I am curious about the idea of register balancing. After reading your e-mail, this concept seems all the more important. It seems to me, that after practicing the descending [u], my voice feels more flexible, lighter, and crisper. Of course there maybe is another hidden variable at play, but I think this may be what you described as conditioning of “the tuning muscles of the larynx to be more flexible.”

Could you perhaps explain the pedagogical phenomenon behind registers? I know little about this concept after much research, only that the chest register is created by the ‘heavy mechanism’ and the head register is created by the ‘lighter mechanism’. Perhaps the best question to ask would be, why do the vowels, intensity, and pitch affect registers?

Unfortunately, I am unable to sing above a D (above middle C) convincingly. Would exercising the register with light descending [u] help me achieve the proper head tones to be able to sing above the E passaggio point?

Thank you so much for your help,


You are correct that the concept of register balancing is very important. It could very well be the critical point that determines the success of the function. Your description of your sensation after exercising the descending [u] sounds correct. Yes, that is an aspect of what I meant. The upper register is really much more flexible and I feel it is a more effective foundation for our function than the lower register. Sometimes that seems counter-intuitive, but once experienced the benefits are quite clear.

What I’m calling the registers are really the different modes of adjusting the size and shape of the vocal folds for vibration. These adjustments are influenced by many aspects of what we choose to do with our voice. Most often we associate registers with pitch, lower pitch goes into the lower register and higher pitch needs the upper register. But the different register adjustments also determine timber – or tone color, resonance, and efficiency.

The basic characteristics of each register would be: Lower register – thicker vibrating mass, more stiff, larger glottal opening, more breath, more complex vibration, lower resonance, more “noise” in the harmonic spectrum. Upper register – thinner vibrating mass, more flexible, smaller glottal opening, less breath escape with the vibration, more simple vibration, higher resonance, “cleaner” harmonic spectrum.

It would seem from the descriptions that the lower register would be more powerful, richer, stronger. Many things we would want. And the upper register would be weaker, less impressive, and quieter. But a very interesting thing happens when the registers are developed fully. The efficiency of the upper register actually makes the voice quality fuller and richer while being acoustically more audible because of the optimal resonance and the unique acoustic quality. The flexibility allows more ease through a wide range while requiring much less effort because of not wasting breath and the smaller vibrating mass. And surprisingly, many people, including myself, are able to add improved low notes to their range as a result of incorporating the upper register into the function.

To answer your question about why the three elements of vowel, pitch, and intensity affect the registers. These are the things that make up what we are pronouncing. What we pronounce influences the adjusting of the larynx. When we start out the larynx is not conditioned to adjust efficiently. After we have conditioned it through intelligent exercising we can sing any vowel, pitch or intensity with the proper balance of registers. But before that is established the open vowels, like [a] will influence the glottis to open larger. Which would be lower register. That is why it is difficult to sing a high note on [a] before training coordination.

In like manner, before coordination is established, fuller intensity will cause a larger glottis as will lower pitches. The opposite then influences the upper register to adjust because these are in line with allowing the glottis to stay smaller. Basically we want to establish the ability to adjust into a small glottis condition at will and stay there. When we are able to keep that adjustment we can then vary the parameters of our singing (pitch, vowel, intensity) without disrupting the small glottal adjustment. This gives great flexibility and freedom to the singer.

I guess we could say that this all comes down to exercising and developing effective muscular coordination of the laryngeal muscles that control the glottis. I should also point out that it is CRITICAL to understand the difference between the glottis and the throat. We want the glottal opening to be small, but the throat must not have any constriction. The throat can be remembered to be the air-way. It must stay open like free breathing. It takes sensitivity to coordinate a small glottis while keeping the air-way open. The glottis is the location for vibration and the air-way is the resonator. This sensitivity is the developed skill of a singer.

Through exercising the upper register adjustment and building familiarity with that adjustment, we can “reinforce” it by connecting to our complete vocal action. This is what is commonly referred to as “full voice” – our performing level of vocal function. This is a more common concept in classical singing than in non-classical singing. But I feel it still applies. The complete voice action utilizes the energy from the enthusiasm of expression which differs from the typical amateur singer who uses the energy level of every-day talking to sing. This won’t do the job. The result is then discomfort from imbalance and constriction.

I definitely think exercising with the light [u] will help with your passaggio. I would recommend starting on the upper G above the passaggio on descending octave arpeggios and move down by half-steps. This pattern can be expanded and started higher after coordination improves. The body should be set up the same as for final singing, the only difference is it feels like you are only using a small portion of your voice. Naturally the dynamic level will be less as well. Even as we get more advanced and start to intensify, we should never try to be loud with the isolated upper register. It will tend to get forced which then ruins any benefit we might have received. We must wait until we are able to go to the complete voice from the upper register preparation. In other words we prepare with the upper register, stop, and start again with the complete voice without changing the adjustment/size of the glottis. It is hard to explain and understand through words. But the result is full voice with a different character than before. It has a weightless quality combined with a strength and fullness. An easy intensity is what I like from this hybrid adjustment.

I hope this is helpful for you.