Teaching Registration in the Mixed Choral Rehearsal: Physiological and Acoustical Considerations

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Aldrich, Nicole Paige
Maclary, Edward
One of the most challenging concepts of vocal technique is registration. In classical Western singing, noticeable changes of timbre over the course of a singer's vocal range are considered undesirable, and much effort is spent in learning how to eliminate these "breaks." Faults in vocal registration can cause unevenness of tone quality, lack of resonance, and instability of intonation. The choral conductor must learn how to address these problems in rehearsal in order to establish good choral sound. Much literature exists which defines the physiological and acoustical adjustments required to create a well-blended, "one-register" voice; however, this literature is aimed at the individual singer or teacher of solo voice. Voice-training resources for choral conductors may mention registration and vowel modification but typically do not explain in any detail the science underlying the concepts. The choral conductor thus must adapt the body of solo voice research for application to a group voice teaching setting. The primary goal of this paper is to propose and describe techniques for teaching registration and vowel modification concepts to choral singers. The paper details the physiological factors at work in vocal registration, including the functions of the intrinsic laryngeal musculature. It also surveys the science of acoustics as it applies to the singing voice, including a discussion of vowel formants and the purposes and methods of formant tuning for male and female voices. This section will draw heavily on existing research in solo singing. The next portion of the paper tailors this knowledge to the needs of the choral vocal teacher. The author describes signs of registration difficulties within an ensemble and their possible causes. Next the author provides a series of vocalises and other tools designed to help the conductor achieve two goals in rehearsal: first, to help both men and women develop the physiological adjustments necessary to reduce obvious registration shifts; and second, to assist singers of all voice types in discovering the vowel modifications which will produce a uniform tone quality throughout the range. Finally, the author explains how the conductor can identify potential registration problems during score study and preparation.