On Vocal Registers
What is a vocal register?
A series of tones sung in a certain way, which are produced by a
certain position of the vocal organs--larynx, tongue, and palate.
Every voice includes three registers--chest, middle, and head. But all
are not employed in every class of voice.
Two of them are often found connected to a certain extent in
beginners; the third is usually much weaker, or does not exist
Only very rarely is a voice found naturally equalized over its whole
Do registers exist by nature? No. It may be said that they are created
through long years of speaking in the vocal range that is easiest to
the person, or in one adopted by imitation, which then becomes a
fixed habit. If this is coupled with a natural and proper working of
the muscles of the vocal organs, it may become the accustomed range,
strong in comparison with others, and form a register by itself. This
fact would naturally be appreciated only by singers.
If, on the other hand, the muscles are wrongly employed in speaking,
not only the range of voice generally used, but the whole voice as
well, may be made to sound badly. So, in every voice, one or another
range may be stronger or weaker; and this is, in fact, almost always
the case, since mankind speaks and sings in the pitch easiest or most
accustomed, without giving thought to the proper position of the
organs in relation to each other; and people are rarely made to pay
attention as children to speaking clearly and in an agreeable voice.
In the most fortunate instances the range thus practised reaches
limits on both sides, not so much those of the person's power, as
those set by his lack of skill, or practice. Limitations are put on
the voice through taking account only of the easiest and most
accustomed thing, without inquiring into the potentialities of the
organs or the demands of art.
Now, suppose such a peculiarity which includes, let us say, three or
four tones, is extended to six or eight, then, in the course of time,
in the worst cases, a break is produced at the outside limits. In the
most favorable cases the tones lying next beyond these limits are
conspicuously weak and without power compared with those previously
forced. This one way of singing can be used no farther; another must
be taken up, only, perhaps, to repeat farther the incorrect procedure.
Three such limits or ways of singing can be found and used. Chest,
middle, and head voice, all three form registers when exaggerated; but
they should be shaded off and melt into each other. The organs,
through the skilful training of the teacher, as well as by the
exercise of the pupil's talent and industry, must be accustomed to
taking such positions that one register leads into another
imperceptibly. In this way beauty, equality, and increased compass of
the voice will be made to enhance its usefulness.
When the three ways of singing are too widely different and too
sharply contrasted, they become separate registers. These are
everywhere accepted as a matter of course, and for years have been a
terror in the teaching of singing, that has done more than anything
else to create a dreadful bewilderment among singers and teachers. To
eradicate it is probably hopeless. Yet, these registers are nothing
more than three disconnected manners of using the vocal and resonating
With all the bad habits of singers, with all the complete ignorance of
cause and effect, that prevail, it is not surprising that some pretend
to tell us that there are two, three, four, or five registers,
although as a matter of fact there can be at most three in any voice.
It will be much more correct to call every tone of every voice by the
name of a new additional register, for in the end, every tone will and
must be taken in a different relation, with a different position of
the organs, although the difference may be imperceptible, if it is to
have its proper place in the whole. People cling to the appellations
of chest, middle, and head register, confounding voice with
register, and making a hopeless confusion, from which only united and
very powerful forces can succeed in extricating them.
As long as the word register is kept in use, the registers will not
disappear. And yet, the register question must be swept away, to give
place to another class of ideas, sounder views on the part of
teachers, and a truer conception on the part of singers and pupils.