Understanding and Solving Problems in the Middle Register

Recently, many singers have written to me with questions about the middle voice or middle register. Problems in this mid-range are quite common in both male and female voice. Many female singers complain that their voice "cuts out" in the middle voice leaving very little resonance or volume. However, male singers usually complain about their high notes. It is interesting that the solution to both problems is found in the same concept; lower larynx position.

Often singers allow their larynx to rise as they come down from the high range into middle register. Most of the time, they concentrate on "low larynx" as they go up. However, they do not concentrate on "low larynx" as they go down. (Low larynx is NOT achieved by depressing the larynx with the root of the tongue. It is a reflex action that is trained at inhalation.) This is critical for one major reason: if the larynx is allowed to rise on a descending passage and the singer then tries to go up, the high register will not coordinate properly. A "squeezed tone" will occur in the upper register and often loss of high notes altogether. I have found that singers must train the larynx not to go up as they descend a scale. Often when a singer "listens instead of feels", the high-larynxed throat position creates a deception that the singer is bringing "head resonance" down. In actuality, if the larynx is allowed to rise, he/she is simply closing the throat. Lower overtones are lost with a high-larynxed singing position. Basically, pharyngeal vowels must be maintained in every register. Certainly the larynx must be allowed to rise slightly in the higher register, however, as William Vennard explains, the "pivot of the larynx" must occur going up AND coming down. The pivot of the larynx is a gradual tilting down and forward as the singer goes up in pitch. This is necessary for true "head voice" to occur. Many singers use a "squeezed tone" thinking that it is authentic head voice. The opposite extreme is a "depressed larynx" which is equally dangerous. I remember a quote by Joan Sutherland: "I used to vocalize my middle register before a performance while some of my colleagues wore out their high notes. I knew if the middle register was vocalized properly, then the high notes would be there." (Higher singers must beware of "weighting" the middle register by using too much "cord mass"; this effects the upper register adversely.)

If the larynx is trained to descend gently with inhalation (THE SINGER SHOULD NEVER PUSH THE LARYNX DOWN WITH THE ROOT OF THE TONGUE), the back wall of the throat is trained to open beyond the back of the tongue. The soft palate is trained to lift and the result will be "pharyngeal vowels" or an open throat. Once this space is achieved, it has been my experience that a perfect blending of the registers is the result. Jussi Bjoerling is a great singer to study when considering middle register. His voice never "thinned out" when going down into middle register.

HOW DOES A SINGER KEEP THIS OPENING? The answer is in the open body and support system. (See articles on breath and breathe management.) Open body is necessary for "open throat" to be sustained. Authentic "head voice" has warmth and color. It is achieved from a truly open acoustical space. Many young singers are allowed to sing with a "high larynx" because it is heard as a way of "lightening" the voice. This is a dangerous trap. High-larynxed singing over a period of time can create permanent vocal damage.


(1) Breathe the larynx slightly down during the preparation breath. This can be achieved by monitoring the larynx with the fingertips to see if it slightly descends at inhalation. Also, one should monitor the root of the tongue to be sure that it is not too stiff. The tongue must descend somewhat with the lowering of the larynx, however, the tongue-muscle should not stiffen.

(2) Sing the Italian "u" sliding up and down on an ascending interval of a major third. Think a slight "rocking" of the larynx down and forward as you ascend through that interval. Take this up gradually through the middle register. You will find that the "head voice" will come in naturally with this exercise.

(3) Learning correct laryngeal function applied to language: Sing the Italian syllables da, me, ni, po, to, la in the middle register on a single repeated pitch. Be sure that the "larynx descends" slightly after every consonant. This will set up proper laryngeal function in preparation for repertoire. Alan Lindquest strongly suggested the Sieber Vocalises published by Shirmer. The basic vocalises are the perfect bridge between vocalizing and singing repertoire. Sieber was an Italian-trained Viennese voice teacher who wrote these vocal exercises with one very crucial idea in mind: to arrange the vowels so that proper vowel modification can occur and a blending of the registers can be achieved. The result is a much more open throat and more resonance in vocal production.

To teachers and singers alike, I wish you the best luck in finding and executing healthy singing. Please address any questions to info@voiceteacher.com