What is Involved in Singing?

It does not matter what type of vocalizing that one is involved in when discussing the anatomy and physiology of singing.  All forms of singing involve the use of:

The nose- Warms and moisten air.  The nasal cavities are involved in the resonance of   tones.

  The oral cavity-  Includes the lips, teeth, and tongue.  The structures serve as articulators.

  The pharynx and the oral cavity- Both act as resonators that selectively amplify to varying degrees of intensity, fundamental tones and overtones.

  The larynx- An organ consisting of a cartilaginous framework containing  muscles and joints.  The vibratile part of the larynx are the vocal folds which are the producers of sound.

  The Lungs- They supply a stream of air which passes through the trachea. 

  The vocal folds- They vibrate throwing the stream of air into a series of complex vibrations.  (Punt, 1979 and Henderson, 1979).

Breath Control

One of the most basic steps in singing is learning how to control one's breath.  Diaphragmatic-costal breathing makes it possible to support a good singing tone.  The correct use of this type of breathing will cause a visible expansion of the rib cage as the diaphragm moves down and the lungs fill with air (Miller, 1983).


There are certain tonal qualities in the voice to which the term registers has been applied.  Most teachings state that there are two registers, the head register and the chest register.  Some educators teach that there is a middle register as well.  Between registers breaks occur in which one is switching from one register to another.  Well trained singers are able to blend the registers over the breaks so that a change in tonal quality is indistinguishable to the listener (Husler, 1965). 

In Mariachi there is a mixing of the registers in which the vocalist neither uses all head voice (falsetto) or all chest voice.  In some styles of Mariachi singing, the vocalist will switch from the head register to the chest register and intentionally cause the switch in registration to be distinguishable to the listener.  This is like yodeling.

See the glossary for definitions of italicized words.

Characteristics of the head register:

The head register is lighter than the chest register.  The vocal fold are thin and the glottis does not open and close completely.  Higher pitches can be moved easier because there is less physical bulk to be moved and the amplitude of the movement is small (Miller, 1983). 

Characteristics of the chest register:

The chest register is the lower range and the vocal folds are thicker.  Because of the thickness of the vocal folds, the glottis closes firmly so that when air pressure builds up below, it bursts out.  Each puff of air opens the glottis explosively (Miller, 1983).

Coordination of the registers:

The head or the chest register should not be used exclusively.  When one sings in the upper range, more head register will be used, when singing in the lower range, more chest register will be used. 

Most teachers agree that a balance should be attained when training the registers.  Time should be taken to find the middle voice before moving up or down in range (Miller, 1983, and Lujan, M., personal communication, February 22, 2001). 

What is a Mariachi Ensemble?    The History of Mariachi Music    What is the difference in Training Between Genres?    Vocal Problems in Mariachi Singers    The Speech-Language Pathologist's Role    Glossary of Terms Related to Singing    Links    References