The definitions below, while not always strictly following their original meanings, demonstrate what people are meaning when they speak about things relating to singing.
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Acoustics: The way in which the sound travels within the room. In a carpeted room, the acoustics are dampened (duller), while in a large, wooden room the acoustics can be enhanced.
Baritone: The ‘middle range’ male voice. Normally has a range from around A2 (below middle C) to A4 (second before high C). Some baritones have the capacity to sing higher or lower than these notes.
Belt: In some instances, to belt is to take the chest voice slightly higher than the natural passagio. Beyond this, the singer will access a mixed-belt, which is where they colour their upper passagio and head voice with the ‘belt sound’. This normally consists of a straight tone that flourishes into a natural vibrato towards the end of the note, or has a harsher, less full quality than a typical classical sound. A good belter will utilize their microphone and avoid using tremendous amounts of volume throughout the piece.
Castrato: A male who, before puberty, had their testicles surgically removed to prevent their voice developing masculine qualities. The instrument and body would still grow, which resulted in an impressive ‘large choir boy’ sound. When the new breed of ‘heroic tenor’ developed in the 1800s, the need to castrati dwindled. There are no apparent living castrati at present, and views on genital mutilation have developed to prevent any future procedures.
Contemporary Tenor: This would describe someone who does not sing operatically but have the range of a classically trained tenor. Sam Smith, Freddie Mercury, Adam Levine, Adam Pascal and Ted Neeley are good examples.
Contralto: The lowest female voice. Can have a masculine quality similar to a tenor. The range can be anything between C3 (an octave below middle C) to C6 (high C). This particular voice type can have an unusually large range (in the case of Ewa Podles), with the capacity to sing soprano and mezzo soprano repertoire. This voice is particularly powerful in contemporary music; Judy Garland, Pink, Adele and Angela Lansbury.
Counter Tenor: the contemporary equivalent of the ‘castrati’. The counter tenor is male who has developed their head voice with an effeminate quality without having undergone any surgical procedure.
Cuperto: To sing through a small mouth. The cuperto is a good way of working out whether you have an open throat. If you sing an ‘oooohhh’ vowel from bottom to top with no register breaks, then you are utilizing cuperto.
Diaphragm: The sheet of muscle inferior to (beneath) the lungs. When it contracts, it moves downwards, causing abdominal organs to move outwards (hence ‘tummy breathing). This decreases air pressure in the thorax and causes air to rush into the lungs. As it relaxes, it moves upwards into the thorax. This causes the air pressure in the thorax to reduce, resulting in air leaving the lungs.
Dramatic voice: When the voice is darker in quality and has a lot of carrying power with very little effort. Examples would be Leontyne Price, Elizabeth Connell, Lauritz Melchior and Johan Botha.
Fach: Where the singer’s voice naturally prefers to sing. As a general rule, this can be decided by; the point of passagio transition, the tessitura, the depth of sound and the comfort a singer has while singing certain repertoire.
False folds: A flat area of flesh sitting laterally and above each vocal cord. When inflamed, when the body is in a state of fear or when used deliberately, they can move inwards and either dampen the vocal cords or create sound. Tibetan throat singers are a great example of how the false folds can create sound with deliberate contact.
Falsetto: To sing on the ‘false folds’. Rather than looking at falsetto as a register, think of it as a damper on the sound. If you touch a guitar string ever so slightly while it is ringing, you will not stop it from vibrating, but you will reduce it’s volume and presence. The false folds work in a similar way to the vocal cords.
Heroic Tenor: While there are a number of different tenor types, the ‘heroic tenor’ is a term to describe the changing sounds in opera in the 19th century. Audiences started to prefer the more masculine, cutting sound of a tenor rather than a thinner, baroque or renaissance sound. Gilbert Duprez was the pioneer of this kind of singing. Modern day equivalents would be Jussi Bjorling, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Lauritz Melchior.
Inhalare la voce: Translating literally to ‘inhale the voice’, is a visualization tool for the singer to imagine the open throat as air simply rushes in to a comfortable level, which is then followed by supported phonation on an equally open throat. The difference between inhalation and exhalation space should not change.
Intercostal muscles: These are muscles that exist between the ribs. The internal intercostal muscles aid in inhalation by contracting to open the space between the ribs and increase the size of the thorax.
Mezzo Soprano: The middle-range female voice type. They normally have a vocal range from around A3 (below middle C) to A5 (below high C). Some mezzo sopranos have a lower or higher range, particularly in Rossini operas.
Mixed belt: At the point at which the singer must change register or risk ‘yell singing’ (pushing their chest voice to high), they will utilize mixed belt. This is when the cords remain in contact through the natural ‘break’ as the voice accesses head voice, creating a belt ‘effect’ while safely singing in head voice.
Pharynx: The three chambers; laryngeopharynx, nasopharynx and oropharynx. They are make up the space above the larynx (voice box), at the back of the mouth and surrounding the soft palate.
Soprano: The highest female voice type. Generally sopranos range from C4 (middle C) to C6 (high soprano C). Heavier voiced sopranos may have a slightly lowered range from this, while coloratura sopranos may go as high as G7 (Queen of the Night).
Support: The correct co-ordination of posture (tall spine), intercostal (rib), abdominal, oblique and back muscles to maintain a steady stream of air during phonation. This is done by slowing the relaxation speed of the diaphragm and internal intercostal muscles.
Tenor: The highest male tessitura aside from the counter-tenor. Normally has a range from around A2 (second below middle C) to C5 (high C). Some tenors can sing up to an F5.
Tessitura: The point at which the voice truly blooms and can be heard the most. This does not necessarily mean where the singers most impressive notes lie, but where the voice has the most comfort, ease and presence while singing.
Tummy Breathing: A term that teachers and singers use to encourage the student to ‘fill their tummy’ as their breathe. In truth, abdomen is not filling with air, but the diaphragm is contacting more fully, causing the abdominal organs underneath it to shift. This results in the abdomen’s outward movement and hence the appearance of ‘tummy breathing’.