Voice Registers

Jan G. Švec
Palacký University Olomouc
Faculty of Science
Department of Biophysics
Olomouc, Czech Republic

Voice registers present one of the most controversial topics in voice science and voice pedagogy. Historically, the use of the term „voice register“ is known to be taken from organ playing where the registers are used to change the timbre and the resulting quality of the sound. Similarly, voice registers have been used to denote vocal sounds produced with different quality, in singing as well as in speech. There are various definitions of voice registers used by different authors and many terms have been used to denote different voice registers.

Voice registers can be studied from different points of view – speakers or singers are interested, for instance, in a) how the different registers can be produced and how to change between the different registers smoothly or abruptly, b) how are the registers self-perceived or c) how are they perceived and distinguished by listeners. Clinicians are interested in how the different registers can be restored when damaged; engineers and physicists are interested in how the registers can be best measured and modelled, etc.  Despite of hundreds of years of research on voice registers, many issues still remain to be clarified and objectively described.

Historically taken, mentioning of voice registers has been traced back to Middle Ages by some authors. Publications on voice registers in the past were mostly based on purely subjective descriptions of the phenomena. The situation could begin to change with development of methods for objectively describing the physiologic and acoustic events in voice registers. 19th century brought, among others, development of laryngoscopy, stroboscopy and cinematography to visualize and capture laryngeal adjustments and vocal fold vibrations in vivo as well as in excised larynx experiments, the invention of sound recording systems for capturing voice, or discovery of X-rays that could later be used also for visualizing various hidden parts of vocal organs. In 20th century these inventions became explored and the possibilities for voice registers research eminently increased with the development of sound analysis systems such as sound spectrography, aerodynamic measurement devices, techniques of electromyography, electroglottography, computers, video and high-speed video recordings, or 3D medical imaging methods including computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging. These and many other tools became accessible offering powerful means to gather objective information on voice registers. Around 1950s-1970 we can notice the start of a modern era of research on voice registers with the appearance of studies from eminent voice scientists such as Janwillem van den Berg, Minoru Hirano, Harry Hollien, Ingo Titze, as well as from scientifically-oriented singing pedagogues such as John Large, William Vennard and others, which offered more objective and verifiable information on this controversial subject. The trend of bringing more objective information has been continuing ever since and growing number of scientists has been adding their insights on this subject. It is evident that in order to understand the voice registers phenomena we need to go to the very basic principles of voice production and need to combine tools and information from many fields, such as anatomy, physiology, acoustics, biomechanics, aerodynamics, nonlinear dynamics, signal processing, and take advantage of collaboration among medical specialists, singers, physicists, engineers, voice pathologists, and other related professions.

Since its appearance in 1987, Journal of Voice started to contribute towards gathering of the knowledge on voice registers. This collection includes papers published in Journal of Voice through the 31 years of its existence, from 1987 to 2017, some of which could be considered “classic” for understanding voice registers, but also those illustrating the subject of voice registers in a wider perspective.  The selected papers describe, among others

  • laryngeal and vocal fold adjustments in voice registers,
  • roles of different laryngeal muscles in register production,
  • roles of different vocal fold layers in register production,
  • vibratory characteristics of the vocal folds in voice registers monitored through electroglottography, videostroboscopy, high-speed videoendoscopy, inverse filtering, and other methods,
  • acoustic characteristics of voice registers,
  • perception of voice registers and of the register transitions,
  • influence of vocal tract resonances and of different vowels on voice registers,
  • influence of subglottal tract resonances on voice registers,
  • specific adjustments of vocal tract cavities in the different voice registers monitored through various imaging methods,
  • descriptions of sudden register transition events through bifurcations and other nonlinear dynamic phenomena, including interactions between the vocal fold vibrations and subglottal and supraglottal resonances,
  • the characteristics of abrupt and smooth register transitions
  • the role of hormones on voice registers,
  • neural mechanisms contributing to the vocal registers control,
  • the use of vocal fry register in speech and its sociological aspects, etc.

The collection starts with two articles, by M. Hirano from 1988 and by B. Roubeau, N.Henrich and M.Castellengo from 2009, offering reviews on important factors involved in voice registers production. The rest of the articles cover the development of the knowledge through the three decades of Journal of Voice existence. Included below is a list of papers* cited more than 50 times according to the Scopus database (as of February 2018), which indicates they already had quite a large impact on voice research community. The other papers included in this collection bring additional information and importance, some of which is yet to be appreciated.  One should not forget, however, that most of the selected papers are also based on knowledge from other important publications which can be identified by looking at the references cited in these papers. We hope you will find the collection of the papers inspiring, satisfying your curiosity in this exciting subject of voice research.

Enjoy the reading!

*The following articles contained in the source readings for this topic have each been cited fifty or more times in the Scopus database (as of February 2018):