Manuel Garcia and Simplicity of Registration

“I believe that, in order to return to simple, uncomplicated vocal teaching, we need to study Garcia’s chart (and indeed all of his book) from 1840. It is perhaps the most reliable chart that we have concerning the parts of the voice. Firstly, Garcia is only 35 years old and is almost certainly giving us all the information unchanged as he had learned it from his father. It is clear that after he had invented the laryngoscope in 1854, his observations of the vocal cords caused him to drift away from the traditional Bel Canto ideas. I assume that many of the charts from the other writers were also biased by Garcia’s observations. To this end we should assume the following:

  1. Prior to the invention of the laryngoscope, the extent of each register and possible range of each part of the voice was the same. By this I mean that each part of the voice is functionally and potentially the same; what differs is just how high or low each type of voice can sing in each part. According to this rule we can train each and every voice, high or low, in the same way. There is functionally no difference between each of the voice types, and this is what I mean by simple voice training.
  2. The Registers: The break between the Lower and Upper Registers is about E-flat above middle C for all voices. This can change for each individual after the three Voices (Upper Voice, Middle Voice, Lower Voice) have been developed. The extent of the pure Upper Register is always about one octave: B to B’ (B3 to B4).
  3. The Chest Voice: How high each singer can bring the Chest Voice differs according to the type of voice; for example, female voices: the contralto takes the Chest Voice (not the Chest Register!) higher than the Mezzo-Soprano, and she takes her Chest Voice one step higher than the Soprano.
  4. The extent of the Middle Voice is, for all voices put together, one tone higher and lower than that of the pure Upper Register. This shows that the Middle Voice is the coordinated Upper Register. For all females, as well as for the Haute-Contre and Tenor, the Middle Voice is exactly the same. Although the Baritone and Bass have a Middle Voice range a minor third lower than this, this is still very close the range of the pure Upper Register.
  5. The Upper Voice always begins on the same note, except that Garcia doesn’t give the Baritone and Bass an Upper Voice.

If one compares this chart with the later ones of Garcia, as well as Marchesi, Shakespeare, et al., it is clear that with the invention of the laryngoscope the charts become more and more complicated, and for every writer on singing the chart is different and different for each type of singer. If a chart has differences for all Registers or for the three Voices, then few teachers and students can ever hope to have a clear picture of these ranges! This does not lead to a simple art of teaching! Because the ranges in Garcia’s early chart are always almost the same, voice teaching becomes uncomplicated – a teacher can refer to it from memory.”

Brownless, Edmund. “Thoughts on Simple Singing: Toward a More Adequate Vocal Terminology”, Modern Singer Master: Essays In Honor Of Cornelius L. Reid. Scarecrow Press, 2005.

Images from Manuel Garcia’s “Traité de l’Art du Chant”, 1847.