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
t all.

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.