What is Whistle Register?

More on the Highest Register of the Voice

Before describing a specific register, an overview of how the vocal cords work is helpful for those unfamiliar with the way they function. The vocal cords are long ligaments that flap together or vibrate to make sound. You can use more or less of the width of the ligaments, stretch them tighter for higher notes, and leave a lot of slack for lower ones. Just a portion of the vocal cords can be used in order to reduce their length.

The folds can also vibrate slower or faster. In addition, there are ‘false cords’ or the vestibular folds made up of fibrous tissue encased in a mucous membrane. They are used to create jading sounds in death metal and are also developed by Tibetan monks to create low droning sounds generally considered calming.

Whistle Register is the Highest Register

In vocal pedagogy, the head and chest voice are the two most common registers with the goal to combine the two to create a mixed or modal voice. The whistle register is the highest register allowing singers to access notes above the head or falsetto registers. Unlike other registers, we are not entirely sure what it looks like to sing in whistle register since the epiglottis makes it hard to record. We know a small portion of the vocal cords are used and the epiglottis covers the larynx as it would when you swallow.

How Does Whistle Register Differ From Head Voice?

Head voice uses the entire length of the cords, while whistle register does not.

In addition, the epiglottis covers the larynx possibly to create an even smaller space. The sound is squeakier than head voice, but still projects. Many report a feeling of sound coming out from the top of their head while singing in whistle register, while head voice feels as if it comes from the forehead.

Why is it Called Whistle Register?

The names for chest and head voice come from the sensations singers feel when they sing in them. The whistle register gets its name from the unique whistle-like timbre it produces. There are other names for it, such as flageolet, flute register, or whistle tone.

What is the Vocal Range of the Whistle Register?

Generally the range is between high C or C6 and F6, but many can extend the whistle register even higher. Both men and women are able to use the whistle register, though few men do. Adam Lopez is an example, holding the Guinness World Record for the highest note sung by a male at one semitone above the highest note played by the piano.

Who Sings in Whistle Register

There are many arias in the world of opera requiring sopranos to sing in whistle register. The highest sopranos in the opera world known as the “soprano acuto sfogato” or “stratospheric coloratura sopranos,” are especially known for their well-developed whistle registers as they can sing and perform with ease above F6. Many arias allow them to show these notes off in cadenzas or ornamental passages that can be changed according to the abilities of the singer. Susanna Foster and Maria Remolá are two examples.

Light and dark coloratura’s also access the whistle register, such as Beverly Sills and Joan Sutherland. “The Queen of the Night Aria” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute and “Una Voce Poco Fa,” from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville are two arias that typically include some whistle register. Mariah Carey is a popular singer famous for singing in the whistle register, which she does both for recordings and ad lib in performances. She has said she gained inspiration from earlier popular music stars such as Minnie Riperton.