Teachers have always coined terms to explain and classify the voice in an attempt to add credibility to vocal pedagogy (teaching). Trying to make an art form sound more credible by using impressive terms unfortunately does not make it scientific. Not being scientifically sound, some of these terms would occasionally clarify concepts for a singer but more often they would generate confusions which actually hinder one’s understanding and potential.
Range and Register Classifications
The terms Chest Voice, Head Voice and Falsetto are examples of such a vocabulary that possibly traces back as far as the Roman Empire. They may have some descriptive value but they provide no physiologically accurate data about how the voice actually works while appearing to do so.
When you sing in the range of your voice that spans from a few notes below the pitch of your speaking voice to about an octave above it, you often feel sensations in the breastbone; thus the classification “chest voice.” Likewise, the head voice was so named due to the experience of sensations in the head when singing up from approximately 6 to 8 notes higher than the pitch of one’s usual speaking voice. Between chest and head was designated as the “middle register” – just to have a name for it. For men, the falsetto lies above the head register; while for women it is often called the whistle register (Mariah Carey’s highest range).
The name falsetto can be especially misleading since “false” is defined as unreal or imaginary. In fact, the name originates from an early Italian school of voice technique. It was during a time when only men were permitted to sing in concert and so needed to sing all the parts. But, as they considered the highest notes of a male voice unnatural and a false voice, they named it accordingly. It’s unfortunate that this biased classification has carried forward into modern vocal parlance.
The Problem with This
Now-a-days these terms lack uniform definitions and mean different things from teacher to teacher. This creates a great deal of confusion and may have you made you uncertain as to what’s the correct approach as you sing low and high in your range.
The problem with using these categories in vocal training is that it can encourage you to think of your voice in sections. This sectionalized approach can lead to the idea that you must make something happen in order to bridge the gap between your “different voices.” And in fact, this is how many singers are taught and it is a complete falsehood.
After working with tens of thousands of singers from around the world, many of whom were confused and plagued by needless maneuvers to navigate between “their registers,” I decided not to perpetuate this fallacy of segmented range. My previous research into medical journals had provided accurate scientific vocal physiology which I incorporated into an understanding of how to achieve an uninterrupted wide useable range.
My discoveries have validated the way I prefer to think of the voice - as having an expanse of range within which the singer is free to create sounds appropriate to their own self-expression and communication. However, there are several factors that can impede this achievement and if they’re not understood, would cause a singer to think about range in a more limiting way.
A major factor is too much air released when you sing. This single issue — very common even amongst trained singers — is the underlying cause of such an array of apparently nonrelated vocal difficulties that you may not even suspect it as a problem. You may not know this is the underlying reason for the symptoms you experience or the limitations of your voice and range.
The result of air over-blow is usually an unconnected range that is stronger in the lower notes and lighter, weaker, breathier or without ‘body’ in the higher range. This usually leads to the confirmation and supposed proof that there is such a thing as “Chest voice” and “Head voice.” From this, systems were designed to “bridge” each section and mask over these sections. It’s like creating a problem and then developing “techniques” to hide the problem that was never solved in the first place.
Pushing out too much air while you sing has many symptoms. Many singers expend most of their energy working to compensate for this problem without realizing what the problem is. Unfortunately this is reinforced by voice techniques that are designed to work around air over-blow instead of recognizing it as the problem and remedying it.
Is There Hope?
I have discovered and developed a breath management technique that works naturally and automatically. Once you learn it, you don’t need to do “breathing exercises” and you don’t have to think about breathing when singing. To begin to get a sense of what it might feel like to sing with less air coming out try this:
EXPERIMENT: Put your hands on your sides, about half-way up from your waist. Through your mouth, inhale and let your sides expand (those are your ribs expanding). Now sing a line of a song while trying to maintain the expansion of your sides. As you do so, do not push in your stomach.
It is not easy to maintain an expanded ribcage without proper muscle development. The above is not one of my exercises. I am only trying to give you a sense of what it might be like to not push out your breath as you sing, and see if you notice any improvement, no matter how slight.
To completely achieve natural breath support along with the full benefits of this approach (ribcage expansion technique), you will find the comprehensive theory and exercises in my “Contemporary Vocalist” Volume One book and CDs.
You can own and command your range with confidence and ease!
Yours in song,
on September 23, 2014 at 10:15 PM said:Great post! I have experienced this 'teaching' as well and it has resulted in a voice that can be strong, but gentle and quiet isn't always a forte (no pun intended ;-) ) I've also always thought of Falsetto as something that's 'not real', but heck, it's my voice and my voice is an instrument. Trumpets can squeal, why not voices ? ;-) Thanks again!
on September 24, 2014 at 10:30 AM said:Hi Michael - Thanks for your input. The wonderful thing is, the area of range named "falsetto" can be strong and full if approached and exercised correctly. Some of the major singers in the 1980's such as Steve Perry of Journey are good examples of what's possible
on September 24, 2014 at 8:17 PM said:Jeannie, you are so wonderfully clear and articulate about these issues! Thank you for exploring this whole set of ideas, really thinking it out physiologically, and coming up with your teaching technique. Any of you reading this, I am here to tell you that Jeannie's method really works, will give you uninterrupted use of a fuller range, and will allow you to have enough control to sing high and soft when you want to, while still giving you a nice big sound throughout your range when that is what you want.
on September 25, 2014 at 12:47 PM said:Hi Ginny! Thanks so much! It has always been a pleasure working with you.
on September 29, 2014 at 8:40 PM said:Jeannie, I was practicing in the car today and realized how easy it was to belt stuff out, even higher in my range. Then I realized that singing quiet in that area was possible as well, with falsetto tinges, but it was a little more difficult. Singing between the two extremes wasn't very easy at all. Interesting about Steve Perry. Truthfully, I've always thought there was some falsetto magic going on with Steve Perry. I've used your exercises in the past. I need to dig in again. ;-) Thanks for sharing your expertise!
on September 29, 2014 at 11:18 PM said:Hi Michael - thanks for your additional comment. Do you have my Contemporary Vocalist Volume One book and 4 CDs? Working with that approach and exercises should do the trick as far as getting rid of any "transitional" areas in your range and giving you a wide range of consistent strength and choices of tones, dynamics and more. Let me know. :-)
on September 30, 2014 at 11:10 AM said:This is beyond correct. Getting complete control of your exhalation and learning to work with and manage sub glottis pressure is the key to really powerful singing with intense emotion and resonance.
on September 30, 2014 at 6:50 PM said:Jeannie, I actually don't have that particular package. Me thinks I should get it. :)
on September 30, 2014 at 11:23 PM said:Michael - yes. The Contemporary Vocalist is the foundation of my method. I think you'll love it.
on September 30, 2014 at 11:23 PM said:Thanks Bot!
on October 1, 2014 at 1:42 AM said:Done, Jeannie!! Looking forward to the lessons!! Appreciate all the assistance! :)
on October 1, 2014 at 8:34 AM said:What about Vocal Placement? You still have your low ranges that resonate in the chest, mid range that resonates in the mask and high range which resonates in the head. All ranges are placed forward through the mask to get the so called "nose buzz" to avoid "breaks". Once learned how to navigate between these areas then you put it all together as one voice with no breaks, unless of course you want to use your breaks for vocal expression. To me the Head voice, Chest voice, etc. are merely tools and a way to communicate about the areas in ones range.
on October 3, 2014 at 12:03 AM said:Hi Jeannie. I have purchased your program and have been doing it now for 2 weeks. Enjoying it a lot. After how many months will I really see the difference and improvement in my voice? Thank you.
on October 5, 2014 at 12:01 PM said:Dear Lizette, Thank you for buying my program. I'm glad you are enjoying it. If you do the vocal warm-ups daily and also the exercises in Chapter 3 of Contemporary Vocalist Vol. 1, you should see improvements right away. It should not take months. It does take some time to fully apply the rib cage expansion while singing, but just doing the exercises and the warm-ups should produce noticeable improvements within a week or so. If you need personalized feed back, I recommend a consultation with me via Skype. Wishing you success.
on November 4, 2014 at 6:59 AM said:Hi Jeannie, I agree 100% on everything you had mentioned in your article. Most of the times, I've been so confused as to where I feel most comfortable when I sing. I could never understand thoroughly if I constantly sing in my head or in my chest voice. I just have one question, which of your volumes of singing would be the best way to expand your range and to help mesh your head and chest voice together to eventually create a mid range?
on November 4, 2014 at 3:49 PM said:Dear Geny, The Contemporary Vocalist Vol. 1 is the best of my materials to give you the information and exercises you need to expand your range.