Types of Tones in Singing

Having an understanding of the types of tones in singing will help you better understand the different ranges available to a vocalist. Tones simply refer to the register of the voice. In a broad sense, the voice has a high, medium and low range. However, the vocal registers can more accurately be described with technical terms relating to the range of tones within each register.

Vocal Fry

The vocal fry consists of the lowest range of tones available in singing. In this range, the vocal folds are closed loosely, which creates a guttural sound. Women are rarely asked to sing in this register, as it is usually only necessary when bass voices are missing. This range of vocal singing is also somewhat controversial since it can be harmful to the voice. However, it is often used in country singing and gospel music. The vocal fry register puts undue stress on the vocal cords, and when sung in, can often reduce the high range of a singer.

Modal Voice

The modal voice extends from the vocal fry to falsetto in men and from the vocal fry to head voice in women. It is the largest part of the vocal range, extending up to two octaves in individual singers. There are several types of specialized voices, making it very difficult to give an average range of the modal voice. The range can change drastically between singers. The modal voice range of tones contains the most commonly used tones in singing.

Falsetto and Head Voice

Depending on gender, the next range of vocal tones consists of the falsetto and head voice. Falsetto refers to the second-highest vocal range in men, and head voice refers to the second-highest vocal range in women. This register can be identified by an absence of vibrato and a small loss in tone quality. With these registers, only the edges of the vocal cords vibrate. This helps to create faster vibrations, which in turn makes it possible to sing higher tones.

Whistle Register

The whistle register consists of the highest range of tones in vocal music. Often, a special type of soprano called a coloratura soprano will use this register. A coloratura is a soprano capable of singing extremely technical vocal music. However, some men also have the ability to access this register. Most commonly, vocalists use this range when approaching F above high C. This register will rarely be used to sing lyrical lines in a high range. Typically the whistle register will only be utilized to play quick ornamentations and elaborate lines.


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