What does register mean?

Vocal registers are one of the most talked about and yet still misunderstood concepts in voice training.

As far back as the 1970s, the Collegium Medicorum Theatri (CoMeT) - an international organization of voice specialists - formed a committee to attempt to clarify the concept of vocal registers. The fact that the debate still rages forty years later is an indication of how confusing this concept can be.

The confusion comes from the fact that the term 'register' means different things to different people. An accepted definition is that a register is a series of consecutive tones with similar properties. But what those properties are depends on your point of view.

From a purely laryngeal perspective, a register can be defined as a series of consecutive tones produced by the same mechanism.

From an acoustic / perceptual perspective, a register can be defined as a series of consecutive tones produced with similar voice quality.

Although there is some correlation between the terminology of registers and the laryngeal mechanisms associated with their production, it is important to differentiate between the terms ‘mechanism’ and ‘register’.

The easiest way to make this distinction is by referring to Scientific registers (i.e. laryngeal mechanism) and Singing registers (i.e. perceptual)

Scientific registers

There are five vocal fold actions that determine laryngeal registration:

  1. Opening
  2. Closing
  3. Lengthening
  4. Shortening
  5. Increasing and Decreasing of Vocal Fold Mass
Vocal registers explained

Hirano (1974) introduced the Body-cover model of vocal fold anatomy, in which the five layers of vocal fold tissue (see Diagram 1) can be categorised into two components - the Body and the Cover.

In this model, the Cover consists of the upper two layers (epithelium and superficial layer of the lamina propria). The Body consists of the three lower layers (muscle fibres, and the intermediate and deep layers of the lamina propria that form the vocal ligament).

Using the Body-Cover model, we can define 'registers' in terms of which part of the vocal fold is vibrating - the laryngeal mechanism.

Research in recent years (by Natalie Henrich and others) has identified four laryngeal mechanisms:

  • M0 – where the Body and Cover are both loose.
  • M1 – where both the Body and Cover vibrate.
  • M2 – where the Body no longer vibrates.
  • M3 – where the the vocal folds are very thin and very tightly stretched, and only the Cover vibrates, often with incomplete fold closure.

Singing registers

Although the vocal fold vibration can be determined precisely in terms of the laryngeal mechanism used, the sounds produced by an individual mechanism can have great variations in timbre and intensity.

Singers rely heavily on acoustic and perceptual feedback. Although this feedback is personal, it's vital to be able to discuss the voice with singers in these terms, as the sound and associated sensations are often all they have to go on.

Unfortunately, this is where the terminology starts to get a bit vague and subjective, hence why we see so many debates about 'head and chest' versus 'belt' and 'falsetto' etc.

But whether you call it head and chest, apple and orange, or even Cheese and Cracker(!) the voice is still subject to the same natural laws. My personal approach is that it's fine to describe your voice in terms of how it feels and sounds - and to 'name' it accordingly - but a little understanding of the mechanism producing that sound can also be very helpful.

Ideal technique

The frequency ranges produced by two consecutive mechanisms can partially overlap each other. Blending or mixing is a vocal technique utilised in this 'overlap' i.e. the region of a singer’s range which is common to more than one laryngeal mechanism (normally M1 and M2) with the aim of disguising the transition from one to the other.

The aim of mixing is to simulate the sound quality of a different laryngeal mechanism (M2 when in M1, M1 when in M2). This is realized by various means: adjusting the sound intensity and modifying the sound spectrum. For the voice geeks among you, the intensity adjustments required are approximately -10 dB to simulate M2 while in M1, and +5dB to simulate M1 while in M2.

The challenge is to learn how to maintain a certain mechanism beyond the limits of its natural attractor state, or to allow the mechanism to change and manipulate other structures to keep the sound consistent.

making different things sound the same

A great technique comes from a solid understanding of the laryngeal mechanisms, and how they can be manipulated. Vocal fold mass, medial compression, resonance effects etc all go into the overall sound. Having independent, isolated control over each of these components gives the singer the ability to blend and adapt the sound in very subtle ways.

Every singer’s voice has to change mechanisms at various points in the range. The skilled singer learns to disguise those changes.

The ideal technique in a nutshell: making different things sound the same.

Professional Singing lessons in North West England

As a Certified Master Teacher of Estill Voice Training™, Andy Follin can explain how to allow the voice to move effortlessly through the range - with or without a change in sound.

Andy is a professional vocal coach, not a school teacher or piano teacher doing a few singing lessons in their spare time. Unlike a lot of voice teachers, Andy does not insist on long-term tuition, where students have to attend regular lessons, repeating the same exercises until their voice improves. You can attend as often as you like, but there's no compulsion to attend every week or every fortnight. In fact, many students only book sessions every 4 to 6 weeks.

Estill Voice Training™ is known for producing quick results. Quite often, Andy finds that long-standing problems can be fixed in the first few lessons. At your first session, Andy will give you an assessment of your abilities and draw up a plan that ensures you get to where you want to be, as quickly as possible.

If you're ready to take your voice to the next level, book a lesson with Andy today (see bottom of page).

Andy runs his studio from St Helens, so is ideally located for students in the Liverpool, Merseyside, Manchester, Lancashire and Cheshire areas. Please check out the separate pages for students from Liverpool, Merseyside, Warrington, Widnes / Runcorn, Wigan, Cheshire, Lancashire and North Wales.

Singing lessons - costs and times


£50 for 1 hour

Professional singing lessons

Teaching hours

Monday: 1000 - 1930
Tuesday: 1000 - 1930
Wednesday: 1000 - 1830
Thursday: 1000 - 1830
Friday: 1000 - 1500

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To book your first singing lesson with Andy, you need to pay in advance.

Please note that waiting times can be up to 4 weeks, depending on the time slot you require. If you have an urgent requirement, please contact Andy before paying your deposit.

Simply click on the link below and follow the Paypal instructions (NB each 60 minute session costs £50). Once you've paid, Andy will contact you to arrange a suitable time for your lesson.

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Please note: Clients must give a minimum of 48 hours' notice should they need cancel a lesson. Giving less than 48 hours' notice will mean the full cost of that lesson will be charged. Additionally, if a client forgets a scheduled lesson or is late (regardless of reason, including illness) the full cost of the lesson will still be charged.