Have You Ever Wondered How the Human Voice Works?

By August 12, 2016 June 10th, 2019 Biology, Voice

Perhaps you found some instructional videos on the internet, but none of the seem to satisfy your curiosities. The human voice is complex. There are many factors that affect the sound, tone, color, and quality of the voice.

 

These terms are difficult to understand for beginners. They aren’t auditory terms that would make sense in our lives. Loud, or soft are more easily recognized descriptors of sound. The color of the voice is the unicorn of vocal terms. There is no color associated with the term; instead there is an understanding that a sound can sound warmbright, dark, colorful. This has nothing to do with color—although one could argue a synesthetic association between a “warm” sound and the color of a typical sunset—it is all about the resonance, overtones, physics, mathematics (some of it beautiful), bone structures, and elasticity of the vocal folds that eventually determines the unquantifiable quality of a singer’s voice.

AURAL PHENOMENA IN THE SINGING VOICE

 

A Scientific-Based Theory of Acoustic-Register Phenomena Observed in Certain Voices, Including (but not limited to) Falsetto Register, Flageolet Register, Stroh-bass Register and Vocal Fry Register, and the Respective Audience Feedback for Each Register.

 

Fernando Baliño Davidovits – Uruguayan American School

June 10th, 2005

Hammond, Mr. Chris – Uruguayan American School
Montevideo, Montevideo, Uruguay

List of Figures

Figure 1 – Artistic vocal fold representation of northern-hemispherical cross-section of the larynx.

Figure 2 – The Larynx

Figure 3 – Vocal Fold Vibratory Action

Figure 4 – Resonating Chambers

Figure 5 – Mariah Carey*

Figure 6 – Mado Robin*

Figure 7 – Erna Sack*

Figure 8 – Nicolai Gedda*

Figure 9 – Yma Sumac*

Figure 10 – Siemen Jongsma*

*Images removed for readability.

List of Tables

Table 1 – Pitch Frequencies for Equal-Tempered Scales

Table 2 – Extended Classification of Voices

Introduction

 Anatomy of the Voice – Basic Definitions

Most people don’t know where or how vocalized sound is produced in the human body. It takes only a bit of observation and logic, however, to realize how it could be produced, and theories can be derived from there on. Nowadays, though, there is enough scientific evidence to prove the mechanism of this produced sound.

The larynx is positioned in the anterior neck, slightly below the point where the pharynx divides and gives rise to the separate respiratory and digestive tracts. Because of its location, the larynx plays a critical role in normal breathing, swallowing, and speaking. Damage to the larynx or its tissues can result in interference with any or all of these functions. (Larynx and Voice 2004).

The framework of the larynx is comprised mainly of two cartilages, the upper thyroid cartilage (whose anterior prominence is oftentimes felt as the “Adam’s apple”), and the lower and smaller cricoid cartilage. The epiglottis lies above. This structure protects the larynx during swallowing and prevents aspiration of food. Inside the larynx there is a pair of cartilaginous tissues surrounded by various muscles. These cartilaginous membranes are misleadingly called vocal chords – this gives the reader an impression that these membranes look and act like the chords on a guitar-; their true name, though, is the vocal folds. They are located horizontally on the larynx, like two rubber bands placed on a table and when looked upon from above, they appear as a ‘V’ shaped structure. A northern-hemispherical cross-section of the larynx reveals this shape. (See Fig. 1).

Directly above the vocal folds are the ventricular/vestibular vocal folds, commonly referred to as the false vocal cords (Fig. 2). Their purpose is scientifically unknown, but several assumptions have been made on their existence. Apparently they help control pitch by shaping the vestibule of the larynx according to perceived brain signals. (Larynx and Voice 2004). Few people are able to create artistically desirable sounds using the vestibular folds.

Fig. 1 – artistic vocal fold (white) representation of northern-hemispherical cross-section of the larynx. a) During breathing, b) During adduction.

Fig. 2 – Illustration of the larynx.

The vocal folds come together by force of adductive muscles that pull both folds together until they touch. As the individual pushes air voluntarily, the vocal folds vibrate because of the forced air, thus producing the phenomenon of phonation. Pitch is, in most registers, controlled by the elongation/thinning of the vocal chords, vibration and the amount of resonance allowed for a certain note. As pitch increases, the folds elongate and vibrate faster, and as pitch decreases, the folds shorten and vibrate more slowly. The vibration of the vocal folds per second is referred to as f0, or vibratory frequency (Appendix A contains a full list of the frequencies for each note of the eight common octaves). The vocal folds “hit” each other repeatedly as air is pushed up from the trachea into the larynx. For example, while phonating an A4, your vocal folds touch 440 times per second, or 440hz.

Resonance is the propagation of the sound waves that were produced in the larynx. The vibration of the vocal folds produces sound waves that travel up into the chest, mouth, naso-pharynx, rhino-pharynx and other small sinus cavities located behind and inside the nasal passage.

Where these waves travel, a vibration is felt by the vocalizer. In other words, the energy of the sound waves hits the internal walls of each of these cavities, bouncing off new sound waves, called secondary sound waves. Most of these secondary sound waves produce harmonic tones (or harmonic overtones) – tones with different pitches than the originally intended one by the singer (Titze 2000, p. 282).

Harmonic tones add increased richness to the singer’s sound quality by increasing the loudness and sharpness of the tone, and although an inexperienced audience doesn’t consciously realize how these tones are being produced, they can tell there is an abrupt difference between a singer who produces few harmonic tones and one who produces a copious quantity of them.

More contemporary voice specialists and physicists are recognizing the importance of sub-harmonic tones for vocal quality production. Apparently, a completely new area of psychology and physics studies the effects of sub-harmonic tones in hormone releases in humans. (Thurman, Welch, p. 23).

Fig. 3 – Vocal fold vibratory action. Arrows show motion of vibration.

Fig. 4 – Resonating Chambers (red).

A Brief History of Vocal Registers

Perhaps for millennia, singers and singing teachers have identified changes in voice quality when singing consecutive two-octave (or more) musical scales. When transitions from one “voice quality” to another occur, most singers report some sort of non-specific, kinesthetically sensed, neuromuscular coordination adjustment in the larynx.  Among experienced or trained singers, the transitions are perceived to be blended and smooth, but the transitions are more commonly abrupt among inexperienced singers.

The writings of the Greek physician Galen (c. 129-200 AD) were the “bible” of medical anatomy and practice for almost 1500 years after his death, but his observations contained quite a number of inaccuracies. Detailed knowledge of human anatomy and physiology began to be assembled in the mid-16th century.

A prominent center for such study was the University of Padua, where detailed dissection of human cadavers was undertaken. (Thurman, Welch., p. 3). It wasn’t until the late 1800s however, that this information was available to the masses for further study and observation.

After years of observation and study, modern vocologists have been able to define five1 distinct registers, both in sound quality (and perceived resonance) and in the biomechanics of the vocal folds. The five scientifically recognized registers include: Stroh-bass/pulse, chest/modal, head, falsetto, and flageolet registers.

Description of Vocal Registers

Definition

Vocal registers are controversial in the pedagogical, clinical, and scientific domains of vocology.  A well known general definition of vocal registers is “…perceptually distinct regions of vocal quality that can be maintained over some ranges of pitch and loudness.” (Titze, p. 282) Although an actual, or formal, definition of registration is inexistent, different voice specialists define it in two distinct ways. Some refer to registers as a simple change in resonance, thus, if the singer feels a change in the resonating chambers, or vibrating force, occurring during an ascending or descending scale, they are changing registers. Other voice specialists define registration as a change in the biomechanics of the vocal fold. Therefore, vocal folds either stretch, contract, become shorter or longer, during a change in register. The most modern, ever-evolving theory, however, uses both former ones to create a new definition for registration. According to this new theory, registration is a biological change in the vocal fold at the muscular level and, in most singers, a well-felt change in the resonating chambers. (Bergamini 2002, p. 49). Many classical artists or former singing teachers describe only three different registers, but most contemporary vocologists have identified at least five. Observers back in the Middle Ages identified the “different voices” possessed by individuals. The change in resonance, therefore would create a new “voice.” For instance, if excessive resonance was felt in the chest and clavicle area, the singer would refer to the sound quality production as chest voice, assuming, then, that the voice was coming “from the chest.” Therefore, a singer could possess many of these “voices,” depending on the perceived difference of aural resonance by the vocalist and by the listeners.

Classification

Stroh-bass/Pulse Register

The first, and lowest, register is formally called Stroh-bass register, but it is sometimes referred to as pulse register. Pulse register is produced when the cricothyroid muscles (CT- lengtheners) are uncontracted so that vocal fold length is determined solely by increases and decreases in the contraction of the thyroarytenoids (TA – shorteners).  The vocal fold, therefore, is quite short, thick, and lax, and the larynx is very likely to move to its lower possible position.  There is a comparatively minimal range of subglottal air pressures and minimal adductory force, resulting in a minimal aerodynamic flow between the vocal folds (Thurman, Welch., p. 3). Few pre-pubescent boys and girls are able to achieve this register, some voice-changing males and voice-changing females can access it, and practically all changed-voice males and females can get to this register. However, it has become apparent that most changed-voice males are able to create a more operatically or artistically usable sound quality than changed-voice females. (Thurman, Welch., p. 3).

Through my findings, I realized that probably due to the thickness of the vocal fold in changed-voice males, it is easier to create a constant stream of supporting sub-glottal air. Also, due to the substantially larger rib cage area found in mature males, the capacity for Stroh-bass resonance is much greater. In general, I found this register was strongest in basses, with only very few men with considerably different tessitura (tenor, contra/counter-tenor), being able to strongly control pitch in this register. It appears to me that the increased laxity of the vocal fold in this register is somehow related to membranous thickness of the folds. Most basses can access this register easily and flawlessly control pitch, most notably the bass Viktor Wichniakov, capable of reaching barely audible notes in the first contra-octave (low C#1234hz) (I cannot seem to find the recording by Wichniakov, but in the following video you can hear Zlaopolsky sing a C#1 in the background).

C#1 by Zlatopolsky:

Basses like him are capable of singing much lower (sometimes more than an octave) than the lowest notes in written music, especially the acclaimed low D2 (73hz, video below) written by Mozart for Osmin in “Seraglio” (Ha, wie will ich triumphieren) or the low F2 (87hz) written for Sarastro in ‘Die Zauberflöte’. (Lindeijer p.1).

D2 in Seraglio:

To get a clear picture of vocal fold function during pulse registration, think of two elastic rubber bands that are not being stretched, so they are relaxed. If one was to pull the rubber band to make it vibrate, a low pitch would resonate with minimal loudness. This is typically what happens during the pulse register. The laxity of the folds makes pitch creation substantially harder than if they were tighter, specifically due to the fact that a constant sub-glottal air pressure would be hard to maintain by any singer. The Stroh-bass register is most notably observed in Russian choral works and many Tibetan monks’ chants. Apparently, evolution favored certain cultures to produce men with very deep voices, capable of singing easily in the Stroh-bass register. A well developed Stroh-bass register is very much appreciated (and very rare) in opera roles for basses. It has been reported, nevertheless, that the development of the Stroh-bass register quickly leads to full loss of the upper range of the voice (Titze 2000, p. 289).

Although highly uncommon, very few men can maintain incredibly relaxed vocal folds while ascending in pitch, thus creating the illusion of a robotic sound:

Pulse and Flute Improvisation:

“Vocal Growl” (co-oscillation of vocal folds and epiglottis):

Apparently, this phenomenon is also accompanied by bi-phonation in the false (ventricular) vocal folds –and sometimes the epiglottis- because the laryngeal cavity needs to substantially decrease its radius to produce a higher pitch.

Chest/Modal Register

Modal register refers to the most commonly used speaking voice. During low notes on  modal phonation, the vocal folds are not fully tightened but are held closely together by the thyroarytenoids and there is little cricothyroid action. (Titze 2000, p. 284). Low/middle register voice qualities are produced when both the thyroarytenoid and the cricothyroid muscles are simultaneously contracted (primary shorteners and lengtheners, respectively), but the thyroarytenoids are more prominently contracted than the cricothyroids (Hirano, et al., 1970; Vennard, et al., 1970a,b; Titze, 2000). As air is forced through the adducted vocal folds, the small opening in the glottis allows the cords to vibrate at their full length on their comfortable modal tessitura. For higher pitches in this register, cricothyroid action increases and begins to stretch and thin out the vocal folds. Chest voice is the same as saying speaking voice, and speaking voice should always be at a comfortable level. The octave range of chest voice varies from singer to singer, but it is the lowest, most commonly used register by all popular singers as well as male opera singers. It can reach low notes down into the pulse register (before passaggio breakage) and in some singers can extend it to the head voice and even falsetto range through a method called “belting”. Belting, if done incorrectly, can be highly damaging to the vocal folds, specifically because air is pushed through them at speeds greater than 60km/hr (Miller 2001).

Here Celine Dion belts an F5 in All by Myself, pushing the limits of her chest register:

Baritones and Basses are the ones most acclaimed for their rich and low chest voices. Because of the large rib cage and chest area usually associated with such singers, the low chest register is very powerful and can convey significant emotion and feeling. Some bass-baritones or baritono-brillante are able to sing these notes with full power, but usually possess a weak head voice for higher notes.

Head Register

The head register (along with the falsetto register) is probably the most confused term in voice pedagogy. In the early ages of singing studies, when singers sang in their upper pitch range, for instance, they presumably felt a prominence of vibration sensations in the front, sides, and/or top of their heads.  We may presume that they interpreted those sensations as meaning that their voices were “coming from” their heads, so logically, they would call that way of singing head voice (Latin: vox captis = voice from the head) (Thurman, Welch., p. 8). However, when they used falsetto production (its internal workings unknown at the time), they also felt a prominence of vibratory sensations in the head area. Although falsetto has only one type of quality (soft and breathy), correctly used head voice can be just as powerful as chest voice or just as breathy as falsetto. Therefore, head voice and falsetto have been eternally confused terms, and some classically trained artist still refuse to accept the abundance of scientific evidence that clearly divides both registers.

Rachelle Ferrell belts an insane C6 in It Only Took a Minute. If you listen closely, the voice is a mixed voice composed partly of a pushed chest voice and the head register:

Head voice, in essence, uses the same mechanism as chest voice, except that CT action is more active while the TA are less active, although they do exert some force in the phonatory mechanism (Titze 2000, p. 290). In some voices, the vocal folds actually shorten a bit and become thinner due to excessive cricothyroid activity (Virtual Cons. 2005). The reason for an increased resonance in the head is due to the lowering of the uvula and the allowance of the air into the naso-pharyngeal cavities, producing increased vibratory sensations and an abundance of sub-harmonic tones. This register is one of the most capable of carrying emotion through specific color and tone of voice.

Head voice is most notable in some bariton-Martin, practically all tenors, some countertenors, and mostly all females. It is most powerful in men with longer and thinner vocal folds and more petite bodies. Usually their larynxes are smaller and allow for higher sounds with the same resonance as chest voice to be produced. I’ve found, specifically, that tenors generate the most amazement because of their ability to sing such high notes in head voice, usually in the fifth octave. The famous tenor high C for men, the C5 (523hz, c2 European Notation), is a trademark of the tenore-dramatico or tenore-heroe in the Italian  operas. This high C has been mistakenly called “chest C” or, in Spanish, “do de pecho (do of the chest),” giving the illusion that the singer is still singing in chest voice. Although many men can hit this note in pure chest voice via belting, very few (if any) can actually sing this note in pure chest voice. A mix of resonance is usually used between the chest and head registers by most operatic tenors to reach the high C with enough power while protecting the vocal folds. The delicate tissue needs to be taken care of, otherwise it can burst, just as the legendary tale says happened to the tenorino Louis Visser, who, during his warm-up practice before an opera attempted a high D5 (587hz) in chest voice and “horribly ripped his once powerful instrument into pieces – he could never again sing.” (Bergamini 2002, p. 50).

Pavarotti sings his famous tenor high C in Nessun Dorma:

Falsetto Register

As stated above, the confusion between the falsetto and head registers has been perpetual. Nowadays, however, new scientific evidence calls for a completely different definition of the two registers. Falsetto isn’t produced either like head voice or chest voice. The production of falsetto requires a very relaxed larynx, but tight vocal folds, and, unlike both head voice and chest voice, only a small portion of the fold is used to produce sound. The posterior ends of the vocal folds, the ones facing towards the spine, touch and vibrate –as air is pushed through them-, while the rest of the fold remains in its original position. This creates a breathy sound (because air can travel easily out of the lungs and through the enormous glottis). Falsetto is rarely used by any singer (except modern counter-tenors), but it has gained fame amongst male singers in the popular music industry (Bergamini 2002, p. 57). Although it’s been noted before that this register cannot exceed the head register by more or less than two notes (Lindeijer), I’ve found through observation, that the falsetto register can achieve notes much higher than the actual head voice. Classically trained counter-tenor voices say they use a reinforced falsetto to sing coloratura soprano parts, but there is no scientific evidence of the biomechanical existence of this reinforced falsetto. Edson Coredeiro, a renowned Brazilian counter-tenor, says he simply extends his normal falsetto “until it can go no higher.” He can sing falsettist arias that go up to a B6 (U.S. Standard Notation) or b3 (European Notation); much higher than the range of any head voice.

Edson Cordeiro sings Naturtrane, going up to a B6 near the end:

Flageolet/Whistle Register

The highest of all registers, the flageolet is capable of producing the lightest sounds known to scientists by means of the larynx. It is the least documented of all registers, although a number of research facilities are now studying its exact mechanism. Some vocologists say it appears to be an extension of the head register because of the biomechanical use of the vocal folds (Miller 2001, p. 210; Titze 2000, p.309). According to various medical observations, the whistle register calls for extreme measures at the muscular level in the larynx (Miller 2001, p.210). The vocal folds are stretched at their maximum length by action of the CTs while other adductive muscles hold both folds strongly in place. Through the laryngoscope, the glottis appears to be minimal – as when whistling with the lips- and there is no vibratory action (Titze 2000, p. 310). However, newer studies (Vocal Cons. 2005; Miller 2001, p. 211; Linderijer 2004) have shown through electroglottograph (EGG) that there is vibratory action only at the lamina propia/mucosa of the vocal folds. In essence, there is a small hole (glottis) through which the air can go through and only a small vibrating mass of the vocal fold is used to create sound (Vocal Cons. 2005). It is reported that this register can exceed audible sounds and delve into the realm of the ultra-sound. However, the whistle register cannot convey any emotion because of the way such high pitched sounds are processed by our central cerebral cortex (Titze 2000, p.310).

I have come to a strange conclusion about this register. According to the sound files I’ve processed, it appears to me that it is practically impossible for men to connect the whistle register with the head register. Some women, can pull this task off very easily. A great example is Erna Sack’s version of Frühlingsstimmen Walzer, where she seamlessly connects a high C7, down to her head register.

Erna Sack sings a unique version (going up to a C7) of Frühlingsstimmen Walzer, commonly known as Voices of Spring:

Although the change in resonance is apparent, there is no break in the voice. It appears to me that it is due to vocal fold thickness and head voice range. A woman’s head register extends higher and might successfully reach the whistle register (in vocal mucosa length) and thus be able to connect to it. However, a man’s head voice might be harder to connect due to the thickness of the vocal folds (and thus the limited range of the head voice). Probably, however, it might just be a matter of coordination with the muscles in the larynx – much like connecting chest voice with head voice while controlling CT and TA action.

Media and Audience Reactions

Lowest and Highest

Everyone who can speak can sing chest voice, but audiences have always been mystified by the bizarreness of the human voice. Singers who have the ability to sing very low and/or very high are usually greatly esteemed as long as they remain true to their artistic ability and manage to sound pleasing. Many of the sound files I’ve had the chance to listen to demonstrate tremendous amazement by audiences, and most importantly great approval (clapping, screaming, etc.). There are few singers who can actually sing in the two extreme registers (Stroh-bass and flageolet), and the ones that do, usually have a hard time finding any artistic expression in it. The most famous and largely acclaimed singer who can creatively use the whistle register is Mariah Carey. Carey burst onto the scene in 1990, winning legions of fans with her “rangy, flexible, and beautiful pop gospel voice [that] soars like her stylistic predecessor Minnie Riperton [to] find expression in the flageolet register.” (Virtual Cons. 2005). Apparently, she holds the Guinness Book of World Record for hitting the “highest recorded note-” a G#7 (3322hz), that she hit on a live rendition of her self-written song “Emotions” (Lindeijer 2000)3.

She has been called everything from a “medical wonder” by various speech pathologists to a “screeching cat” by the ones who dislike her. Fact is, she’s no medical wonder. Everyone possesses every register above mentioned, the problem with muscle memory and muscle-brain interactions are the only two things that impede most people to successfully “break” into each register. The vocal folds are highly flexible membranous tissues and have the potential to create all these sounds. Everyone has a flageolet register and everyone can learn to use it successfully, it’s just a matter of coordination with the human brain and the memory in the vocal folds’ nervous system. I believe that the breathy quality in Carey’s higher registers lately is due to overuse of the vocal folds4.

Other artists have been able to control this register and find amazing artistic creativeness. The most acclaimed of all is probably the French coloratura soprano of the early 1900s, Mado Robin. It has been reported that she could sing higher than the last C on the piano, C7 (2093hz – c4 European Notation), and sung live in “Carnivale de Venice” a high B6 (1975hz – b3 European Notation). Her fantastic coloratura voice was the envy of many other singers of the time and was greatly glorified by all operatic audiences.

Mado Robin’s live B6:

Another fantastic coloratura soprano of German descent, Erna Sack, was capable of singing the C7 and was particularly admired for her ability to connect the whistle register and head registers seamlessly. According to the large gigabytes of sound files I researched, her ability to do this supports my former assumption of women connecting both registers seamlessly (probably due to the shorter length of their vocal folds).

There is less information when it comes to men, mostly because the notes are not as high. As mentioned above, the high C5 (523hz) is very popular in the Italian operas. Most tenors who wish to climb up the ladder in the operatic industry need to be able to hit this note with full power. The world’s three best tenors, and the ones that attract the largest audiences, Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and José Carreras, are widely recognized for their fantastic high C.

Some tenors have sung higher arias, however, including Nicolai Gedda and William Matteuzzi, have sung, various times, a series of high F5s (698hz) and high D5s (587hz) in “I Puritani” and “Le postillon de Lonjumeau,” respectively (Lindeijer 2005).

Nicolai Gedda sings an F5 in I Puritani (4m 50s):

Probably another wonder in the human voice is to be able to sing both high and low. Such singers are said to contain a large or wide vocal range5 and it is sometimes hard to classify them classically (e.g. tenor, baritone, soprano, alto, etc.). This range is measured in octaves. For example, if a singer can sing from middle C – C4– (261hz) to soprano high C – C6– (1046hz), then the singer is said to have a two (2) octave range. An easy way to calculate the range of a singer is to have him/her sing their lowest note, then their highest and then simply subtract the subscripted numbers (six minus four equals two). Some people incorrectly calculate a singer’s range by having him/her hit their highest note. Notes that are hit, and not sung, are not added to the singer’s range. The widest ranges recorded in history are those of the legendary Peruvian wonder, Yma Sumac (who could be easily confused as a coloratura soprano or tenor) and American songbird Mariah Carey (although Carey is probably easily considered a mezzo because of the color of her voice) (Titze 2000, p. 311).

Mariah Carey sings an F7 in All in Your Mind:

Sumac is believed to have had a range of over 4 octaves, and Mariah Carey is thought to have possessed a range of around 5 (commonly and mistakenly reported to have a 7 octave range) octaves in the beginning of her career. Yma Sumac was probably the first singer to display a large vocal range, with songs like “Zaña” and “Jungla”, and was more of a circus freak show than a singer. Nonetheless, she had a powerful voice with an amazing coloratura tessitura (up to the A6), could sing a bit lower (C3-130hz) than a bass-baritone’s highest note (G3-196hz), and attracted fabulous audiences.

Yma Sumac sings Zana, showcasing an extensive vocal range:

On the extremes are singers with fabulous ranges but limited vocal artistry (Virtual Cons. 2005). Georgia Brown, a yet unpublished female singer can sing notes in the 8th octave. The highest she’s ever done is a screechy F8 (5586hz) during a vocal test, and a low G2 (98hz) also during a vocal test. This would give her a 5.7 vocal range (assuming she can sustain these notes).

Georgia Brown attempts to sing higher and lower than Mariah Carey:

Georgia Brown “sings” into the 8th octave, past the highest note on a piano:

Adam Lopez, a contemporary pop singer currently holds the Guinness Book of World Records for Highest Note Sung by a Male, the D7 (2349hz) (Virtual Cons 2005) He can sing high into the ultra-sound; up to an undocumented Bb9 (14,080hz), audible only by certain mammals (not humans), and can also sing down to the second octave (Lindeijer et. Al 2005; Rheanna). Classically he would be considered a bariton-Martin, but his extreme upper range – and full range of over 7 octaves- leaves classically trained teachers perplexed as to what position he would hold in operatic arias.

Even less is written about the lowest notes. Other than Viktor Wichniakov’s incredibly low C#1, or the G1 commonly sung by Siemen Jongsma. There has been no singer who could sing down to the first octave, but Wichniakov said in an interview that he has sung lower than a C#1 (thus, capable of singing down into the first octave).

Audiences have demonstrated time and time again that high notes are very attractive and highly admired. It is enough to say that Mariah Carey is the best-selling single female artist in history – in the world.

Acknowledgments

The following people contributed
to this thesis by inspiring me on the subject
and clearing my many doubts.

 

Technically

Rheanna Summers – Sound Files

Dr. Daniel Balard – Vocal Fold Analysis

 

Intellectually

Natalia Simarioff – Advice

Tako Oda – Copious Information on the Subject of Both Whistle and Pulse Registers

Andrea Carrau – Inspiration and Advice

Dr. Daniel Balard – Interview

Works Cited

  1. Bergamini, G., Delfo Casolino. “Anatomo-Fisiologia Dell’Apparato Pneumo-Fonatorio.”  Le Disfonie: Fisiopatologia, Clinica ED Aspetti Medico-Legali. Vol II (May, 2002): p. 46-63.
  2. Fitch, W. Tecumseh. “Voice Instabilities due to Source-Tract Interactions.” Template for     Speech Prosody. Vol VI (2002): p. 1-120.
  3. Frequencies of Musical Notes. Michigan Technological University Online. May, 2005. http://www.phy.mtu.edu/~suits/notefreqs.html.
  4. Larynx and Voice: Basic Anatomy and Physiology. Johns Hopkins University – Medical   Division. June, 2005. www.hopkinsmedicine.org/voice/anatomy.html
  5. Lindeijer, J.M. “The High C”. March 2000/June 2005. The Dutch Divas – In Opera & Concert. May-June 2005. http://dutchdivas.net/frames/highC.html.
  6. Miller, D.G., Schutte, H.K., & Hess, M.M. (2001).  Physical definition of the “flageolet register”.  Journal of Voice, 7(3), p. 206-212.
  7. Rheanna. Notes and Octaves. Freehostz. February-June, 2005. http://www.freehostz.com/notes_and_octaves/index.html.
  8. Thurman, Leon Ed.D., Welch, Graham Ph.D., Theimer, Axel D.M.A., Klitzke, Carol M.S Addressing Vocal Register Discrepancies – An Alternative, Science-Based Theory of Register Phenomena. (October, 2004): p.1-88.
  9. Titze, I.R. (2000d).  Vocal registers.  In Principles of Voice Production (pp. 281-310). Denver, CO: National Center for Voice and Speech.
  10. Vennard, W., Hirano, M., & Ohala, J. (1970a).  Chest, head and falsetto.  The National Association of Teachers of Singing Bulletin, 27, 30-36.
  11. Vennard, W., Hirano, M., & Ohala, J. (1970b).  Laryngeal synergy in singing.  The National Association of Teachers of Singing Bulletin, 27(1), 16-21.
  12. Virtual Conservatory. May 10th, 2005/June 5th, 2005. Eblah Platinum 9. May-June 2005. http://singing.eblah.com/cgi-bin/Blah/Blah.pl?b=Registration,m=1115784250,s=4,#num4

APPENDIX A

(6, Frequencies of Mus. N., 2000)

Pitch Frequencies for Equal-Tempered Scale

This table created using A4 = 440 Hz
Speed of sound = 345 m/s = 1130 ft/s = 770 miles/hr
Middle C is C4

 Note  Frequency (Hz) Wavelength (cm)
C0 16.35 2100.
C#0/Db0 17.32 1990.
D0 18.35 1870.
D#0/Eb0 19.45 1770.
E0 20.60 1670.
F0 21.83 1580.
F#0/Gb0 23.12 1490.
G0 24.50 1400.
G#0/Ab0 25.96 1320.
A0 27.50 1250.
A#0/Bb0 29.14 1180.
B0 30.87 1110.
C1 32.70 1050.
C#1/Db1 34.65 996.
D1 36.71 940.
D#1/Eb1 38.89 887.
E1 41.20 837.
F1 43.65 790.
F#1/Gb1 46.25 746.
G1 49.00 704.
G#1/Ab1 51.91 665.
A1 55.00 627.
A#1/Bb1 58.27 592.
B1 61.74 559.
C2 65.41 527.
C#2/Db2 69.30 498.
D2 73.42 470.
D#2/Eb2 77.78 444.
E2 82.41 419.
F2 87.31 395.
F#2/Gb2 92.50 373.
G2 98.00 352.
G#2/Ab2 103.83 332.
A2 110.00 314.
A#2/Bb2 116.54 296.
B2 123.47 279.
C3 130.81 264.
C#3/Db3 138.59 249.
D3 146.83 235.
D#3/Eb3 155.56 222.
E3 164.81 209.
F3 174.61 198.
F#3/Gb3 185.00 186.
G3 196.00 176.
G#3/Ab3 207.65 166.
A3 220.00 157.
A#3/Bb3 233.08 148.
B3 246.94 140.
C4 261.63 132.
C#4/Db4 277.18 124.
D4 293.66 117.
D#4/Eb4 311.13 111.
E4 329.63 105.
F4 349.23 98.8
F#4/Gb4 369.99 93.2
G4 392.00 88.0
G#4/Ab4 415.30 83.1
A4 440.00 78.4
A#4/Bb4 466.16 74.0
B4 493.88 69.9
C5 523.25 65.9
C#5/Db5 554.37 62.2
D5 587.33 58.7
D#5/Eb5 622.25 55.4
E5 659.26 52.3
F5 698.46 49.4
F#5/Gb5 739.99 46.6
G5 783.99 44.0
G#5/Ab5 830.61 41.5
A5 880.00 39.2
A#5/Bb5 932.33 37.0
B5 987.77 34.9
C6 1046.50 33.0
C#6/Db6 1108.73 31.1
D6 1174.66 29.4
D#6/Eb6 1244.51 27.7
E6 1318.51 26.2
F6 1396.91 24.7
F#6/Gb6 1479.98 23.3
G6 1567.98 22.0
G#6/Ab6 1661.22 20.8
A6 1760.00 19.6
A#6/Bb6 1864.66 18.5
B6 1975.53 17.5
C7 2093.00 16.5
C#7/Db7 2217.46 15.6
D7 2349.32 14.7
D#7/Eb7 2489.02 13.9
E7 2637.02 13.1
F7 2793.83 12.3
F#7/Gb7 2959.96 11.7
G7 3135.96 11.0
G#7/Ab7 3322.44 10.4
A7 3520.00 9.8
A#7/Bb7 3729.31 9.3
B7 3951.07 8.7
C8 4186.01 8.2
C#8/Db8 4434.92 7.8

APPENDIX B

(8, Lindeijer 2000-2005)

Extended Classification of Voices:

(Standard European Notation)

  • Coloratura-soprano: highest female voice, has to reach the f3 (Queen of the night in Die Zauberflöte). Examples: Erna Sack, Mado Robin, Ellen Beach Yaw and Miliza Korjus.
  • Coloratura-soubrette or Soprano lirico leggiero: reaches about d3, most of time youthful roles. Examples: Louise de Vries, Adèle Kern, Elisabeth Schumann, Erna Berger at the start of her career.
  • Soprano leggiero. Also named as coloratura-singer, but for her e3 is sufficient. Examples: Galli-Gurci, Dal Monte, Lily Pons, Erna Spoorenberg, Cato Engelen-Sewing, Erna Berger.
  • Lyric soprano: to c3, the most versatile soprano (Mimi in La Bohème). Examples: Victoria de los Angeles, Grace Moore, Greet Koeman, Irmgard Seefried.
  • Soprano lirico spinto (jugendlich-dramatisch): this is change-over between lyric and dramatic soprano. Fine full voice to c3. Examples: Gré Brouwenstijn, Renata Tebaldi, Elisabeth Rethberg.
  • Dramatic soprano: to c3 or d3. Is in the Italian repertoire (Turandot and Aida in same named operas) often a little bit more dark-colored than in the high-romantic German repertoire (Isolde in Tristan und Isolde). Examples:Maria Callas, Rosa Ponselle, Elisabeth Ohms, Flagstad.
  • The highest mezzo-sopranos are named to female-singers: Dugazon and Galli-Marié. To b2. Example: Cora Canne Meijer.
  • Dramatic mezzo-soprano: a light contralto-voice to a2, in some cases also capable to perform dramatic-soprano roles (Amneris in Aida). Examples: Ebe Stignani, Giulietta Simionato.
  • Lyric-colorata alto: to about b2-flat and special alto-roles of Rossini. Most of times sang by mezzo-sopranos.
  • Contralto. Sings roles as Azucena (Trovatore), Ulrica (Un ballo), Dalila. Example: Maartje Offers.
  • Dramatic alto: more dark colored as a mezzo, to a2-flat (Dalila in Samson et Dalila). Example: Annie Delorie.
  • Contralto: very dark, very seldom in opera. Examples: Clara Butt, Kathleen Ferrier.
  • Countertenor: special male-voice singing at contralto-height by using the falsetto-register. (todays also used for roles originally written for 18th century castratos, but with a quite different timbre). Examples: Alfred Deller, Sytze Buwalda.
  • Lyric tenor: male alternative of the lyric soprano. Reaches to about c2 just as the ‘tenore leggiero’ and the ‘tenore di grazia’ (Ottavio in Don Giovanni). Examples: Gigli, Richard Tauber, Anton de Ridder.
  • Tenore lirico-spinto: change-over to the dramatic tenor, to c2. (Lohengrin in same named opera). Examples: Del Monaco, Caruso.
  • Tenore drammatico or hero-tenor: in Italian operas famous because his ‘high C’ (c2. In the German repertoire a little bit more dark colored of sound, reaching to the baritone (Otello in same named opera). Examples: Jacques Urlus, Hans Kaart, Lauri-Volpi, Tamagno.
  • Tenore buffo: flexible clear voice, to about a1, means for acting roles ( Jaquino in Fidelio).Example: Chris Taverne.
  • Baryton-Martin: highest baritone-voice, named after a French singer, only in the French repertoire. Faust in same named opera and French operetta-heroes.
  • Lyric baritone: to about a1-flat (Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia). Examples: Tito Gobbi, Schlusnus.
  • Bass-baritone or character-baritone: more serious and to g1 (Figaro in Le Nozze). Example:Siemen Jongsma.
  • Heroes-baritone: dark, wide ranged voice to g1 (Boris in Boris Godoenov). Examples:Casper Broecheler, Jos Orelio.
  • Baritono brillante or ‘Spielbariton’: baritone with ‘buffo’ character (Gianni Schicchi in same named opera). Example: Jos Burcksen.
  • Bas buffo: Also ‘play-bass’, with a reach to f1 (Mefisto in Faust). Example: Guus Hoekman.
  • Basso serioso or basso profundo: reaches to about e1 and to the lower range capable to the low E (Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte).Examples: Arnold van Mill, Boris Christoff, Feodor Chaliapine.

Footnotes

  1. The “sixth” register was believed to be the “vocal fry” tones, produced by the ventricular vocal cords. Apparently, they have been taken out of consideration due to the lack of ability to produce any sustained sound ranging at least a half octave. There is an amazing amount of confusion between the Stroh-bass register and the vocal fry, since some scientists refer to them both as the exact same thing. However, for the purpose of understanding, vocal fry definition (terminology and physiology) will not be used in this thesis.
  2. U.S. Standard Notation for all notes in this thesis. In some cases, both the U.S. and European notations are provided.
  3. There has been much discussion about this. The note is supposed to be an F#7, which she faithfully hit in many live performances of the song. However, singers commonly (and accidentally) sing slightly out-of-tune; inaudible to the untrained ear. During a live performance of Emotions, Mariah accidentally sang the first stacatto minutely out-of-tune (sharp; higher than it should have been) hitting a G#7 — Minute 6:59 of this video.)
  4. Mariah Carey possesses yet another world record for having the largest collection of high notes (notes higher than a Cb6) in her songs. Excessive use of the vocal fold mucosa can lead to depressions in one or more of the folds. This can eventually lead to incomplete closure by adductive muscles and thus resulting in an unwarranted escape of air through the glottis– a breathy voice.
  5. Vocal range is determined by the number of octaves that can be sung in comfortable tessitura by a singer; limited by the highest sing-able note and the lowest sing-able note.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Carlos de Pró says:

    Querido Fernando me parece extraordinario todo lo que haces. Te he oído cantar y se oye muy bien. No dejes de hacerlo Se que no es facil el medio pero tenes lo necesario (vocalmente hablando) para que te vaya bien. Segui con lo tuyo para adelante, soy el primo de Dina y amigo de Enrique por si no te acuerdas de mi. Vamos arriba Te aprecia Carlos

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