Modal register

Whistle register

The whistle register (also called the flageolet register or whistle tone) is the highest register of the human voice lying above the modal register and falsetto register. This register has a specific physiological production that is different from the other registers, and is so called because the timbre of the notes that are produced from this register are similar to that of a whistle.

In some sopranos the modal register vocal production may extend into what is usually thought of as the whistle register. Women of all voice types can use the whistle register. With proper vocal training, it is possible for most women to develop this part of the voice. Children can also phonate in the whistle register and men can as well in very rare instances.

Physiology and definition

The whistle register is the highest phonational register that in most singers begins above the soprano "high C" (C6 or 1,046.5 Hz) and extends to two Ds above (D7 or 2349.3 Hz). However, the whistle register does not begin at the same point within every voice, and there are rare voices which can extend the whistle register much further than the range listed above. For example, some opera singers can sing up to the "high" F above "high" C without entering into the whistle register. Also, rare singers like Georgia Brown from Brazil, who sang up to a G10 (25087Hz), can sing much higher in the whistle register.

The physiology of the whistle register is the least understood of the vocal registers. Unlike other types of vocal production, it is difficult to film the vocal cords while they are operating in this manner as the epiglottis closes down over the larynx and the resonating chamber assumes its smallest dimensions. It is known that when producing pitches in this register, vibration occurs only in some anterior portion of the vocal folds. This shorter vibrating length naturally allows for easier production of high pitches.

Although the whole physiological production of whistle tone is not understood, it is known that when the laterals are active but the transversus inactive, a triangular opening is seen between the arytenoids, the vocal processes contact each other, but the posterior parts at the apex do not contact each other. The exception to this would be if the vocal folds are not stretched, as stretching of the vocal ligaments abducts the vocal processes.

Whistle register in children

Many babies and small children of both sexes can produce sounds in the frequency range of the whistle register without any conscious effort. Typically, the whistle register in children extends from the soprano "high C" (C6 or 1046.5 Hz) to two Gs above (G7 or 3136.0 Hz). Some children, however, can produce pitches that surpass the upper limit of the keyboard. Children should be discouraged from going into the whistle register frequently as some medical professionals are concerned that such use of the voice could cause damage to the vocal cords or vocal dysfunctions that affect speech and phonation.

In Western popular music, the whistle register is used with more variety and to produce much higher pitches than are called for in classical music. While it is mostly used by females, such as Mariah Carey, and Minnie Riperton, there are a few male singers who use it. Among male singers, Adam Lopez holds the Guinness Book of Records record (C#8) for the highest vocal note by a male, making extensive use of the whistle register. However, the female singer Georgia Brown, holds the record for highest note ever reached.


Further reading

  • Smith, Brenda (2005). Choral Pedagogy. Plural Publishing, Inc.
  • Stark, James (2003). Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy. University of Toronto Press.

See also

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