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Voice Registration

Voice Registration

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Dr Daniel K. Robinson on Nov 02, 2010
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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Djarts Voice Coaching ~ www.djarts.com.au
© Daniel K. Robinson - 2010Page
By Daniel K. Robinson
One of the hardest areas of voice teaching, and therefore learning, is the abilityto describe in words that which the singing student is experiencing. As singers,we don’t have tangible instruments. The larynx is housed inside the neck andthis can hinder our conceptual realisation of what it is or isn’t doing. Add to thisthe need for singers to describe the sounds their voices are producing and it canget very confusing.As a young singer I remember first coming into contact with the terminology,
“Head Voice and Chest Voice” 
. This terminology, I soon learnt, was a way inwhich singers went about describing the sounds they were making. For example,if the notes where high and light a singer might describe this placement of soundas
‘Head Voice’
. Vice versa, if a sound was sung in the lower part of the singersrange and exhibited a full body of timbre then the singer might describe thissound as
‘Chest Voice’
. This descriptive analysis of the voice and it’s productioncomes from century's past when the singing teacher fraternity held the view thatvoice production was either housed in the head or the chest - depending on thetype of note the singer preferred. Of course recent developments in anatomicalknowledge have assured us that phonation happens at the level of the vocalfolds which are housed inside the larynx. Any sensations experienced in the heador chest are therefore sympathetic and do not represent the origin of the sound.Whilst the scientific revolution of singing teaching has yet to fully permeate thesinging community there have been some definite movements of thought andmanners in which these movements describe the voices activity.One of the first changes to our description of the voice and its production camefrom Jo Estill who recognised that Head Voice/Chest Voice was not onlyanatomically incorrect but also limited in it’s ability to accurately articulate whatwas ‘going on’. For example, if a student was singing in the upper reaches of their range (head voice), but did so with a full body of voice (chest voice) howdid one describe that sound? Estill started to use terminology such as
‘ThickFold/Thin Fold’
. Simply, Thick fold/Thin fold descriptors addressed theanatomical question over timbre. Using the previous example, when a student issinging in the upper reaches of their range that student can apply a thick fold orthin fold (anatomical description of the vocal fold activity) depending on theirartistic preference. This was a giant leap forward, especially for contemporarysinging teachers, because it suddenly allowed for descriptive analysis of voicequalities such as ‘belt’. To extend the previous example, if a singer is singing inthe upper reaches of their range and they are applying a thick fold activity the
Djarts Voice Coaching ~ www.djarts.com.au
© Daniel K. Robinson - 2010Page
sound will often produce a sound akin to the contemporary ‘power ballad’ of the1980’s and 90’s. Of course multiple combinations can be achieved with the Thickfold/Thin fold descriptors.I commenced using the Estill terminology in my teaching studio during the late90’s and it opened up a world of realisation and communication for me and mystudents. However, after a couple of years I came to find shortcomings in thismanner of description. What about falsetto in male voice? How would I describean even mix of thick and thin fold? Even more confusing - how do I address the’break’ mid-way through a student’s voice? The Estill methodology haddescriptive terms for some of these areas, but did they suffice? Were theystudent friendly? As far as the Estill descriptors had come...had we come farenough?Head Voice, Chest Voice, Thin Fold, Thick Fold...it was all becoming a littleconfusing. It was around the turn of the century (2001) that I was introduced toa new book,
“BodyMind and Voice” by Leon Thurman and Graham Welch
. Thisbook is revolutionary and presents sound research into the mechanics andartistry of the human voice. One chapter of particular note, “The Voice Qualitiesthat are referred to as Vocal Registers” unpacked voice registration in ananatomical, yet easy to understand manner. Below is a visual representation of the ‘4 Register Model’ as presented in ‘BodyMind and Voice’. This understandingof the voice soon produced clarity for myself as well as my students.
“Your basic voice quality families are all intermarried with another family treeof voice qualities that are commonly called 
vocal registers
. These vocal register families are created primarily (but not exclusively) by different degrees of contraction intensity between your shortener and lengthener muscles, working in agonist-antagonist relationships. These are the samemuscles that produce your capable range of vocal pitches. So, within your entire capable pitch range, there are several pitch regions that have distinct sound qualities.” (Thurman & Welch 2000, p422)
Djarts Voice Coaching ~ www.djarts.com.au
© Daniel K. Robinson - 2010Page
To simplify, it might be suggested that the Thurman and Welch model looselycombines the old ‘Chest Voice/Head Voice’ model with the Estil ‘Thin Fold/ThickFold’ model and delivers it as 4 Registers: Pulse; Lower; Upper; Flute/Falsetto—which in turn interact with muscular activity: Shorteners and Lengtheners.In practical terms, a pop singer will often find themselves singing predominantlyin the Lower register with occasional transitions into the Upper register. Thesinger can determine the ‘timbre or colour’ of the notes by controlling theshortener/lengthener balance. Specifically, a female vocalist singing a 1980’spower ballad would predominantly sing with shortener dominance in both thelower and upper registers. If the same singer is wanting to present ‘whistletones (very high notes)’ as exemplified by pop diva’s such as Mariah Carey thenthe shortener muscles completely disengage to allow the lengthener muscles toaccess the ‘Flute’ register. Similarly, a male singer who is accessing the ‘Falsetto’ register does so by disengaging all shortener muscle activity. Of course a myriadof combinations can be formed by the singer according to their artistic flow.The 4 register model also allows for the muscular transitions which take placewhen moving between the registers. Beginner students often have a definite ‘break’ in their sound between the lower and upper registers. This primarytransition; lower-upper will require attention if a student is looking to movesmoothly between the registers without jarring or missing notes. The secondarytransitions; pulse-lower and upper-flute/falsetto might also prove problematic.Transitions are essentially the coordination of the muscular activity and shouldbe worked on in team with your singing teacher.The four register model is now being used widely in both tertiary institutions andsuburban studios. It is important to note that if your singing teacher is using a

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