What It Is And How To Start Practicing It
Let me start off by saying that singing messa di voce is not easy and is usually practiced by seasoned vocalists who have worked for many years to do it properly. But it’s a great exercise of breath-management and phonation control, which is to say engaging the vocal folds (cords) with the proper onset (starting point) and closure. It is the ultimate exercise when done correctly. The singer who has established secure and complete breath-management can execute it. It is possible and a great exercise to shoot for.
The phrase messa di voce means, “placing of the voice” (it shouldn’t be confused with mezza voce, which means, “half voice” and refers to the use of a softer, quieter tone). Messa di voce is a swelling of the voice, all on a single note, which starts pianissimo (very softly) and gets increasingly louder and then after the crescendo peaks loudly (forte), the voice then slowly begins the decrescendo until reaching the initial pianissimo level of sound.
Let me give you a couple of common pitfalls when attempting messa di voce. Both of which result in a breathy tone that lacks vibrancy, strength and a trace of vibrato. The first is running out of air too early, as it requires a long phrase to be done properly. The other is slack vocal fold closure before the end of the exercise.
Let me give you a starting point for executing messa di voce. Remember, the goal is consistency of airflow. The reason this is difficult is because of the changing of dynamic levels, from soft to loud and back. Also, remembering, and applying, the appoggio breathing technique will help quite a bit. As a refresher, keep your chest and sternum high (not too high, about as high as your chest rises when arms are raised), shoulders down and relaxed. Take a complete but not overcrowded (too full), silent breath, and turn the airflow immediately into tone with a good onset, managing the exit of airflow, taking care not to waste any. The expanding should primarily be felt in the lower ribs and oblique area, as well as partially in the stomach. And, most importantly, keep your chest in this inhalation, high position for as long as possible while singing.
All right, let’s start. The best way to start is to divide the exercise up into three different stages and to voice it in your lower-middle range. The first stage is to sing the note from pianissimo to forte. Second, take a quiet renewed breath. And third go from forte to pianissimo. After some time and practice, eliminate step two and combine one and three, all in one breath. Then you can work with it at higher vocal ranges and with each of the vowels.