The term “register” in voice teaching is used many different ways. In general, a register is a group of pitches that have something in common, which is usually compared to another group of pitches that is different in some way. Recently, I took a trip to the Facebook Twilight Zone by wandering into a long thread about registers as displayed on a chart. The chart showed ranges for soprano, mezzo, contralto, tenor, baritone, and bass. Some voice types were assigned four registers, some three. One had a second register of over an octave while others had one spanning only a fourth. The chart was posted, and a discussion began. I asked thrice, “What is the definition of a register in this discussion?”. One person gave her definition which I much appreciated. However, given the other comments, several other definitions must have been in play.
What are possible definitions for registers? Some:
- A group of pitches produced by a certain muscular configuration, contrasted with another group of pitches produced by a different configuration.
- A group of pitches produced by a certain vocal tract configuration, contrasted with another group of pitches produced by a different configuration.
- A group of pitches with a different level of stretch in the folds.
- A group of pitches with a different force of adduction.
- A group of pitches with a similar timbral quality.
- A group of pitches containing various combinations of the above properties.
The majority of participants in the discussion were so vague! Some alluded to one or more of the above, while others barreled ahead, talking about registers as if they were a set concept that are experienced the same way by all singers and teachers. Some people seemed to be acting on “my teacher said” which doesn’t require much independent thought or questioning.
This is an instance where the differing definitions matter a lot when talking about what they mean and how to work with them. None of them are wrong, but they are quite different from each other. If you are going to throw around a term, and are asked for a definition, please play nice and help your colleagues to understand what you want to talk about.