Head Voice & Chest Voice Science
Let’s talk about how we define vocal registers: having made a defense for the ubiquitous benefits of the ‘chest/head’ metaphor, one thing that it is not, is it is not good science. Therefore, at TVS we embrace another, more scientific set of definitions for vocal registration that enable our discussions to include the closer reality of what is really happening in and around the laryngeal region at a physiological level. This system is known as the “Vibratory Mechanism” definitions of vocal registration.
The French research team of Roubeau, Henrich, and Castellengo, have given us a simple and accurate description of our laryngeal vibratory mechanisms. It is based on what the vocal folds/cords are doing, or how they are vibrating and making sound when singing. The very real registration changes we all feel are very much to do with what is happening with inside the larynx. We will expand again on the vibratory mechanism definitions later, but know this, it sounds a lot more complicated than it really is.
The final conclusion with TVS is that you don’t have to make a choice on vocal register definitions. The classic ‘chest/head’ metaphor is fine so long as you understand that it is referring to imagery, picture words to help singers, but has the risk of keeping students thinking about singing high notes as something that is a struggle of “up & down” and “low & high” which encourages pushing and constriction. The Vibratory Mechanism definitions are not any more difficult to understand than the ‘chest/head’ metaphor definitions. They are just new, but they offer a better path for more exploration into the physiology and acoustics of singing. The Vibratory Mechanism approach is excellent; the ‘chest/head’ metaphor is only adequate.
The Vibratory Mechanism Definitions
Here are the four Vibratory Mechanism Registers, definitions and their counter-parts in the traditional chest/head metaphor in a matrix to illustrate the idea of the two different kinds of register definitions: