In this post, I will be discussing vocal registers, resonance and range, and how you can use the different registers of your voice and resonating areas to sing with ease and create a spectrum of variating sounds. So, while you may do some training to work towards achieving one consistent voice, you can also explore techniques to bring out other desired tones and colours to offer a multitude of voices!
If you have ever sung in a choir you have probably been organised into one of the voice types below. When learning to sing we fall into many different classifications of vocal type or range such as;
- Soprano, Range: B3 – G6
- Mezzo-Soprano, Range: G3 – A5
- Contralto, Range: E3 – F5
- Countertenor, Range: G3 – C6
- Tenor, Range: C3 – B4
- Baritone, Range: G2 – G4
- Bass, Range: D2 – E4.
These voice types indicate the scope of how high or low you voice can go and the breath of pitches you can sing. Within this vocal range, you will also hear different textures and characteristics, these are your vocal registers which we will discuss next.
A vocal register is a part of your vocal range produced by different vibrating patterns in the vocal folds. These registers are known as;
- vocal fry
- modal voice /chest voice
- mixed voice
- head voice
They occur between different pitches in your vocal range as the vocal folds vibrate in different ways (e.g. when moving from low to high). We can also understand our registers by feeling a resonance in the body, a certain timbre or vocal quality, and by obvious vocal breaks (which prior to training may be a pronounced indication of when the voice is switching register). For example, have you ever been singing, and as the melody moves higher in pitch you suddenly hear an abrupt change in sound, and a creek, or crack and possibly a thinning of vocal quality? If like 99% of us that is a yes, then what you are experiencing is a change in register as your vocal folds start vibrating differently, to access a higher pitch. With professional training, we try to smooth out this obvious break with different techniques, here is one you can try at home:
Try singing a siren sound (like a big slide from the bottom to the top of your voice) to an ‘ah’ in your lower register, then to an ‘oo’ just before you think your break is going to occur and then all the way up into your high register – then change to an ‘ah’ on the way back down. You might not get a smooth transition straight away, but with practice and diaphragm support you should find this a useful exercise in smoothing out your vocal break.
While we work towards achieving this smoother transition, and what is called a ‘mixed voice’, it is also important to note that you might occasionally want to emphasise this break, to add certain emotional vocal qualities for stylistic reasons.
So, we mentioned earlier the term resonance areas in relation to the body. Like all instruments the voice has a resonator, and this can enhance or dampen sounds, and brighten or darken them. However, what makes the human voices resonator unique to other instruments is that it can actively change shape. As we previously discussed male and female voices can roughly be divided into three registers, the chest, head and falsetto for men, and the chest, middle and head for women. When you sing pitches that sit in one of these registers, you should also feel the sound resonate as a physical vibration in the body. The main areas of resonance are the head (when singing in a head voice or falsetto), and the chest when singing in the chest voice. In addition to these areas sound also resonates in the ‘vocal tract’, the vocal tract is a container of air that starts from the top of the vocal folds and goes all the way to the edge of the lips. Sound is created at the vocal folds and travels through the vocal tract and out of the mouth. For example, one part of the vocal tract which can alter the quality of the sound we produce is the nasal region, or your ‘mask resonator’ as it is sometimes called. You may feel a buzz in the front of you face and notice a brighter, nasal quality to your singing if using this resonating space.
However, while we feel a sense of resonance in these areas, as they are cavities and not physical openings the resonance is identified more as a feeling of vibration or buzzing. A simple exercise you can try to begin to feel how sound vibrates and then resonates in the body is;
Try humming from low to high with one hand on your chest and the other on your nose. As you slide through different registers try to feel where the sound vibrates the most as you move through different pitches and resonating cavities. You might initially feel a strong vibration against your hand on your chest, and then a buzzing in your head!
Learning to feel resonance, and using it to create volume is key to healthy singing technique. It is the vocal folds that get tired, not the air inside the vocal tract, so finding resonance spots to help achieve natural projection is important for efficient singing.
You can do some exercises to explore different placements of the voice. This exercise will start by focusing in on the front of the face and nose and moving back towards the throat. To visualise the placements, place your thumbs on your chin and move your index fingers in the position as described below as you sing a five note major scale (one note per position). Then focus on the place where the index finger is positioned, and feel the sensation of where that sound is being placed. For example, as vocal instructor Katrina Schmidt’s exercise details;
- The index finger is placed directly behind the nose; the sound should be brilliant and bright.
- Place your index finger on your cheek bone to feel sensations in the front of the cheeks and in the front of the mouth.
- Place your index finger in front of the ear at the jaw joint to feel sensations farther back in your cheeks and mouth.
- Place your index finger behind the ears to feel sensations even farther back in your mouth.
- Place your index finger on your neck, just below the jaw parallel with your ear, to feel in the back of your mouth (they will sound dark and fuzzy). 1
Overall, this exercise allows you to explore the vibrations and physical sensations of where you voice is placed when you sing different pitches. With this, and the other exercises and information above, you can begin to understand how your voice range, registers and places of resonance all work together – and how you can control and manipulate them to sing safely, more effectively and with varied tone and colour!