Vocal Registers – What Are They & the Different Types

Published Categorized as Singing

Understanding your voice and how it works can open up a world of possibilities when singing. Once you understand how your vocal works and what your voice is doing while you are singing certain notes you will be able to better understand different vocal techniques and know how to improve your voice more.

Understanding vocal registers can also help you discover what your voice is best at and which songs may suit your vocal tone.

In this article, we will explain what a vocal register is and show examples of each of the different types of vocal registers.

Table of Contents

What Is a Vocal Range?

The term vocal range describes which notes you are comfortable with singing. When discovering your vocal range it is very helpful to locate the lowest notes you can sing and the highest notes you can sing.

Once you have worked out your lowest and highest note that you can comfortably reach, you will be able to know how many octaves your vocal can reach. To summarize, a vocal range describes the number of notes and which notes a singer can comfortably produce.

What Is a Vocal Register?

If you have been asking yourself, what are vocal registers? Then you are not alone! There are many singers that are not aware of vocal musical theory and you simply do not need it to enjoy singing. Even though music theory may not be needed, having basic knowledge of your instrument can help if you have any issues with certain techniques or styles of singing. Knowledge is power!

A vocal register describes the pitch and style of your voice. There are high and low vocal registers depending on what note you’re singing. The differences between vocal registers are the differences in pitch, sound quality, and tone.

For example, using your chest voice is an example of a lower vocal register as it has a deeper tone and is able to produce lower notes. A head voice would be described as a higher register as it has a brighter tone and can produce higher notes.

man in white and black plaid dress shirt playing guitar

What Are the Different Types of Vocal Registers

If you are a beginner singing or are just starting to learn about your vocals then the main vocal types you will need to be aware of are the ones you will use daily in your singing. There are other styles of vocal registers such as whistle tone, but this is often a register that is used by professional singers or singers who have a very high range.

Here is a list of the different types of vocal registers:

  • Vocal fry
  • Chest register
  • Middle register
  • Head voice

Vocal Fry

The vocal fry register is the lowest vocal register. The vocal fry register includes very low notes that can almost sound croaky. These notes are deep and have a breathy sound.

The vocal fry register can produce low notes due to a loose glottal closure on the vocal cords. This loose glottal closure only allows air to come through very slowly and therefore it produces a crackling or rattling sound which is of a very low frequency.

Here is an example of Britney Spears singing in a vocal fry register:

Chest Voice

The chest voice can also be referred to as the modal voice. The chest voice is when your vocal folds are more relaxed. You will often be more comfortable singing in your chest voice as this is the type of vocal register you speak in daily. The chest voice sounds natural as the vocal folds open up fully and the vibrations will be felt in your upper body.

The chest voice will produce notes within your comfortable vocal range, most likely the notes that are in the middle of your vocal range which are the ones that are easier to sing. The chest voice can produce low notes but will not cover as low as the vocal fry register. The chest voice will cover a varied amount of notes and it differs from person to person.

The tone of the chest voice is warmer and can have a mellow sound. This is due to the thickest vocal folds being activated when singing in a chest voice.

Here is an example of Hamzaa singing in chest voice:

Middle Register

The middle register can be slightly different for female voices compared to male voices as the vocal range of both types of voices is different. Female voice types may find that their middle register sits between their chest voice and their head voice.

The difference between these two registers can be up to one octave.  A male voice type may find that his middle register may only have a total range of a major third or fourth.

The tone of a middle register is warm and a combination of what a chest voice and head voice sounds like. When singing in the middle register, you will find that you are blending or mixing the two types of voices.

Here is an example of Honey Mooncie singing in her middle register:

Head Voice

Head voice is higher in pitch than the other vocal registers but not as high as whistle register. Whistle register cover notes that are normally near the top of the keyboard. Many singers can not reach the whistle register. The head voice is a more common register and still covers some high notes.

The head voice allows the notes to sound bright and light sounding, often producing a more delicate or gentle vocal sound.

Falsetto is very similar to head voice but covers slightly higher notes. The falsetto register needs an open glottis to produce such high notes whereas the head voice makes the vocal folds narrow to create a more powerful and precise sound.

Falsetto is very breathy in sound and can sometimes sound too delicate to support diction. Female voices tend to be able to transition very easily from their chest voice to their head voice whereas male voices struggle.

Here is an example of Justin Timberlake using his head voice/falsetto:

Mixed Vocal Registers

Known as the ‘mix’ voice, the mixed vocal register uses two different types of voice. This can be a range of frequencies that overlap each other in two different voice types. The overlap of these two different types of voice can be up to an octave.

What Is a Mixed Voice?

You may have heard a vocal coach using the word blending or mixing the voice, this is simply referring to the two different voices and where they meet. Mixing is a style/technique of singing where you disguise the transition between your two voices which are commonly the chest voice and the head voice.

The mixing voice is gentle like the head voice but is still low enough to achieve the notes comfortably like the chest voice. There are lots of ways you can practice mixing your voice and the best method is to practice vocal exercises daily to make sure that your vocal range remains strong.

It is also important to practice breathing exercises to make sure that your stomach muscles are strong and can support your voice when you are singing.

Understanding Vocal Registers

Understanding vocal registers and being able to identify them in music are two different skills. Once you have understood what each vocal register is, over time you will be able to identify them while listening to other singers and also yourself.

Learning your own vocal registers will help you practice and care for your voice, especially when attempting trickier songs.

Here are more posts on the blog to check out:

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What are the 4 vocal registers?

 The main four vocal registers are called vocal fry, check or model voice, head or falsetto voice followed by whistle register. Vocal fry is the lowest register and is normally found in a male voice. Chest voice and head voice are used by both female and male voice types. Whistle registers are more common for female voice types.

What are the 3 vocal registers?

If you are being taught by a vocal teacher or coach, then often you will be taught that there are three vocal registers you will need to learn. The first is check voice which could be referred to as natural or modal voice. The second is the middle voice and the third is the head voice, which could be referred to as falsetto.

What is the hardest vocal register?

Most people find that the vocal registers themselves are not that hard to adapt to. The hardest part about different vocal registers is switching between them which can result in break notes. Break notes are the hardest issue to fix and teach as you have to practice your vocal transition between lower and upper registers. This issue often takes a lot of practice and time to fix.

What is the most common vocal register?

The most common vocal register is the chest voice. Most singers start out by using their chest voice as that is how we normally speak. Therefore, it feels more natural to be singing in our chest voice as we are very used to this register. When talking, male voices will fully use their chest voice whereas female voices will use their chest voice and their middle registers.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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