A vocal register is a range of tones produced by a particular vibratory pattern of the vocal folds. The vocal folds are capable of producing several different vibratory patterns. Therefore we can categorize different vibratory patterns depending on their range of pitches and their sound characteristics. Let’s break it down and have a closer look at each register.
Vocal Registers in SLP
In Speech Pathology we distinguish three registers of the voice. The Modal, the Glottal Fry and Falsetto Register. This applies to speech and singing.
The Modal register is mostly used in daily conversation; all the layers of the vocal folds are vibrating (body and cover).
Glottal fry is a register with low pitch and a rough sound which is produced by a low sub-glottal pressure and reduced tension of the vocalis muscle. The vocal folds carry a lot of mass and the opening and closing of the vocal folds happens very slowly.
The highest register of phonation is called Falsetto. In this register the vocal folds are long and thin and briefly in contact; only the cover of the vocal folds is vibrating (the outer most layer of the vocal folds).
Trained singers are able to sing in all registers. Most parts of the song however are sang in a modal register, there is some tension on the vocal fold but they would not be over-adducted or extremely stretched.
One more register should be mention, namely the Whistle register. It is not used in conversational speech but singers like Mariah Carey and Ariana Grande use it occasionally in their songs. In this register the vocal folds are stretched even further than in Falsetto, and instead of adducting (closing), the edges of the vocal folds are producing turbulences resulting in a flute-like sound.
Vocal Registers in Vocal Pedagogy
In vocal pedagogy you may hear different terms and that is because the registers are categorized by the range of pitches, rather than just the manner of vibration. Here are the general vocal registers for female and male singers.
Chest Voice: anything below the Eb4 (just above middle C). This register can be pretty big depending on how low the female singer can sing.
Chest mix: E4 – Bb4. You will mostly feel it resonating in your chest, but starting to feel some head voice starting to sneak in gradually.
Head Mix: B4 – Eb5. There’s more head voice mixed in and you can feel the release as you ascend but still feeling an attachment to chest.
Head voice: E5 – B5. This is the typical head voice feeling
Whistle voice: C6 and above.
Chest Voice: anything below the Bb3
Chest mix: B3 – Eb4. Sill in chest, but starting release and thin out
Head Mix: E4 – Bb4. In head voice, but still feeling a connection to the chest
Head voice: B4 – Eb5
Whistle voice: Anything above Eb5
Remember that registers are moveable, depending on your voice and style of music you’re singing you might experience a slightly different registration.
In addition to the registers we can create different vocal colors and qualities of sound. Having access to different vocal colors enables you to evoke a variety of emotions and makes their voice sound versatile and interesting. E.g. Breathy, light chest, strong mix, belt etc.
At the end, all these terms are designed to assist us in describing a characteristic of a sound, whether that’s a pitch range or vocal color. Knowledge of these terms can help you to decide which sounds you can produce or are asked to produce (e.g. when you work with a producer).
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