Understanding voice registers-
a sticky situation made palatable
Understanding voice registers… with meatloaf
It was dinner time. My 3 year old daughter had just realized that I had put something on her plate that was not in her usual 3 item repertoire of culinary bliss- PBJ, chicken nuggets, or macaroni and cheese. On came the tears! “But I don’t like it!” My retort was the one that has been passed on by parents through the ages and one which, we all swear, at one time or another, will never pass our lips when we are parents… “Honey, you need to eat what mommy puts on your plate.” “I don’t want to eat it! I don’t like it!”
Suddenly, a flash of brilliance! “Honey, it’s binglebop!” The tears and tantrum come to a sudden halt. Sniff. “Binglebop?” A look of confusion laced with hope. “It’s binglebop?”
You see, in our family, we make up ridiculous words. My daughter had recently come up with “binglebop” somewhere along the way and now it was “her word”. Because it didn’t really mean anything, I was able to attach it to the ground turkey meatloaf that was sitting on her plate.
When I made the unfamiliar food on her plate something to which she could relate, she was suddenly open to the prospect of trying it! In fact, she literally gobbled it up… happily exclaiming every few bites, through a tear-stained face, “I like it! I like the binglebop, Mommy!”
And that’s how Binglebop came to be!
But what in the world does that have to do with understanding voice registers?!
One of the first conversations I have with a new voice student is about range and registers.
Most people don’t have a full understanding of their range. We sing the comfortable notes, which are actually typically the ones nearer the middle of our voices. It’s not that we CAN’T sing higher or lower notes, it’s that the feeling is different, unfamiliar- like that somewhat unappealing meatloaf on our plates. So we usually stop the sound because the change required feels uncomfortable.
Enter the flavor analogy.
Everyone has a context for discussing flavors! There are flavors that we love and those we hate. There are flavors for which we need to acquire the taste. I am going to assert that if you’re struggling with various parts of your range, you need to think in terms of flavor. (If you came for the science behind understanding voice registers, this isn’t the article. Maybe another time. Today, I want to talk to people who need to understand the voice at the simplest levels.)
1. Chocolate or Vanilla- which is your favorite?
If I entered a room full of people and asked for a vote on which is better, chocolate or vanilla, I’d have people on both sides, right?
So, who is right? No one, of course! It’s a preference!
The same thing often happens in singing. Perhaps the propensity for singing low notes is born in us or perhaps it’s because the choir needed more altos and so you developed the low end of your range- your “chocolate” register.
You are familiar with the way these notes feel coming out and you like the way they sound.
You would consider it your favorite. If there was a choice to be made, you’d pick chocolate.
But… that doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t like vanilla.
You can appreciate vanilla for its own uniqueness, not because of its similarity to chocolate. In fact, the more you demand that the vanilla taste like chocolate, the more you will hate vanilla! BECAUSE ITS NOT CHOCOLATE!
Have I made my point?! Just as vanilla and chocolate are amazing in their uniqueness, so are the different parts of your voice!
Your vanilla notes can be just as powerful or amazing as your chocolate notes, but you cannot demand that they are powerful or amazing like chocolate. It just doesn’t work.
2. Learn from the familiar
Just like binglebop gave my daughter context for her meatloaf and made her open to trying it (and loving it, I might add!), now that you can understand that there are actually different flavors in your voice, can you accept that and begin to explore the uniqueness in quality and production that each register provides?
The best thing you can do, is to allow your voice to do what it naturally wants to do.
Stay away from preconceived ideas about how your voice should sound. Experiment and play with the vocal flavors you find in your full range. (Side note: did you know that the average human has a 3-4 octave range!)
Using this simple analogy of chocolate and vanilla can work wonders for your mind- which is where it all begins anyway!
Oh- and if you discover more flavors along the way, even better!
3. Coffee- failed expectations and acquiring a taste
Did you love coffee the first time you tried it?
Imagine the rich aroma that wafts across your senses, enticing you to try some of the richness you smell. You take a sip and EW! It’s so bitter! You can’t believe how something that smells so amazing can taste so bad!
Now imagine that awesome singer you heard. He/she amazed you! The power, the depth, the passionate, the range!
You give it a go- EW! Those notes taste (feel) bitter to you. It was not what you expected.
And now, there is an impression. I don’t sing (fill in the blank).
I can’t sing….
Those notes are too….
I will never understand what makes us decide that we want to acquire a taste for something like coffee or wine, but many of us do. (I LOVE those first sips of hot, strong coffee in the morning! When I am setting the timer the night before I actually get giddy!)
What is it that eventually concedes to the flavor that we, at first, abhorred?
We keep on drinking it!
The sounds that may have first felt unfamiliar and sounded- you name it- brassy, shrill, flat, splatty, breathy, etc. can be acquired through:
Awareness of mental blocks and hidden physical tension
Understanding of your instrument and how it deals with the flavors of the notes your sing
Changing and adjusting to new ideas and understanding
Habitually repeating the change and therefore making it reproducible and intentional.
The people that never drink coffee again, never acquire a taste for it and spend their lives saying, “I love the smell, but I hate the taste!”
Don’t let yourself stand on the outskirts saying, “I wish I could sing like that”.
Pour yourself a cup of coffee, add a little chocolate or vanilla,
and sing your heart out!
Want to go deeper in understanding how to access your full range?
Master your range with these 4 video trainings.
Come back soon for some thoughts on how to build confidence in your singing ability!
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