Updated: Sep 28, 2019
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 singer is hitting (singing) the exact frequency of that note. "Off-pitch" means the singer is either singing somewhat below the note (flat) or somewhat above it (sharp). When you hear the term "Pitchy" it refers to a singer who is flat or sharp on all or some of their notes. This is also called "off-key" or "out-of-tune".
Placement: Focusing sound on various places (resonators) in the body for optimal sound, performance, and expression.
Projection: Controlling the volume of the voice to be heard clearly by the audience. Sometimes also refers to the ability to communicate emotion to the audience, as in “he projects great joy.”
Range: Notes that the singer can sing comfortably.
Register: A range of tones in the human voice produced by a particular vibratory pattern of the vocal folds. These registers include chest voice, middle voice, vocal fry, head voice, falsetto, and the whistle register.
Resonance: The amplification of the vibrations that create tone through and within your mouth, throat, sinuses, nasal passages. Although we feel a vibration in the chest area when singing in lower registers, the chest has no actual resonators.
Riffs and Runs: a “run” is a run of notes spontaneously created (or meant to sound spontaneous) and a "riff" is a repeated melodic idea. However, most singers use the terms "runs" and "riffs" synonymously. (I do.)
Scat: A jazz technique where singers use improvised notes that sound like jazz instruments. Ella Fitgerald was the queen of "scat".
Scoop: Beginning a note (in tune) beneath its pitch (not flat) and sliding up to the correct pitch.
Sharp: To sing somewhat above a note resulting in singing out of tune. The opposite of flat.
Timbre: Tone, color and quality of sound.
Tone: The quality of a singers voice resulting from the resonance produced in the nasal cavity, mouth, and throat.
Trill: Rapidly and deliberately alternating two notes usually a step or half-step apart.
Vibrato: A natural wavering of the voice while singing a note.
Vocal Color: Painting the tones of your voice with emotion including bright and dark tone.
Vocal Cords or Vocal Folds: Bands of muscles found inside the larynx (or voice box). When not in use they form a V shape, which closes as air passes through causing them to vibrate and produce sound.
Vocal Fry: is the lowest vocal register and is produced through a loose vocal fold closure that permits air to pass through slowly with a creaking sound.
I hope you find that this list of singers' terminology helps you to speak the "lingo" a little more fluently!
Talk to you soon!