Random Musings on Paint/Registers

  • There are two registers of the voice: falsetto and chest. (Throws gauntlet) Why do I think so? Anatomy of the vocal mechanism. Mechanism was the historic term used by Manuel Garcia, and suggests a particular system of parts working to create a particular kind of sound. The larynx has two such systems – the cricothyroid (stretchers) and the arytenoids (tensors). BOTH have different innervations. If you find another muscular system with another nerve system, then we’ll have another ‘register’ as defined by Garcia. This third mechanism has not been found by physiology and anatomy (sciences). Therefore, two registers. Mechanism is the key word.
  • Anatomy should put the nail in this proverbial coffin. It hasn’t. We’re still arguing over it. I don’t think it will be settled. Not even modern science can convince teachers to stop misusing scientific theories that were debunked years ago (I’m looking at YOU, Bernoulli effect).
  • Two registers of the voice provide a beautiful bifurcation of the singing voice into two separate categories – a sort of Yin Yang: Masculine/Feminine, Aggressive/Vulnerable, Loud/Soft, Cavatina/Cabaletta, da capo format, Muscle/Breath, Holding on/Letting go.
  • When these registers interact, their combinations provide countless varieties and textures of sound that people have interpreted as separate “registers” causing endless confusion. 
  • How many shades of green can be acquired through the blending of yellow and blue? Perhaps a hundred? I don’t know – but it’s not ONE. More blue in the mix equals darker green; more yellow a lighter green. The underlying COLORS (registers) have not changed. Merely their proportions as evidenced through the product of their blending.
  • Falsetto (as a hooty, breathy, and DARK texture) is distinct from the chest register (a clear, ringing, and BRIGHT texture). This clarifies the Italian concept of chiaroscuro to my mind beautifully.
  • Caccini hated the falsetto and wanted everything sung in CHEST. It would have been interesting to hear “Amarilli mia bella” sung in chest by a castrato. We should get some sopranos to sing it for us in chest (just for fun).
  • The reason to exercise falsetto is not always for the benefit of falsetto. It can purify the action of the chest register when intelligently juxtaposed.
  • People are convinced that two registers simply cannot explain the variety of tonal timbre provided by the larynx. This is because they are always hearing some combination of these two registers and not their inherent qualities when isolated. They are looking at a shade of green and miss the fact that green is a mixture of two separate elements. The registration HAS BEEN OBSCURED. To pull out falsetto to them would be as shocking as pulling out yellow in a blend of green. “THAT was in there? I had NO idea!”
  • “I’m seeing green – now how can you TELL ME that I am also seeing blue and yellow!??”  Answer: You’re NOT seeing blue and yellow anymore (exclusively), but you are seeing the product of their COMBINATION. 
  • Chest register can be ‘turned off.’ Falsetto cannot. See Hirano.
  • Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli confessed to using falsetto (he called it falsetto accomodato) but didn’t want anyone to know about until after he died. (My first book will be entitled Falsetto: The Ultimate Operatic Deathbed Confession: “I sang in all those operas – and NO ONE EVER KNEW MY SECRET!!”. It’ll make a killing.) See Tomatis.
  • Frederick Husler and Yvonne Rodd-Marling said that a singer without a falsetto WAS NOT A SINGER. Stringent! For them, the falsetto helped in the suspension of the larynx.
  • The ability to shade/blend these elements is largely contingent upon a singer’s level of skill/function as well as AN OFTEN NEGLECTED ELEMENT: their aural acuity (ear) and mental concept of tone (mind). Sometimes, it’s not JUST the voice in need of training.
  • To insist upon ONE particular shade or blend or ratio of registration to the exclusion of all others is inartistic, unmusical, and contrary to spontaneous human expression. The painter/singer should have all shades of green at their disposal. No singer should be locked into a lifetime of singing in only ONE textural shade. Boring. Heck, ONE aria or SONG doesn’t have the same ratios of registration in it. If it did – blergh. 
  • Messa di voce is the proving ground for any (all) of the above. Can’t do it? The registers aren’t balanced. When they are, the messa di voce becomes a possibility. Take heart: many of the greats today can’t sing a good messa di voce. Doesn’t mitigate its pedagogical usefulness, however.
  • If you lose A LOT of air when singing mezzo forte to fortissimo, but not when singing pianissimo, your registration is off.
  • What’s happening in the passaggio is a pretty fair litmus test of registration in general.
  • Generally speaking, when the head voice (a kind of blend of the two basic registers) shows up and is free of constriction, less attention can be paid to falsetto.
  • None of this should be micro-managed, our goal is still TO SING. Big picture.
  • Most importantly (and forgotten when discussing ALL OF THE ABOVE): only a MINIMAL separation/isolation of the registers is necessary in a course of training, unless the voice is in need of a MAJOR overhaul.

5 thoughts on “Random Musings on Paint/Registers

  1. The Tomatis you reference would be “The Ear and the Voice,” Alfred A. Tomatis (author), Roberta Prada (translator), Pierre Sollier (translator), Francis Keeping (translator), Scarecrow Press, 2004.

  2. Lastly: I think it is important to differentiate between mechanics (what is happening in the larynx) and what is perceived via proprioception. As an example, several eminent students of García wrote that all voice types sang in three registers. Does this mean they contradicted García himself—whose writings are at variance with this idea? I think not. Rather, I believe the answer lies in a statement made by Charles Santley who intoned: “I am confidence that great harm has been done by mixing up singing and surgery.”

  3. Lastly, Lastly (since I just remembered): You may find it interesting to know that your choice of the color green is apt since Tomatis observed that when the listener’s ear is fully open, visual acuity is enhanced (the cranial nerves for vision and hearing are connected). Green being the most abundant color in nature, this color is perceived with greater discrimination.

  4. Thank you so much for this great post! Could you please clarify what you mean by turning off the chest register? And why would this not be possible with the falsetto register?

    1. Hi there Francisco, I took that assertion from the argument made by Stephen F. Austin in his essay, “Scientific Support for the Two-Register Theory” that was included in the book, “The Modern Singing Master.” He details the work of Hirano and some EMG studies that show the consistent activity in the CTs and a ‘drop-off’ of participation in the TAs. I would definitely recommend checking out that essay because it goes into some detail about the support for two-register theory. 😀 Thank you for your comment!

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