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Overview of breathing, placement and registration

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By HIH Darrison Noto


Most ENT's would agree to breathe through the nose, in general, is healthiest for the Vocal Fold. The air temperature is more acclimated and air moisture content acclimated before passing through the vocal fold. This helps to keep the vocal membranes from drying out. Among voice teachers and speech experts there has and still is disagreement in the vocal application. Personally, I advocate breathing through the nose except:

1. When the material being performed is to rapid in tempo or has fast complicated articulation. ( that does not allow for the needed amount of breath to be taken in effectively, fast enough) Here one should inhale half through the nose and half through the upper partials of the mouth in a quick huff.

2. If you are very congested due to cold, allergy or nasal passages are for some reason blocked.

3. when recording and you want the emphasis of the particular effects of inhaling through the mouth.


Breathing exercises which strengthen the diaphragm and expand lung capacity to their fullest are recommended. It has been my experience that singers in general waste too much breath. One should not be ending a phrase or note in performance breathless, but rather have a healthy reserve. In vocal exercises and breathing exercises, it is beneficent in some exercise to use the breath until entirely empty. In performance, however, You want to retain breath beyond what is being used in each phrase and end the notes with excess. You do not want to force the Vocal fold nor push beyond where it is freely and fully supported.

Support up or down?

The proper answer for classical singing and applicable in another singing depending on the technique is Both. The diaphragm should fully expand on the intake with support grounded in the lower abdominals. The lungs fully expanded with spine straight. You do not want the breath controlled from the top, however, the lungs should expand fully on top as well. Sternum lifted without including shoulder rise. Shoulders should be up in a normal position of good posture without any additional lift meaning they should also not roll forward. Beyond this whatever particular stage calls for is fine.

Great breath support and control will:

1.Help protect and maintain the vocal folds

2. Increase control of dynamics

3. Increase stamina, Increase performance time without exhaustion

4. Increase the over all longevity of the voice, extending your career for many extra years.

However without proper registration, placement and technique will not overall make you sound better.


There are many different placement points depending on technique and desired effect, but there are two classifications in a classical application as to means of placement.

Cognitive placement and Evolved placement:

Cognitive Placements

In quick study techniques as many modern techniques use we have cognitive placements. i.e. Dental, Facial etc this lends itself to multiple voicings with simple changes in the application. Great for a jingle singer or specific projects.

Evolved Placements

Is why Opera singers study for years and run endless scales and vocal exercises. In Evolved Placement, the sinus, hard pallet, soft pallet and facial frontal structures are slowly altered, molded, shaped and activated for maximal tone , control, dynamics and ease of register transition. Registration is a different issue as proper registration in classical singing is in the larynx, proper larynx suspension and in the vocal fold itself. Different from Register placement changes.

Registration by classical terminology is the process by which the vocal fold is taken out of a passive context and trained to accurately set for particular pitch and transition prior to the execution of the musical note or phrase as such it requires proper ear training. You must know the notes your moving to and the phrase planned. when Registration is properly trained the folds respond and are prepared for all pitch transitions from the beginning of a phrase, scale, movement through to the end to the end of a phrase, scale, movement- before any breath is applied. Because placement meets are usually broken down into Registers i.e. Head, chest etc there is a misconception in modern terminology as to what Registration originally intended in meaning. By knowing your voices proper registration points, placement points and with continuous usage a well-trained system of reflexes is developed and you are free to concentrate on the artistic aspects.

The main benefit of Evolved Placement is consistency. Opera demands a greater degree of consistency in tone, balance, texture and clear register transition which other musical formats usually do not require. With evolved placement you are still free to add cognitive movement, placements, however, they will not be required except for specific effect. The vocal dynamics are compressed into more of what is truely useable in Operatic performance and hold there. Again I stress you can still add Cognitive placement for nonoperatic work, such as grit.

The balanced Opera voice contains the following:

1. Proper Registration as defined above

2. Evolved placement and some Cognative placement

3. Controlled Breath Support

4. Pulp


6. Slice

7. Natural Vibrato


Frontal tracking- Almost all advanced, classically trained Opera singers have frontal tracking ( there are different terminologies used) It can best be described as a callous which starts at the gum line of the top teeth. It can be felt with the tip of the tongue. The flesh above the teeth and in the front of the hard pallet harden an form groves. Tracks there may be from three to nine. Higher voices will generally have fewer groves as Tenors an Sopranos train up and to a smaller focal placement, Baritone and Mezzo usually more, Contralto and basses even more. However this is not a set rule, merely based on observation.

There is a suture line that runs from the front center of the gum line back to the soft pallet. In most advanced singers the flesh parts at the suture line ( you cannot make this happen it occurs from years of well-placed vocalizing) The flesh calluses at the sides forming a channel from the soft pallet to the tracks mention above. In some, this is predominate in others only to a lesser degree. Once the Tracking and line are developed the voice usually holds true with little work, in ones appropriate voice type/range as long as the breath support is maintained.

Pulp: From a critics point of view merely means sounding full.

Pulp from a vocalist point of view ( I am not up on more modern terminology, but from reading Jaime Venderas post in the forum) I am assuming this similar to what he terms soft pallet activation.) In opera this area is what gives the voice warmth and depth. When combined with all of the above mentioned it adds endless richness to the overall tone, however by itself it is a very de-nasal sound, almost congested.

Squillo- Is for practical purposes the same as twang. In opera, it is used in balance with the other aspects listed above and with a lower larynx position. In rock music and other applications, it is usually now called twang and applied in mixed voice for fullness usually in a balanced or higher larynx position. Squallo is the More verticle equivalent of the slice.

Slice- In operatic performance the soloist place and ability to be heard over the orchestra and chorus are termed the singers "Slice"

Slice from the vocalist point of view can be termed as - A blade like horizontal focus in vocal application which can be applied to a lesser degree to all vowels, a greater degree on the E vowel and an absolute requirement for any covered E vowel above the lower partial to be effectively projected in live opera performance. In nonopera application this is most effective for bombastic screams and ear piercing full voice high notes. The ones with real meat!

One of the reasons Opera singers can be hard to record and why many of the Old world opera stars would not record.( you will notice this in older recordings) is that various aspects pick up differently in studios? If a slice is applied one must be a minimum of 18 inches away from the microphone or it will distort like hell! lol, Many opera singers where forced to move back which causes loss of pick up of the other qualities. You will note the distortion on the high notes in older recordings and at the heavy dramatic moments.

In rock cases like live recordings of Ann Wilson ( from Heart), You may note she sounds somewhat congested at times. this is because in hand held mic situations the slice may ride right over the mic pick up, leaving excess pulp pick up. In an Opera houses, the slice goes to the back of the house with the pulp filling behind it. In rock and hand held application you need to work the mic distance as best as possible for clear and even pick up.


Vibrato is naturally occurring in all properly functioning voices even when in a lesser nonaudible degree. Although one can reduce vibrato or create artificial vibrato, or wool for artistic purposes. In Opera, this is generally discouraged. When all of the other elements listed above are in good working order, one's natural vibrato emerges. This is an even vibrato with even oscillation. The speed varies from individual and with voice type.

Take a few moments to read my blog on voice types. Next blog will be on different vocal transitions and transitions to and from falsetto to full voice and from full voice to falsetto.

Everyone have a great HOLIDAY!


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