"Appoggiare" is Italian for "to lean"

“Appoggiare” is Italian for “to lean”

My voice teacher, Donna Reid, and I felt as though we had made history at my voice lesson today. Together, we arrived at a higher level of understanding of how placement/appoggio/vocal resonance works. And we think we may finally understand a concept that Cornelius Reid often talked about in his teaching, but that had until today been bewildering to us: what he called “register rotation”:

[A]n aural perception of the textural changes which occur when the voice moves from one extreme of the tonal range to its opposite, when swelling or diminishing, or when negotiating larger intervals. [from Reid’s Dictionary of Vocal Terminology].

What I seem to understand at a new level of clarity is still resistant to being put in clear words for others to understand, but here’s the gist of it:

The way we energize notes has to vary according to the pitch (as well as the vowel, volume, musical context, etc.). In order for our voice to sound unified from top to bottom (or vice versa), the environment for each note has to adjust to what is appropriate for that individual note. Paradoxically, if we sing all notes in the same way, they will come out sounding mismatched. The factors that have to adjust include the way we put energy/pressure into a note—what is sometimes known by the Italian term appoggio. I imagine that different singers experience this differently, but for me, the lower pitches demand a “growly” kind of attack, which I experience low in my larynx and which feels firm and like a physical contact between tangible objects. The higher pitches, on the other hand, demand a “cloudy” kind of attack, which I experience in my face or head or even above me, depending on the pitch, and which feels softer and more diffuse.

When I allow the appoggio to shift in the way I am attempting to describe, singing becomes easy and deliciously sensuous. Singing a simple arpeggio in this manner during my lesson brought me to tears; the simplicity and purity of the experience was deeply moving. What’s more, Donna admitted to goosebumps and wet eyes from just having heard my arpeggio.



  1. I have found it helpful to think of register rotation as a shift in the dominance of one register in relation to the other. Pitchwise at a medium intensity it will occur as one ascends from the lower half of the octave to the upper half. It’s not that the chest drops out, but that it assumes a role more like an anchor point for the falsetto to work against. The problems occur when the chest becomes continuously more dominant in the upper half of the second octave and precludes the participation of the falsetto. In this situation the instrument overloads, resulting sooner or later in labored, wobbly, under-pitch singing. We hear it most every performance these days. Of course this rotation of dominance is as essential in the messa di voce as it is in traversing the spectrum of pitch.

    • Michael Hanko says:

      Thanks for explaining this from your perspective, Walter. It sounds very similar to what I have understood intellectually for a long time. The new piece for me is the experience of feeling the actual rotation as a movement of the voice. (I still don’t know exactly WHAT is moving, however!)

  2. By lower half of the octave to the upper half of the octave, I’m speaking of the second octave of the human voice when considering the potential range as three octaves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *