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Just Singing with Jo - Singers' Terminology

Hey singers! I thought I'd do a quick post on singers' terminology.

If you've heard of terms like "chest voice" or "vocal registers" or "resonance", etc., etc., and aren't clear on what they mean, then this post is for you. I'll go through what I consider to be the most widely used vocal terms and give you a succinct definition of each. Whether you're new to singing or an old pro it is helpful to know these terms.

A Cappella: Singing performed without instruments.

AdLib (Libitum): Singing at one's own liberty - an improvisation.

Articulation: Forming clear and distinct sounds in speech.

Attack: How one begins or initiates a note.

Back Phrasing: A stylistic technique where the singer is either ahead or behind the beat, on purpose.

Belting: Controlled yelling! LOL!

Break: Transition between two vocal registers. Unintentional voice "breaks" are called "cracks".

Breath Support: Efficient use of breath to support singing or speech.

Chest Voice: Same general range as the speaking voice and is associated with deeper warmer tones.

Chest Resonance: Although the chest vibrates when speaking or singing in the speaking range (or lower), there are no actual chest resonators.

Diction: The clear pronunciation of words.

Diphthong: Two separate vowel sounds within the same syllable, such as the word "day". Two vowel sounds, one syllable: dā/ee.

Dynamics: The practice of controlling vocal volume to convey emotion.

Falsetto (or False Voice): Similar to head voice but with no chest voice mixed in. Think of how Mickey Mouse sounds when he speaks.

Flat: when one sings under the correct pitch - out of tune.

Forced: Unnecessary tension in the throat causing the singer to sound strained and constricted.

Glissando (Gliss): Glide from one note to another.

Head Voice: I have seen different definitions of Head Voice, but here is the definition I believe describes it best. The higher part of the vocal register, resonating in the head (nasal cavities, throat and mouth), yet still mixing with a bit of the chest voice so as to have a richer fuller sound than that of falsetto, which also resonates in the head, but is of a more "airy" quality with no depth of sound.

Head Resonance: The vibration of a sound which is bounced around the nasal cavities, throat, and mouth to create vocal sound. 

Intonation: The way someone's voice rises and falls as they're speaking. The particular way you're used to speaking; how one conveys attitude or emotion through speech. The term Intonation is also used when talking about pitch and staying on pitch.

Mask: The area of the face specifically around and including the eyes where the voice is placed to create a brighter sound. I always think of a brighter sound when the voice is specifically placed in the mask area.

Mixed Voice (or Mix): A mix of head and chest voice that creates better vocal quality.

Modulation: Transitioning to another key.

Nasal: Sound focused around the nose. Think of "The Nanny" (if you've ever watched that show).

Nodes or Nodules: A polyp on the vocal cords that prohibits good singing.

Phrasing: The stylistic way a singer sings words or sentences within a song. Emphasizing or pulling back certain words or notes to create emotion and expression.


Pitch: The frequency of a note. Being "on-pitch" means the sin