, and you have four choices for how to handle the switch:
- Only sing in one register of your range so you never have to switch
- Learn how to smooth out the transition with training in mixed voice
- Continue singing out of control and in such a way that you occasionally risk cracking
- Learn how to work WITH your break
It’s this last one that I want to talk about. Billy DiCrosta gets on me about calling it a break. He wants everyone to think positively and call it a bridge, which I totally respect, but until you build the bridge, it IS going to be a break, and it IS going to crack.
Make Your Break Work For You Instead of Against You
You can’t get control over it until you know exactly when it’s going to happen. I suggest singing through your break as much as possible until you can plan for it. See if you can make it happen at the same time every time.
Some famous singers actually make the break part of their “sound.” They make it work FOR them. One of my favorites is Sarah McLaughlin. You can hear it in “In the Arms of An Angel.” There’s also Hank Williams “Lovesick Blues.” This is more of a yodel, but he’s still making his break work for him.
You gotta go back and forth across the break a bunch of times before you can start building the bridge.
Some singers feel it’s the worst thing in the world when their voice cracks in the middle of a performance. They feel like the entire performance is a failure or the recording of the song isn’t even worth sharing because they had one voice crack in it. This is a sad way to look at it.
The way I look at it, the voice is an interesting instrument because everyone’s is different. There is no such thing as vocal perfection. Everyone has unique qualities to their voice that they should try to bring out, voice cracks and all!
Learn To Be Content With Your Break
After singing through your break a bunch of times, you ought to be able to plan for it. At least, if it’s gonna happen, just make sure you know when and see if you can make it happen at the same spot every time.
If It’s Still Bothering You, Get Training
A vocal coach who knows how to train people in mixed voice is your best bet, but I can get you started in the right direction with a few tips:
- Sing more softly in your chest voice so the switch isn’t so obvious.
- Strengthen your entire range every day by doing a Daily Workout. The weaker the voice, the greater the chance of breaking.
- Sing in your head voice A LOT. Usually people’s head voices are the weakest part of their range, so singing way up in your head voice every day can really make a difference. Just take a song you know well and sing it as high in your range as you can. Abigail Connolly was cracking me up in the car one day by singing along with several Jacob Collier songs in a row an octave up. She said, “Welcome to my Octave Up Concert.” Lol! That’s practicing your head voice.
- Do slidey exercises where you sing a long note starting at the top of your range and sliding it down into your chest range over and over again.
- Work toward making the slide smoothly.
- Slow it down, and notice how it feels when you go through your break.
- If you’re doing it smoothly, well, there’s your bridge!
- Try to slow down the slide when you get to your bridge and stay there, singing the rest of the note right in your bridge.
- Now you’re singing in middle voice! It’s like learning how to ride a bike. Once you find it, you can usually get back there over and over again.
You’ll notice that the more warmed up you are, the harder it is to make your voice crack.
Make a Lifestyle Out of Being at Peace With Your Break
Even the best of us are going to have a moment when we’re not paying attention, or we’re getting lazy, and that voice crack is going to happen. Just smile, and KEEP GOING! If you’re fine with it, your audience will also be fine with it.
I’ll leave you with the example Shawn Mendes sets for reacting to his own voice cracks during a performance.