Updated: Sep 29
It’s obvious that the use of registers – their different colors and textures – differs between classical, music theater, and popular styles. (Popular styles = all styles sung into microphones. Band singers, singer/songwriters, and some contemporary music theater.)
While stage singing, like opera or music theater, has many prescribed norms for how it should sound, microphone singing does not. That’s not true if you’re in a Blondie tribute band, because then...yes. You have to know how to sound like young Debra Harry. But if you’re in a cover band, or you’re a singer-songwriter, or performing as yourself, then, overall, you make your own rules.
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Everything we refer to as style in microphone music originated as a musical or vocal response to a certain genre, or can also be a combined result of compensatory behavior. Take the vocal scoop. It’s part of every genre of microphone music as well as contemporary music theater. Did it come from the inabilities or insecurities of certain singers during a certain time? Maybe. Or maybe it’s a melding of musical styles from faraway shores. We’ll never know what made that particular vocal behavior ubiquitous in popular styles, but it is. And (except ever-so occasionally and very deliberately) it is decidedly not used in choral music or classical music.
Keep that in mind when you’re thinking about registers. Specifically, head register (or M2 register or CT dominant phonation). Shifting your perception of the head register or falsetto can help you negotiate register breaks and begin learning to blend higher in your range.
If your student’s goal is to be able to sing in an extremely deft and facile way, able to express many different tones and textures anywhere in their range, like Beyoncé or Justin Timberlake, for instance, then they need to learn to sing in a mixed register; high and in a healthy way. They may be a chest (or M1) dominant mixer, or a head (or M2) dominant mixer, but they'll have to learn to mix. In the meantime, though, you can teach them the same thing that you can teach your younger singers, and the same thing you teach your band singers or singer/songwriters. The magic is in the head (M2) register.
Getting the feel for it
Many singers identify with their chest (M1) register sound and are reticent to use their head (M2) register or falsetto. Their M2 can feel and sound foreign to them, and they’re uncomfortable with that. I believe it’s important to recognize and honor that before introducing them to confidence with their M2 register. (e.g., I know this might make you feel uncomfortable. Many singers feel the way you do. It's totally ok. If we access this part of your voice, though, you'll have a much bigger range. It will change as you use it more often.) I also have a wish that voice coaches would accept whatever sound such a singer is able to access in their head register, without trying to shape it too quickly. Let them get the feel for it.
Having got the feel for it, it’s then time to teach them to use it in a comfortable way. The thing that tends to make the switch from chest register to head register awkward is not so much the switch itself, but the placement of it. If you’ve been trained classically, you have an expectation for a rounded, back-and-up-and-over kind of feeling for your head voice. Even music theater singers may shift registers in a way that also shifts placement. (Blog post: What Does Placement Mean? And Should We Teach It?)
The magic is in the placement
Using placement, with either sensation or conception, to experience your head register in
smaller, more forward place - even if it seems a little nasal to you – will get you a sound that is more true to popular styles. Think of how Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, Harry Styles, Sara Bareilles, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, Tory Kelly, or John Legend access their head registers. It may be focused, nasal, or airy, but it is decidedly not the full-throated head register of a classical singer. When the singer shifts into their chest register, the consistent placement of the sound allows the overall sound to remain basically cohesive. (Note: the singer, being aware of how the voice feels along with how it sounds, will not perceive it as cohesive. They will need to be reassured.)
Aside from the less jarring register switch, your student will gain a sense of how to allow for a high chest blend at a sonic and/or interoceptive level. It can also help them gain a full-body understanding of how much breath support a high chest blend will require; at least as they're learning it.
Learning to keep the head register forward like that will not only provide the “vocal camouflage” they can use while they’re learning to blend high, it will teach them to anticipate a true pop sound and give them access to different vocal textures.
Not all the time
Please remember that blending cohesively may not be a priority for your client/singer. It may not be how they want to sound. For many artists, head register is a source of vocal texture. They insert breaks deliberately, or they may create an incomplete adduction in order to have that inefficient breathy sound that microphones love.
Registers in popular styles are tools to access range, volume, and textures.
Does your student have the range they need for their artistic expression? Your student may want to learn to blend their chest register high. The styles they love may call on them to be as loud or soft as they want to throughout their range.
If your student sings in a metal band, that student probably doesn’t care about singing softly, but if they’re a country singer, they will. Different styles call up the need for textures inherent in the genre. Does your student’s style make them want to be edgy, dark, whispery or whistle-y? Do they like to use register breaks or glottal scrapes? Those aren’t generally part of classical technique, but they are a lot of the fun of teaching popular styles and contemporary music theater!
Meredith Colby, January 2022
Meredith Colby is an expert on singing in popular styles.
She's an author and the creator of Neuro-Vocal for Popular Styles, a way to teach healthy technique for popular styles based on brain science. Meredith teaches privately online to professional & adult singers, and voice teachers & coaches from all over the world.
You can get information and book individual sessions or classes from this site.
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This blog post is about #registration in #popularstyales. It is an introduction to understanding how to approach #headvoice when #teachingvoice to singers of #CCM, #PCM, and #microphonestyles. It is meant for #voiceteachers and #voicecoaches. It is also meant for #vocalcoaches and #freelance professionals. In #privatevoicelessons it is important that #independentvoice teachers and coaches understand the role of #reisters in popular styles. Their understanding of this will affect their ability to #teach, #coach, and #retainstudents of popular styles. This in turn will affect their ability to nurture young artists and prosper financially in the #teachingstudio, #musicstudio, and #voicestudio.