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Vocal Terminology

Learning vocal terminology will be very beneficial for you when you hear it throughout each lesson. It would be most beneficial if you could fully understand all the terminology so that you can truly understand the meaning of the techniques in these lessons.

Singing– Sustained speech over a broad range of connected notes using vibrato, dynamics, and a mode of interpretation. Singers are actors, and singing is acting on the pitch.

Vocal cords– Two muscular folds located inside the larynx, behind your Adams apple. Shaped in a ‘V’. The process of sound production begins when air passes through the vocal cords, and they are brought together into vibration creating sound.

Resonance– The amplifying of sound in the cavities above the vocal cords. Those spaces being the mouth and the head. The sound is softened or sharpened by the tension and compression of the vocal cords, and the height of the larynx. Everyone is born with a God-given unique facial structure which creates a distinct sound for each of us.

Chest Voice– The first register is referred to as the ‘chest voice’. This is the voice we generally speak in. The chest voice tends to be a deeper, thicker, richer vocal sound. In the chest voice, the vocal cords vibrate along their entire length. The tone tends to resonate in the chest cavity, and in the roof of the mouth. The sounds travel directly out of the mouth and are the lowest of the commonly used vocal registers.

Head Voice– The voice that resonates primarily in the head or nasal cavity. It is the highest part of your natural range. Sometimes using a softer or ‘hooty’ sound while the vocal cords zip up to about 2/3 of their length, leaving the other 1/3 to vibrate at higher tones. It is much safer and easier than singing high chest tones. And the tone quality and vowel purity are maintained. Very little sound resonates in the mouth, but instead in the head cavity with natural, effortless tone quality.

Falsetto– The lightest of all vocal coordinations. It gives much freedom and requires less tension to produce. It tends to be airy and lacks the depth of sound and volume. In falsetto, the edges of the vocal cords tend to break slightly apart. Making it difficult to connect with chest voice. There is a way to connect the two registers which we will discuss later.

Vocal Fry– Though this register is uncommon, it is used by some singers and produces the lowest possible sound. In vocal fry, the vocal cords slow down until you can hear each individual vibration of the vocal cords. It is often used in Soul singing. Vocal fry can be therapeutic to a tired or strained voice if done for just a short time to relieve vocal stress and take the weight off the vocal cords.

Middle/Mixed Register– This is a blend of head and chest registers. And it gives the illusion of singing in high chest tones while singing on a shortened vocal cord. This is the most popular of all sounds because it puts out a higher frequency. The structure of the mixed voice is similar to the structure of the head voice but, there is a deeper compression and an edgier sound so the vibration goes deeper into the core.

Break/Disconnect– Any sudden change, interruption, or shift in tone production. Usually from chest to falsetto, or falsetto to the chest. It can be done intentionally in popular music like R&B, but many are done accidentally or as crutches to cover a lack of ability to coordinate between vocal registers.

Bridge/Passage Area– This area is not the break, it is where you could say the larynx shifts gears for the register and note needed at any given moment. A bridge is the part of your range where you begin to blend registers.

– The bass’ first bridge is approximately A, Bb, B, (below middle C)
– The baritone/tenor’s first bridge is E, F, F#, (above middle C)
– The alto’s first bridge is about the same as the tenor’s
– The soprano’s first bridge is A, Bb, B, (above middle C)

The second bridge is about a 1/2 octave above the first, and the 3rd bridge about a 1/2 octave above the second and so on. The focus should not be placed on the bridges in your voice, but the success in crossing them smoothly. Every time a vocalist passes an ascending bridge, the tone travels higher in the nasal cavity and less out of the mouth.

Larynx– Commonly known as the voice box, it is the organ at the top of the windpipe or trachea. The vocal cords and the muscles responsible for stretching and coordinating them are located inside the larynx. The muscles that interfere with easy vocal vibration are located on the outside of the larynx. If you gently feel the top of your neck with your index finger and slide down until you feel a V-shaped notch in your throat…This is your Adams apple.

Vibrato– An oscillation in a pitch that is sung, or a variation.

Staccato– This refers to notes sung short, quick, and disconnected.

Legato– This refers to notes sung smooth and connected.

Delineation– The approach to singing notes in a separated manner without singing staccato. Moving from note to note unnoticeably disconnected.

It would be good to familiarize yourself these terms so that as a singer you can express yourself, and understand vocabulary said to you clearly. Whether you are communicating with your band, producer, or songwriting partner these terms will be very useful to you.

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