Vocal Registers Explained
All singers know of vocal registers. But, how many are there really? This is a heavily debated topic in the world of singing, and the answer can become quite complex. But the simple way to define and explain the vocal registers is to tie them to the actual actions and position of your vocal folds while singing in each register. Based on this, we can clearly differentiate between five registers; Vocal Fry, Chest, Head, Falsetto and Whistle.
The “Vocal Fry” is the lazy and gravelly sound of your voice, especially prominent right after waking up in the morning, and it is your lowest register. A slight release in your vocal folds’ tension and a lack of subglottic pressure cause an irregular vibration of the folds, which results in this croaky sound that also is the origin of its name.
The “Chest” Register is the one that most people use when speaking. The folds are approximated and in a thicker position than in head register. When speaking or singing in chest register, you mostly feel the vibrations in your chest, and that’s the reason for its name.
Your vocal folds aren’t only able to change positions, but also mass. And that’s why in “Head” Register your vocal folds are still approximated, but in a thinner position than in chest register. The thinner position allows your vocal folds to vibrate at a higher speed. When you use this register, you mostly feel the vibrations in your head, and that’s where its name comes from.
In the “Falsetto” Register your folds are slightly separated and in an even thinner position, allowing them to vibrate even faster. When using this register, you don’t feel any vibration at all.
And lastly, your “Whistle” Register. The name comes from the sound that is similar to a whistle from the lips. In this register, your vocal folds DON’T vibrate. They are pulled tight with an incredibly tiny space for air molecules to travel through, and these molecules create high pitched frequencies without the vocal folds vibrating.
Now, you might be thinking, “but what about the mix?” Well, in regards to the position of the vocal folds, the “passaggio” – also known as “middle voice”, “mix” and “break” – is the transition between two overlapping registers. Fun fact: the Vocal Fry is the only register that overlaps more than two registers, even though it’s harder to manage on the higher notes. And the Whistle Register does not overlap with any other register, because the vocal folds are not vibrating in this particular register.
Now that we have all of this cleared up, do your vocal warm up and sing your favorite song! 🙂