What are the Four types of Vocal Registers

Singing may seem easy to those who don’t know much about music, but it’s actually a lot more complicated than it seems.

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Trained singers use their chest, vocal chords, and head to control the pitch and tone of their voice when they sing. They can produce different vocal sounds by using four main ranges.

In this article, we will take a closer look at different singing ranges and also discuss common vocal problems that singers may experience.

What are the Vocal Registers

Understanding the concept of vocal registers can be a bit confusing. The term “register” actually refers to different aspects of the human voice.

A vocal register is a range of tones produced by a specific vibration pattern of the vocal folds. Since the vocal folds can produce various patterns, there are different vocal registers. Each register occurs within a specific range of pitches and creates a unique set of sounds.

Vocal registers are similar to how our voice changes when we go from low to high pitches. A skilled singer can smoothly transition between registers within their range, making it seamless and unnoticeable to the listener.

The Different Types of Vocal Registers

Scientists and professional singers have discovered that the vocal cords can create at least four different vibration patterns. However, not every singer can produce all four patterns.

Some patterns are too low for women to reach, while others are too high for men. Now, let’s take a closer look at these four voice ranges.

  • Falsetto

The term “falsetto” has been used in different ways throughout history, but nowadays it usually refers to the highest range that a male singer can reach. It resembles the head voice of a female singer, allowing them to hit even higher notes.

However, it’s important to note that the whistling register, which reaches the highest end of the vocal range, is rarely used because it produces a shrieking sound rather than a melodic one.

When singing falsetto, air from the lungs passes through the delicate edges of the vocal folds, creating a distinct tone. Unlike other vocal registers, falsetto primarily resonates in the head, reducing strain on the throat. The pitch range is determined by the force of air entering the skull from the lungs.

Compared to the head voice, which has a richer and longer-lasting sound with more overtones, falsetto produces fewer overtones. If you want to hear singing in this style, you can listen to Chanticleer, an all-male vocal ensemble.

Also Read: How to Expand Your Vocal Range Quickly?

  • Head voice

This vocal range has a lower pitch than the whistle and falsetto registers, but it sounds brighter and lighter than the “chest voice.” It’s a popular singing technique among musicians.

The main difference between falsetto and head voice is that head voice allows the vocal folds to narrow for a more powerful sound, while falsetto requires an open glottis. Overall, head voice has a more balanced resonance compared to falsetto, which can sometimes sound breathy and hollow.

Men often use falsetto as their head voice for added impact, but women usually don’t notice much difference between their head and chest voice.

If you’re a beginner and trying to hit high notes in this range, it’s easier to stick to the “ah” vowel sound. When singing in this range, the vocalist feels the resonance in their mouth, nasal cavities, and the bones of the skull. The specific tone is created by the rapid vibration of the vocal cords and the stretching of the vocal folds.

A great example of this vocal registration can be heard when Peter Auty sings “Walking in the Air” in the movie “The Snowman.”

  • Middle Register

The range of this register is different for men and women. In female singers, it falls between the chest and head registers.

For women, there is approximately an octave between the lower range called “primo” and the higher range called “secondo.”

In men, their middle voice is called the “zona di passaggio” and has a range of about a major third or fourth.

The timbre or sound quality of this register is a mix of tones from both the head and chest voice, which allows the singer to create rich and warm melodies.

If a vocalist can smoothly transition within this range, they are considered to be able to blend or mix the nearby registers. Beyoncé is a good example of someone who successfully combines her chest and head voices.

  • Chest Register

This voice register is called the “chest voice” or “modal voice,” and it involves using the vocal folds in a relaxed and natural way, similar to how we speak.

When speaking, women use their chest and middle registers, while men mainly use their chest register. Regardless of gender, this technique involves fully opening the vocal folds, allowing the sound waves to resonate throughout the upper body.

The chest voice produces a higher pitch than the lowest vocal fry range but overlaps with the lower end of the male head voice or the middle voice of females. The range of the chest voice varies depending on the individual’s vocal type.

The timbre or sound quality of the chest voice is darker and warmer compared to the middle and head voices, giving it a mellower overall feel.

Vocal trainers often refer to this register as the “heavy” or “laryngeal mechanism” since it utilizes the thickest vocal folds.

To hear an example of the middle register, you can listen to Aileen Quinn singing “Tomorrow” from the 1980 film Annie.

How to Identify your Vocal Register

Understanding voice ranges can indeed be quite challenging, especially when different terms are used interchangeably. Singing instructors and voice coaches often contribute to this confusion by using inconsistent terminology.

To simplify things, vocal registers are created by different vibratory patterns of the vocal cords in the larynx. While there is some overlap, each pattern produces a unique sound and operates within a specific range.

The terms like head voice, chest voice, falsetto, upper register, and lower register may be used to describe these vocal registers, but it can be confusing to hear them all in one discussion.

Vocal Breaks and Bridging

Vocal breaks are sudden changes in volume and tone that occur when switching between different vocal ranges. These breaks happen when the structures in the larynx don’t adjust properly to the changes in pitch.

As I mentioned before, each vocal range requires different coordination of the vocal cords. If a singer puts too much effort into one register, it can cause breaks in their voice.

Most breaks are unintentional and occur because the vocal cords struggle to coordinate during these transitions. However, there are cases where breaks are intentionally used in certain singing styles like yodelling and R&B to enhance the vocal performance.

In vocal training, the term “bridging the registers” or “blending” refers to the ability to smoothly transition from one register to another without noticeable gaps.

Final Words

Most of us have a preferred vocal range where we feel most comfortable, so it can be challenging to learn new vocal skills. It can be frustrating to focus on sounds that seem weak or unpleasant when we already sing well in our preferred range.

But to become a professional performer, it’s important to be able to sing in different styles and explore different vocal registers. Don’t give up! With time, effort, and knowledge, you’ll see the payoff and become a more versatile singer.

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