Riva Capellari

[email protected]

Located in Brookside in the heart of Kansas City

August 2012

News of Note
That Smooth Ride
In keeping with last month’s metaphor, remember when automobiles only came with a manual transmission? Eventually the auto industry made it easier for all drivers to maintain a smooth ride by inventing the automatic transmission. Singers also need to learn how to move from a stick shift vocal registration model to a more blended tonal excursion through their range. The bio-mechanical workings and characteristics of our various “voices” will be the focus of this News of Note. The following registers have been identified by voice scientists and vocal instructors.

The pulse register (also known as Strobass) is the lowest of the low. In this register, the thyroidarytenoid muscle does the work while the cricoid-arytenoid muscle sits back and relaxes. Remember these two muscles? They are the primary movers and shakers in vocal production.
On its own, the TA muscle shortens and thickens the vocal folds, creating a lax and loose cover (mucosa). This results in the vocal folds coming together over a greater surface area, bottom to top and front to back. In other words, the folds have a deeper and wider mass that vibrates. The sound is thick and dark. The frequency of this register is so low, 70Hz or below, that you can hear the gaps between the pulses of sound. It is commonly used in Russian and Eastern European choral music. The contrabasses often sing an octave below the written bass part.
The next register up is called the low register, heavy mechanism or modal. Predominantly utilized in male singing, it makes up a smaller portion of the female singing range, even for the low women’s voices.
Biomechanically similar to the pulse register, it adds the CT muscle in order to raise the pitch level up to the modal register. The folds are still short and thick and the cover loose, for a full-bodied sound. However, the tone is continuous, with no audible gaps. Also like the pulse register, the vocal folds make contact over a wider range of tissue vertically and horizontally, creating rich harmonics.
The light mechanism or head voice has a lighter, thinner quality than the above two registers. In this register, the CT becomes more dominant. By stretching and thinning the vocal folds, it decreases the amount of contact area involved in oscillation, both in depth and width. The end sound is made up of higher frequencies and less intense overtones. Most women singers vocally live rather happily in this area.
The highest registers are called falsetto (men’s voices) and flute or flageolet (women’s voices). In both cases, the TA muscles finally gives up the ghost, allowing the CT to take over, lengthening and tensing the folds for all their worth in order to eke out these very high pitches (ex: the Bee Gees and Mariah Carey). Not surprisingly, because the vocal folds are stretched so thin, there is very little mass that vibrates. Only a very small portion of the entire vocal fold can oscillate at this high frequency. With minimal intensity in the few partials available here, the sound is very “thin” with little body or varied color.
The one register that probably causes the most controversy is the “voix mixte”. The mixed voice is considered the area between the chest and head voice or light and heavy mechanisms. These vocal “voices” or registers do not exist in a vacuum. They are segments that must meld into each other as we travel the length of our vocal range. These transition areas, called passaggi, cover several notes, as the voice adjusts from the highest part of one register to the lowest part of the next one up. It is the reverse on the way down.
It is at these passaggi that we experience vocal breaks. This happens when an extreme adjustment is made on a single pitch rather than distributing these changes gradually over the course of multiple notes. For instance, when we carry up the full low register to its very top, the head voice eventually has to kick in. We must start to ease off the heavier vocal fold adjustment BEFORE we reach the upper notes of the chest voice if we do not want a sudden shift to a sound dramatically different from the one before it- again, similar to learning how to ease up or push down on the gas pedal when changing gears in a manual transmission.
So to review, as we sing up in pitch, the TA must reduce its presence while the CT increases its power. Singing from high to low, the CT must give way to an increased presence of the TA muscle. Except in the very extreme parts of the voice, both the TA and CT work together to produce the most efficient, highly functioning sound possible. This give and take is analogous to driving a stick shift. We want a jerk-free ride throughout our vocal range. Voice teachers work to help students learn how to manage these laryngeal muscular co-ordinations.
To move slightly off-track, belting is not a register, but a type of singing style and technique found in musical theatre as well as other genres of commercial music. It is characteristically bright and brassy with the muscular balance of the fuller chest sound carried much higher than in classical singing. This means that the TA muscle is still in command while the CT, usually dominant at this point in the vocal range, takes a back seat even while continuing to lengthen the vocal folds to raise pitch. This technique requires optimal breath management since the TA needs extra breath pressure to maintain its prominence.
In addition to the muscular mechanics of registration, there is an acoustical element that needs to be addressed.
When we sing, the air turns into sound waves that move not only upwards through our larynx, throat and mouth, but downwards into our trachea. The trachea has fixed dimensions which means its natural frequency remains the same unlike the throat and mouth whose shape and frequencies can be altered. The sound waves that move into the trachea become trapped (no escape from closed or vibrating folds!), impacting the underside of the vocal folds and interfering with their vibrating pattern. When the pitch we are singing, the fundamental frequency, matches or approaches the frequency or the overtones of the trachea, the sound pressure level and the effect on the vocal fold oscillation increases. This is called acoustic loading or impedance. If we do not learn how to compensate for this “loading”, our tone will become unstable. Not surprisingly, these pitch areas tend to correlate with register breaks.
So how does one create a seamless stream of beautiful sound throughout their entire singing range? We will venture into this realm in our next issue.
Bodymind and Voice: Foundations of Voice Education. L.Thurman, EdD. & G. Welch, PhD, co-eds.The VoiceCare Network, 2000.
Your Voice: An Inside View. S. McCoy, DMA. Inside View Press. 2004.
Beginning Voice Class
An adult beginning voice class starts Tuesday, October 2nd, 7-8pm. This 6 week introductory course will touch on good breathing and postural habits, vocal projection and vocal health. The cost is $75. Enrollment is limited to so sign up soon!
Sunday Singing Sessions
If you are looking for a great opportunity to perform in an informal, friendly atmosphere, come join our Sunday workshops. The sessions are $20 each or $55 for all three. The fee includes an accompanist and refreshments. All sessions start at 2pm. For more information on the above two offerings, visit www. and click on the services page or contact me at [email protected]
Not comfortable in a group setting? Private voice lessons also available.

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