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The Alto Voice In Male Choirs
General Remarks
Mutation Of The Voice
Vowels Consonants Articulation
Registers Of The Voice
Physiology Of The Voice
Compass Of The Child-voice
How To Secure Good Tone
Position Breathing Attack Tone Formation

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Position Breathing Attack Tone Formation
How To Secure Good Tone
Compass Of The Child-voice
Physiology Of The Voice
Registers Of The Voice
Vowels Consonants Articulation
Mutation Of The Voice
General Remarks
The Alto Voice In Male Choirs

Registers Of The Voice

It may be observed, in listening to an ascending series of tones sung by
an untrained or by a badly-trained adult voice, that at certain pitches
the tone-quality undergoes a radical change; while a well-trained singer
will sing the same series of tones without showing any appreciable break
or change in tone-quality, although the highest note will present a
marked contrast in timbre to the lowest. The breaks or changes in
register so noticeable in the untrained voice are covered or equalized
in the voice trained by correct methods. These breaks in both male and
female voices occur at certain pitches where the tone-producing
mechanism of the larynx changes action, and brings the vocal bands into
a new vibratory form. "A register consists of a series of tones produced
by the same mechanism."-- Emil Behnke in "Voice, Song, and Speech."
G. Edward Stubbs, in commenting upon the above definition, says:

"By mechanism is meant the action of the larynx which produces
different sets of vibrations, and by register is meant the range of
voice confined to a given set of vibrations. In passing the voice from
one register to another, the larynx changes its mechanism and calls into
play a different form of vibration."

The number of vocal registers, or vibratory forms, which the vocal bands
assume, is still a matter of dispute, and their nomenclature is equally
unsettled. The old Italian singing-masters gave names to parts of the
vocal compass corresponding to the real or imaginary bodily sensations
experienced in singing them; as chest-voice, throat-voice, head-voice.
Madame Seiler, in "The Voice in Singing," gives as the result of
original investigations with the laryngoscope five different actions of
the vocal bands which she classifies as "first and second series of the
chest-register," "first and second series of the falsetto register" and
"head-register." Browne and Behnke, in "Voice, Song, and Speech," divide
the male voice into three registers, and the female into five. They are
termed "lower thick," "upper thick," "lower thin," "upper thin" and
"small." Other writers speak of three registers, "chest," "medium" and
"head," and still others of two only, viz., the chest and the head.

Modern research has shown what was after all understood before, that, if
the vibratory form assumed by the vocal bands for the natural production
of a certain set of tones is pushed by muscular exertion above the point
where it should cease, inflammation and weakening of the vocal organs
will result, while voice-deterioration is sure to follow.
A physiological basis has reinforced the empirical deductions of the old
Italian school. In dealing with children's voices, it is necessary to
recognize only two registers, the thick, or chest-register, and the
thin, or head-register. Further subdivisions will only complicate the
subject without assisting in the practical management of their voices.
Tones sung in the thick or chest-register are produced by the full, free
vibration of the vocal bands in their entire length, breadth and
thickness. The tones of the thin or head-register result from the
vibration of the vocal bands along their inner edges alone.

We may then conclude from the foregoing that children up to the age of
puberty, at least in class or chorus singing, should use the thin or
head-register only.

1st. It is from a physiological standpoint entirely safe. The use of
this register will not strain or overwork the delicate vocal organs of

2d. Its tones are musical, pure and sweet, and their use promotes the
growth of musical sensibility and an appreciation of beauty in tone.

3d. The use of the thick or chest-voice in class-singing is dangerous.
It is wellnigh impossible to confine it within proper limits.

It is unnecessary to discuss the second point. Anyone who has noted the
contrast between the harsh quality of tone emitted from childish throats
when using the chest-voice, and the pure, flute-like sound produced when
the head-tones are sung will agree that the last is music and the first
noise, or at any rate very noisy, barbaric music.

The third point, if true, establishes the first, for, if the chest-voice
cannot be safely used, it follows that children must use the
head-register or stop singing. It must be said, before proceeding
further, that it is not denied that the thick voice can be used by
children without injury, if properly managed; that is, if the singing be
not too loud, and if it be not carried too high. It is also fully
recognized, that, when theoretically the head-voice alone is used, it
yet, when carried to the lower tones, insensibly blends into the thick
register; but if this equalization of registers is obtained so
completely that no perceptible difference in quality of voice can be
observed, why then the whole compass is practically the thin or

Now, can the thick voice be used in school-singing, and confined to the
lower notes? And is it fairly easy to secure soft and pure vocalizations
in this register? Let the experience of thousands of teachers in the
public schools of this and other lands answer the last question.

It would be as easy to stop the growth of the average boy with a word,
or to persuade a crowd of youngsters to speak softly at a game of
baseball, as to induce them, or girls either for that matter, to use the
voice gently, when singing with that register in which it is possible to
push the tone and shout.

There should be some good physiological reason for the habitual recourse
to the strident chest-voice so common with boys, and nearly as usual
with girls. And there is a good reason. It is lack of rigidity in the
voice-box or larynx. Its cartilages harden slowly, and even just before
the age of puberty the larynx falls far short of the firmness and
rigidity of structure, that characterize the organ in adult life. It is
physically very difficult for the adult to force the chest-voice beyond
its natural limits, which become fixed when full maturity of bodily
development is reached, but the child, whose laryngeal cartilages are
far more flexible, and move toward and upon each other with greater
freedom, can force the chest-voice up with great ease. The altitude of
pitch which is attained before breaking into the thin register is with
young children regulated by the amount of muscular exertion they put
forth. Even up to the change of voice, boys can often force the thick
register several notes higher than women sopranos.

It must be borne in mind that the thick voice is produced by the full,
free vibrations of the vocal bands in their entire length, breadth and

Imagine children six years of age carrying tones formed in this manner
to the extreme limit of their voice; yet they do it. The tone of infant
classes in Sunday-schools, and the tone of the primary schools, as they
sing their morning hymns or songs for recreation, is produced in nine
hundred and ninety-nine cases out of a thousand in exactly the way set
forth. If the vocal bands of children were less elastic, if they were
composed of stronger fibres, and protected from undue exertion by firm
connecting cartilage; in short, if children were not children, such
forcing would not be possible. If it were not for the wonderful
recuperative power of childhood, serious effects would follow such vocal

We are now prepared to understand that common phenomenon of the
child-voice, termed the "movable break." Every public school teacher who
has had experience in teaching singing must be familiar with the meaning
of the term, though possibly unaware of it. Allusion has already been
made to the fact that, in primary grades, the thick quality, if
permitted, will be carried as high as the children sing, to

[Music: e'']

for example. If they are required to sing the higher tones lightly, then
the three or four tones, just below the pitch indicated, will be sung in
a thin quality of voice. The place of the break or the absence of any
break at all will depend upon the degree of loudness permitted.

Pass now to a grade in which the pupils average eleven years of age.
These can use the thick tones as high as

[Music: d'' e'']

only with great exertion, and, if required to sing softly, will pass
into the thin register at a lower pitch than the primary class. Now, go
to a room where the children range in age from thirteen to fifteen
years. The girls will still use thick tones up to

[Music: b' c'' d'']

The pitch at which the break occurs will vary in individual cases
according to physique or ambition to sing well; but the boys (excluding
those whose voices have begun to break) will manifest the utmost
repugnance to singing the higher notes. "Can't sing high" will be the
reply when you ask them why they do not sing. And they are correct. They
cannot, not with the thick voice. Even when putting forth considerable
exertion, they will pass to the thin voice at

[Music: g' {or} a']

and lower, if they sing softly. This phenomenon, then, is the "movable
break" of the child-voice. The pitch at which the child-voice passes
from the thick to the thin voice depends first upon the age; second,
upon the amount of physical energy employed, and third, upon the bodily
vigor of the child.

It may also be added that boys' voices break lower than girls' during
the year or two preceding change of voice. When, now, it is remembered
that the adult female voice leaves the chest-register at

[Music: f' f#']

it will be admitted by everyone who has had actual experience in class
singing in schools or elsewhere, that the facts set forth in reference
to the ability of the child to carry the thick voice from one to eight
tones higher than the adult, has a very important bearing on the subject
of training children's voices.

But, is it physically injurious? It may be said that, as regards upward
forcing of the vocal register, authorities upon the adult voice are
united. Leo Kofler, in "The Art of Breathing," p. 168, says: "I have met
female trebles that used this means of forcing up the chest-tones as
high as middle A, B, C, and (one can hardly conceive of the physical
possibility of so doing) even as far as D and E flat. The reason why
this practice is so dangerous lies in the unnatural way in which the
larynx is held down in the throat, and in the force that is exercised by
the tension muscles of the vocal ligaments and the hard pressure of the
muscles of the tongue-bone.... I have examined with the laryngoscope
many ladies who had the habit of singing the chest-tones too high, and,
without exception, I have found their throats in a more or less diseased
condition. Laryngitis, either alone or complicated with pharyngitis,
relaxation of the vocal ligaments, and sometimes paralysis of one of
them, are the most frequent results of this bad habit. If a singer is
afflicted with catarrhal trouble, it is always aggravated by this
abominable method of singing."

Emma Seiler, in "The Voice in Singing," p. 54, after describing the
action of the vocal ligaments in the production of the chest-voice and
alluding to the fact that such action can be continued several tones
higher than the proper transitional point, goes on: "But such tones,
especially in the female voice, have that rough and common timbre, which
we are too often compelled to hear in our female singers. The glottis
also in this case, as well as parts of the larynx near the glottis,
betrays the effort very plainly; as the tones ascend, they grow more and
more red. Thus, as at this place in the chest-register, there occurs a
visible and sensible straining of the organs, so also is it in all the
remaining transitions, as soon as the attempt is made to extend the
action by which the lower tones are formed beyond the given limits of
the same." And again: "In the ignorance existing concerning the natural
transitions of the registers, and in the unnatural forcing of the voice,
is found a chief cause of the decline in the art of singing, and the
present inability to preserve the voice is the consequence of a method
of teaching unnatural, and, therefore, imposing too great a strain upon
the voice." Quotations innumerable might be made, to give more emphasis,
were it needed, to the evils of register forcing.

The only point remaining is the one very often raised. Is it not
natural for children to use the chest or thick voice? If their vocal
organs are so flexible, may they not carry such tones higher than
adults, and younger children higher than those a little older, and
so on?

It is quite obvious, for reasons herein set forth, that children do not
experience the same degree of difficulty in continuing the use of the
thick voice to their higher tones as do adults, but as to the effect
upon their vocal organs there need be no reasonable doubt. A. B. Bach,
in "Principles of Singing," p. 142, says: "If children are allowed to
sing their higher notes forte, before the voice is properly equalized,
it will become hard, harsh and hoarse, and they will fail in correct
intonation. A mistake in this direction not only ruins the middle
register but destroys the voice altogether. The consequence of
encouraging forte singing is to change a soprano rapidly to an alto; and
they will generally sing alto equally forte because their vocal cords
have lost their elasticity through overstraining and the notes will no
longer answer to piano. . . . . The fact is that reckless singing often
breaks tender voices and breaks them forever." It may be observed that
the writer cited evidently accepts the same classification in register
for children and adult women's voices, but this does not make the above
extract any less applicable. The baneful effects of forcing the voice is
clearly set forth. How to avoid it is another matter.

Leo Kofler, in the work previously mentioned, p. 168, refers to this
point as follows: "It frequently happens that the tones of the lower
range, or the so-called chest-tones, are forced up too high into the
middle range. This bad habit is often contracted while the singers are
quite young. Boy trebles have this habit to an unendurable degree,
usually screaming those horrible chest-tones up to middle C. Of all bad
habits, this one is the most liable to injure a voice and to detract
from artistic singing."

To cite Madame Seiler once more, p. 176: "While it often happens that at
the most critical age while the vocal organs are being developed,
children sing with all the strength they can command. Boys, however, in
whom the larynx at a certain period undergoes an entire transformation,
reach only with difficulty the higher soprano or contralto tones, but
are not assigned a lower part until perceiving themselves the
impossibility of singing in this way, they beg the teacher for the
change, often too late, unhappily, to prevent an irreparable injury.
Moderate singing without exertion, and above all things, within the
natural limits of the voice and its registers, would even during the
period of growth be as little hurtful as speaking, laughing or any other
exercise which cannot be forbidden to the vocal organs."

Browne and Behnke, who separately and together have given most valuable
additions to the literature of the voice, in a small book entitled "The
Child-Voice," have collated a large number of answers from distinguished
singers, teachers and choir-trainers to various questions relating to
the subject. The following citation is from this interesting work,
p. 39: "The necessity of limiting the compass of children's voices is
frequently insisted upon, no attention whatever being paid to
registers; and yet in finitely more mischief is done by forcing the
registers than would be accomplished by allowing children to exceed the
compass generally assigned to them, always provided that the singing be
the result of using the mechanism set apart by nature for different
parts of the voice."

There can really be no doubt that the use of the chest or thick voice
upon the higher tones is injurious to a child of six years, or ten
years, or of any other age. The theory that in the child-voice the
breaks occur at higher fixed pitches than in the adult is shown to be
untenable. The fact would seem to be that comparisons between the
registers of the child and the adult voice are misleading, since the
adult voice has fixed points of change in the vocal mechanism, which can
be transcended only with great difficulty, while the child-voice has no
fixed points of change in its vocal registers. This point must not be
overlooked. It is the most important fact connected with the child-voice
in speech or song. It is the fundamental idea of this work and is the
basis for whatever suggestions are herein contained upon the management
of the child-voice. The rigidity of the adult larynx, the strength of
the tensor and adductor muscles and the elastic firmness of the vocal
ligaments, are to those of the child as the solid bony framework and
strongly set muscles of maturity are to the imperfectly hardened bones
and soft muscles of childhood. Nature makes no fixed limits of the vocal
registers until full maturity is reached. A fixed register in a childish
throat involving a completely developed larynx would be a startling
anomaly. The laryngeal muscles of childhood are not strong. They are
weak. Most of the talk about strength of voice in children is utter
nonsense. When the muscles and other parts concerned in tone-production
perform their physiological functions in a healthy manner, that is, in
such a way that no congestion, or inflammation or undue weariness will
result, the singing-tone of the child will never be loud. High or low,
under these conditions it must perforce be soft, and if proper
directions be followed the quality will be as good as the voice is
capable of.

Everyone who has observed has also noticed the contrast in the lower
tones of children and women. The chest-voice of the woman, which she
uses in singing her lower register, is normally very beautiful in its
quality. Its tones are the product of a perfectly developed, full-grown
organ. The chest-voice of the child is an abnormal product of a weak,
growing, undeveloped organ. It possesses, even when used carefully,
little of the tone tints of the adult voice. The chest-voice belongs to
adult life, not to childhood. The so-called chest-voice of children is
only embryonic. It cannot be musical, for the larynx has not reached
that stage of growth and development where it can produce these tones
musically. The constant use of this hybrid register with children is
injurious in many ways. Its use is justified in schools merely through
custom, and it can not be doubted that as soon as the attention of
teachers is called to its evils, they will no longer tolerate its use.

The usual analogies then which are drawn between the adult female voice
and the child-voice, in so far as they imply a similar physiological
condition of the vocal organ and similar vocal training, are not only
useless, but misleading. He who tries to train the average child-voice
on the theory of two, three or five clearly-defined breaks, or natural
changes in the forms for vocal vibration assumed by the vocal bands will
get very little help from nature.

With due consideration it is said that it is a harder task to train
children's voices properly than to train the voices of adults. Where
nature is so shifty in her ways, it requires keen penetration to
discover her ends.

The child-voice is a delicate instrument. It ought not to be played upon
by every blacksmith.

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Previous: Physiology Of The Voice

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