By Amy Barker
As you learn to sing and immerse yourself in the singing community, you will hear other singers and voice coaches use terms such as vocal register, range, breaks, etc.
You likely have no idea what these terms even mean, let alone how to apply them to your own vocal development.
To make it more confusing, not all vocal pedagogist define these things in the exact same way.
So, where do you start?
Let’s start with some basic definition.
In general, (despite the varying schools of thought) a vocal register is a series of pitches or a range of pitches, that a singer can move through in the same loudness, depth, tone quality, and resonance. Most singers have access to several registers that are marked by vocal breaks.
A vocal break is where that sound, for lack of a better word, “breaks.” To put it simply, the series of pitches will sound and feel a similar way in your voice and at your break that sound and feeling changes. A highly trained singer can move through these breaks smoothly so that the listener is unaware of the register changes.
Your vocal range refers to the range of pitches you are capable of comfortably singing. Your full vocal range probably encompasses several vocal registers. As you start to regularly sing through your entire vocal range, you will start to hear and feel where you shift from say “middle voice” to “head voice” or from “chest voice” to “middle voice.”
The better you get at singing, you might even be able to access registers such as your falsetto, whistle register, or vocal fry.
Okay, so now we know some basic definitions, but the real question is how to practically apply this knowledge. How do you seamlessly transition between registers and extend your vocal range?
There is no simple answer to this. Classical singers train for years with highly qualified vocal instructors to make their singing sound effortless.
BUT don’t be discouraged!
This doesn’t mean we can’t give you a few pointers to help you on your singing journey.
1. Find your breaks
Sing up and down some scales beginning at a note on the low end of your range. Pay attention to where things start to feel “different” and note those areas. They will usually occur at the low end of your range and at the high end. Feeling “different” can mean a lot of things, but it’s really where the sound in your voice changes a bit. If the sound quality all the sudden changes as you move through a series of notes, it’s likely because you hit a break and are changing registers.
2. Learn some vocal exercises
There are many vocal exercises specifically designed by vocal pedagogists to help you smoothly move through your registers. Doing these exercises everyday and making slight adjustments in the placement of the sound and resonance, will help you begin to sing through your vocal range more cleanly. Some of my personal favorites are the long scales I discussed above, as well as some major chord exercises (be sure to add in the top octave to really begin stretching your abilities). These types of exercise force you to hit notes that are potentially in two different registers, which is why they are effective. If you don’t know any exercises, try asking a vocal couch or friend in the industry for help.
3. Don’t forget to breathe
Breathing is the number once most important component of good singing. Think of it like yoga; just like every movement is connected to breath, every note you sing should be connected to this same breath. Staying on the breath and always connecting to your diaphragm will assist in your transition between registers. Even when things start to sound disjointed just keep connected to your breath. Without that underlying support you can’t make any other necessary technique changes to improve your singing.
4. Practice Practice Practice
Nothing happens overnight, the more you sing the better you get. Mastering singing techniques takes time and patience. Think of singing like training for a marathon. You must gradually build up to an elite level and approach the process with a training plan. AND even with a prescribed approach, some days you might hop on a treadmill and easily run ten miles, whereas other days just running one mile feels like pure torture. The singing mechanism is no different. You will have good days and bad days, but don’t give up! Keep on practicing! It will all pay off in the long run (no pun intended).
Take some time today to sing and get to know your own voice! Need help? Find a qualified teacher or singing program to guide you on your journey! Always remember to enjoy the process of growing as a musician.
Break a leg!