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Nazia Chaudhry | Vocal Terminology

Vocal Terminology

Voice and Performance


Voice teachers or vocal coaches usually use a combination of anatomic, musical, and vocal terminology during lessons. These are simplified definitions, so definitely refer to a music or medical dictionary for further explanation.

Adam’s Apple – common term for the thyroid cartilage, the part of the larynx that protrudes from the neck

Break – a sudden change or shift in tone usually from chest to falsetto, falsetto to chest, and sometimes from chest to head voice.  This transition usually lacks strength and hides the singer‘s lack of ability to connect vocal registers.

Bridge or Passage Area – In Italian, this is referred to as the passagio, which is commonly known as the “break” in your voice. This is the first place in your range where you start to blend registers. Bridges are generally located around different pitches for each voice type: bass, tenor, alto, or soprano.

Diaphragm – The dome shaped muscle attached to the bottom of the lungs that separates your chest and stomach cavities. Its main function is to initiate inhalation.

Epiglottis – leaf-like cartilage that separates the functioning of your esophagus from the functioning of your trachea

Falsetto – type of vocal production, similar to head voice, that lets you experience the freedom of singing in the higher part of your range without strain. Unlike head voice, falsetto cannot blend or connect with your chest voice because when produced the cords do not actually connect.

Larynx – commonly known as the voice box, which is located at the top of the wind pipe or trachea. The vocal folds and their corresponding muscles are found inside the larynx. The muscles used for swallowing are found outside the larynx.

Licks, Trills, and Runs – scalar passages in songs or parts of scales sung dynamically

Legato – long, smooth, connected tones

Middle/Mixed Register – A blend of head and chest registers referred to as a “mix.” During singing, it gives the illusion of belting in chest voice and creates one voice with tonal consistency.  This allows for more tonal color and control of vocal dynamics.

Nasal/Head Cavity – resonating area in the upper half of your head

Pitch – The frequency of completed vibration cycles in a given tone; measured in hertz (cycles per second). The human ear has a range of 20 to 20,000 hertz.

Resonance – amplification of sound in our body cavities, usually of the mouth and head. Everyone is unique and so is their resonance.  Typically resonance can be amplified through the following cavities of the body: sinus, nasal, throat, mouth, chest, and head cavities.
Slide – stylistic singing from note to note, without any break in tone. Slides are most common in blues and country music.

Soft Palate – the soft area located around the roof of the mouth. This can be felt by placing the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth, which is the hard palate, and then when you roll your tongue toward the back, you will feel the soft palate.

Staccato – short, disconnected notes

Style – a personalized approach or manner or singing

Timbre – a person’s individual tone quality

Tone – Know the difference between tone and noise. Tone is sustained and equal pitch that is caused by regular and constant vibrations of air. Tone is set in motion by similar vibrations in the body producing the tone, while noise is caused by irregular and unequal vibrations.

Vibrato – a natural oscillation or pitch variant that is the result of the dynamic balancing of airflow and vocal fold approximation. Vibrato is a natural occurrance that may be learned or controlled. This is caused by the natural, normal relaxation and contraction of the vocal muscles. Vibrato gives energy or life to a tone. It is not the same thing as a tremolo or a wobble, which are caused by the instability of one’s outer muscles when trying to use those muscles to control tone.

Vocal Folds – two folds located inside the larnyx. Like air escaping through a balloon while someone is pinching the opening, the vocal folds vibrate as air passes by them, thus creating sound.

Vocal Register – a grouping of adjacent notes made with the same coordination. Different registers include: chest, head, falsetto, mixed, and whistle registers.

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