A New Look at Vocal Registers

The following post was written by one of our top voice teachers, Anne. I asked her to write it when she described to me her fantastic way of explaining vocal registers (one of the most difficult vocal concepts out there) to students.

Colors of the Registers

Head voice and chest voice are tricky. As singers, we tend to want to start here. They should be easy, right? We know where our head is, and we know where our chest voice is. Our heads are above our chests, so it is only logical that our head voice rings above our chest voice. Except it isn’t. Because we rarely sing in just head voice or just chest voice. We mix the two voices together, and that changes depending on the song we are doing and how we want the song to sound. And as it turns out, it isn’t very easy at all.

Pianists have the advantage of having the keyboard in front of them. They look down and right there is middle C. And everything above that (for the most part) is in the treble clef. And everything below that (for the most part) is the bass clef. As singers, we don’t have the luxury. We can’t see what our vocal folds are doing. So we will have to do the next best thing. We will have to visualize.

Think of head voice and chest voice as colors. I know this is an oversimplification, but for right now, it can help you figure out how to use these areas of the voice. The chest voice is blue. Blue is a dark, cool color, like something deep underground. The head voice is yellow; light and vibrant like daffodils and the sunshine. Just bear with me here. I promise.

Now, go ahead and imagine that you have two blobs of paint. On the left is the blue paint, our visualization of the chest voice. On the right is the yellow paint, our visualization of the head voice. Mix blue and yellow and what do you have? Green. The mixed voice is green, with more blue or more yellow depending on how much chest voice and how much head voice you are using. For example, when I sing in an opera, I use a lot of my head voice. We are talking a ton of yellow all across the board, with very little blue even in the lowest parts of my range. However, if I am belting, I am trying to keep a lot of blue in the green, and there will be very little yellow in the sound.

The chest voice doesn’t hit a point and suddenly stop and leave you with only your head voice. Think about it more like a green that is getting lighter. In the same way, I can sing the same note with more head voice or with more chest voice. How dark do I want that green to be? I can control that by adding more yellow (head voice) or blue (chest voice). They can blend and run into each other. There can be a lot of one or a lot of the other, or just a whole lot of mixed-up green.

Is this a perfect method? Of course not. Unfortunately, nothing really is. But it is a good way to think about the registers and the mixes. It is very important to know what we are doing as singers, but having a visualization is a very helpful way to wrap our heads around something that we can’t even see and begin to make sense of all the beautiful colors our voices can create.

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