When it comes to words for different voice qualities it’s “Vive la difference”! -says Kim Chandler.
It seems we all have our own favored terms to describe different vocal qualities or vocal registers.
It can be quite a confusing world for singers and singing teachers alike to communicate with each other.
As a result, there seems to be a push towards using one agreed set of terms.
Whilst this might be convenient, I believe it is unrealistic and perhaps even undesirable.
Terms, Terms & More Terms…
First let’s look at some of the many terms used to describe the various vocal ‘gears’ across different parts of the vocal community:
- Chest, Head, Mix, Falsetto
- Mechanism 1 & 2
- Modal Voice & Loft
- Heavy Mechanism, Light Mechanism
- Thick, Thin folds, ‘Stiff’ & ‘Slack’
- Shortener (TA)-dominant & Lengthener (CT)-dominant
- Neutral, Curbing, Overdrive, Edge
- …and there are more
Each part of the vocal community has its own angle on the singing voice and therefore favors terms that reflect that view.
There is the classical community, medical community (ENT & SLT), voice science/acoustic science community, musical theatre community, contemporary commercial community and various branded methodologies etc.
Why a One-World-Language Won’t Work
In real life, we have hundreds of languages in the world that reflect the variation in life experiences in different communities.
Knowing different languages enriches cultural understanding.
However, in Esperanto there was an attempt at creating a ‘one world language’ that didn’t quite take off as expected, and I believe that we shouldn’t necessarily be trying to find a similar ‘one vocal terminology’ system either.
Choose Your ‘Map’
We have maps of various types to help us navigate our way around. Maps are two-dimensional, over-simplified but highly useful representations of the real, three-dimensional terrain.
Vocal ‘maps’, as I like to call them, are a similar concept.
They are over-simplified but useful systems that help us navigate our own voices.
Just like real maps, vocal ‘maps’ can have more or less detail included, as the clientele requires.
So try to find the ‘map’ that connects with you and helps you make sense of your voice.
I suggest learning the language and concepts of other vocal systems too in order to communicate better with other singers and teachers.
Enjoy the fruits of being multi-lingual.
And, as the French would say, “Vive la difference”!
– Kim Chandler
Kim Chandler is one of the UK’s top session singers and industry vocal coaches. She’s coached charting artists such as Courtney Love, Paloma Faith, Jess Glynne, Birdy, Marlon Roudette, Josh Franceschi (You Me At Six), Oli Sykes (Bring Me The Horizon) and more. Kim works regularly as a vocal coach at Abbey Road Studios, and in the academic world presents at workshops, master classes and national & international voice conferences. Her work can also be found in TC-Helicon’s The Ultimate Guide To Singing and Springer’s “Teaching Singing in the 21st Century”. She is also the creator of the Voice Cross Trainer App for iOS and Android. It’s based on her popular “Funky ‘n Fun” vocal training series. See her Website