How To Identify Vocal Registers

If you’ve ever tried to identify vocal registers before, I’m sure you’ve realised that this is one of the trickiest areas to get your head around. This is mostly due to the incorrect terminology many singing teachers and vocal coaches use. You’ve probably heard terms such as head voice, chest voice, falsetto, upper register, lower register, all in the same conversation, which can be really confusing.
Well, I’m going to try and shed some light on this matter. Hopefully, that will help you identify vocal registers, get a better understanding of how your own voice works and ultimately help you become a better singer.

Vocal registers are generated in the larynx and are the result of the different vibratory patterns that the vocal chords can produce. Each of the patterns generates a characteristic sound and operates within a particular range, although some overlapping occurs. Based on this definition it is possible to identify 4 vocal registers: the Vocal Fry register, the Modal Voice register, the Falsetto register and the Whistle register.

The 4 Vocal Registers In Detail: The Vocal Fry

The Vocal Fry is the lowest register and requires a loose glottal closure to allow the air to bubble through. This register is used to sing at pitches below the Modal Voice register. It can also be used for therapeutic reasons, for example, to help develop the lower Modal Voice. And finally, it is used quite often as a stylistic tool to give more expression to our singing.

The Modal Voice Register

Next up is the Modal Voice register, which is the normal register we use for singing and talking. Typically a well-trained singer can sing 2 octaves or more in Modal Voice register. The Modal Voice has a broad harmonic spectrum, is capable of dynamic variations and is rich in overtones.

The Falsetto Register

On the lower pitches of the Modal Voice register, the vocal chords are quite thick and because of this thickness, a large part of them is brought into contact and the glottis remains closed for a considerable time in each cycle. As the pitch rises, the chords are stretched and become longer and thinner with less surface getting in contact. As the physical limits are approached, the vocal cords need to switch to a different vibratory pattern to be able to sing at a higher pitch. The higher pattern is called Falsetto register, which lies above the Modal Voice register and overlaps it by approximately one octave. In the Falsetto register, only the ligamentous edges of the vocal chords enter into the vibratory pattern. The result of this is a breathy, flute-like sound, that’s more limited in dynamics than the Modal Voice register.

The Whistle Register

The highest register is called Whistle. Mariah Carey is probably the most famous example of Whistle register use in Pop Music. There’s not much info about the nature of this register as what physically happens makes difficult to film the vocal cords in action. However, we know that such whistle-like sound is produced by the transition of air through a triangular opening between the arytenoid cartilages.

I hope this blog has helped you gain a basic knowledge and some more control on your Vocal registers. Any questions, feel free to get in touch

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