#23   Women's Vocal Registers

The human voice is a remarkable instrument. When it is functioning in a well-coordinated manner,  the ability to sing from our lowest tones to our highest is enabled by shifts in musculature which are referred to as registers in the voice.  It’s important to learn  how to recognize by feel and sound these shifts, and develop the ability to blend from register to register.  

As we are singing our lowest tones the thyroarytenoids are shortening the vocal folds, making them thicker and looser. As we continue upwards the cricothyroid become more engaged and the vocal folds become longer, thinner and tenser, in addition the vocalis muscle adds isometric tautness to the musculature which controls thickness of the folds as well as pitch. 

Most of our singing is done in the modal register or middle voice with dynamic equilibrium taking place between the vocal folds contracting (thyroarytenoids) and releasing (cricothyroids).  However, often we are required to venture into both the registers above and below the middle voice.    

The terminology for vocal registers  has changed in the last 30 years, and new descriptions are replacing the older more familiar terms; chest, middle and head with glottal fry, modal, flute/falsetto and whistle. However varied the terminology, it’s good to recognize the different qualities of tone and understand the physiological functions that produce those differences, and more importantly have strategies for navigating comfortably from register to register. 

Earlier in Smoothing Out The Breaks #5 , I suggested exercises for women to use to mix from the lighter mechanism of head voice above the second passagio downward into the middle or modal voice, as a practical approach to bridging across the second passagio, and to facilitate the movement from middle voice to head voice by developing a balance to the musculature. 

Now let us consider the method women may use for blending the registers moving upwards through the first passagio from chest voice to head voice.  This register change occurs in the area of the E flat, E and F above middle C.

When one is learning to traverse upward from the chest voice, allow for each tone to lighten a little as you are ascending, using the head mechanism as the tool for blending. Consider the concept of preparing the top with lightening the bottom. Changing the management of your air across this passagio is also vital, and as my wonderful teacher in San Francisco, Alden Gilchrist recommends “Use less breath, and encourage the singer not to believe the sound she hears internally…” as the chest voice may sound quite shallow within the singer, yet carry very well outwardly, as opposed to a low head tone which may sound big and hollow to the singer, but not carry outwardly very well at all. 

Try this:

To blend the middle/modal voice downward to chest voice try this descending pattern.

Start on the A above middle C and take the exercise downward a minor 3rd.

5  5  5  5  5  4  3  2  1

a  i  a  u  a----------


To blend the middle/modal voice downward to chest voice  and blend chest voice to middle/modal voice try this descending and ascending pattern.

Start on the A above middle C and take the exercise downward a minor third. 


8  7  6  5--- 4  3  2  1 (breath)  1  2  3  4---5  6  7  8 

a-----------i -------- (breath)   i -----------a--------



Writing Thoughts on Singing has been a wonderful project for me, and I would love to continue to share my Thoughts with you on a bimonthly basis.

I would appreciate your feedback as to whether these articles have been helpful to you, and though I have a list of topics that continues to grow, I would enjoy  very much answering any of your questions about singing.   


Have a very fine fortnight,



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