Whistle register

From Academic Kids

The whistle register is the range of vocal notes above E6. The ability to hit notes in this register is extremely rare.



The whistle register is really just the highest range of the head register. It is so named because the pitches created mimic the pitches of a whistle. As pitches get higher, the vocal cords are adducted by the side muscles in the throat (similar to a zipper). As this happens, less and less chest cavity is available to "color" the tone; after E6, tones produced are nearly completely devoid of color, or "white" (In the seventh octave, the notes are so white they can sound almost mechanical). When young children shriek, the noise is usually in the whistle register, singers simply learn to maintain that vocal control while removing any shrillness. Nearly all singers who use the whistle register are coloratura soprano, known and revered for their ability to flip in and out the whistle register, or jump from a note in the fifth or rarely upper fourth octave, to a note or notes above E6 and back to where they were. Though it is true that a properly pitched whistle register tone can shatter glass, it has only been demonstrated with the aid of electronic amplification. There is no authentic record of glass being broken by the unamplified human voice.

Genetic disposition to abilities?

Some people believe vocal ability is purely genetic, while those that view the voice as an intricate working of muscles refute that. It is notable that many singers with the ability are the youngest child in their family, suggesting a possible trend. Minnie Riperton, Mariah Carey, Shanice Wilson, and Tamar Braxton were all the baby of the family. Although not a whistle register singer, Kevon Edmonds, Babyface's youngest brother is the singer with the highest range of the Edmonds brothers. Other people say that the ability is a mixture of genetics and ability/ practice.

Whistle or Flageolet register?

Although both names denote the highest, whitest range of notes available to the human voice, the biggest difference lies in the starting point. People that believe in the flageolet register (named for the flutey color of the notes above Soprano High C), see it as a separate and distinct register starting at E6, while the whistle register just the upper-reaches of the head register starting after E6. Whether E6 is a high head or whistle note is probably the most controversial of all notes in the whistle register, beside of course classical music viewing the seventh octave as unmusical, while artists like Mariah Carey build their careers showcasing ease and flexibility in the seventh octave. Thus the term flageolet register is most used in classical music and classical vocal training. Vocal registration is a dynamic mix of theory, science and medicine, but the prevailing thought is the human voice has two primary areas of resonation, chest and head. Everything else is an extension or a mix of the two. For more information, see Vocal Registration.

Recording artists

Singers in many different musical genres have exhibited the ability to hit notes in the whistle register. For a listing of these, go to Category:Whistle register singers.

Register use in contemporary recordings

Amel Larrieux shows that the whistle register is really nothing more than the upper reaches of the head register, by sliding up and down around E6 in various songs on her album Bravebird. Ashanti Douglas, exhibited this ability in recordings before she signed with Murder, Inc., most noted is her rendition of the American national anthem for Glen Cove's Mayor Mary Ann Holzkamp's inauguration, but has mostly shied away from using this ability professionally. Even Blu Cantrell uses the whistle register briefly in "Waste My Time" from her first album. However, the most notable whistle register singer by far is Mariah Carey. While most singers' whistle registers are very faint and unsustainable, Carey possesses an extraordinary ability to sustain these extremely high notes with clarity, ease, and flexibility; So far her highest recorded note was an F7 in the song "Emotions" although in several live performances she has reached higher notes, such as the G7# she hit in a live rendition of "Emotions" at the 1991 MTV awards. Mariah Carey has built her career singing in it. A large portion of her vocal performance in her 1999 song "Bliss" is performed in this register. She often demonstrates the ability to switch from Chest voice into the whistle range in her songs, most noticeably in her live renditions of "Love Takes Time" and "Someday." Another example of the whistle register is Minnie Riperton's "You Take My Breath Away", where she hits an F#7 (F-sharp one and one-half octaves above soprano high C) with such control the note sounds almost instrumental (actually, more mechanical). In fact, it should be noted that at such lofty notes, the articulation of song lyrics generally suffers greatly. Listen to Mariah sing the phrase "On and On" in her song "Bliss", or Minnie Riperton ascend the scale in "Adventures in Paradise" for an example. As a result, the whistle register is most effective when singing sustained open vowels such as with a melisma or vocalise.

Though this ability has been most thoroughly recorded in females, it has been reported to occur in males, but it is much more rare. R&B crooner Jesse Powell can hit an F6. Singer Adam Lopez of Brisbane, Australia sang back up for Mariah Carey during one of her performances in Australia and, like Mariah, can sing in his whistle register. He currently holds the Guinness World record for male singers with hitting and holding an incredible D7.

Differences in tone

Different singers possess different qualities when singing in their whistle register, particularly when sing up in the seventh octave. For example, take sopranos noted above for their abilities well in the whistle register. Minnie Riperton, Mariah Carey, and Rachelle Ferrell are known for their abilities to enunciate in the seventh octave, or to sing words rather than merely hitting a pitch. However, Minnie Riperton is the reputed benchmark in whistle register singing because she sang there so frequently. Her voice could mimic a bird, instrument, or another non-human sound so well that many people first thought her high notes were funky instrumentation. Mariah Carey, the most famous example of the pop coloratura sopranos, is most known for her ability to use vibrato in this register. While other persons might just hit and hold notes, Carey uses her vibrato to show ease and flexibility. In songs such as Dreamlover she matches the keyboard note for note and in Fly like a bird from "The Emancipation of Mimi" she holds a whistle note that has so much vibrato, it sounded like a wild, fluttery scream. Shanice Wilson and especially Chanté Moore are known for their flutey, bird-like notes soaring above the song. Finally Terry Ellis, is known for bouncing up the scale in staccato.

The whistle register in popular culture

As properly pitched notes in the whistle register can shatter glass, it is sometimes used as a comedic or plot element in books, movies, or tv shows.

  • In Gunter Grass's novel The Tin Drum, the main character has trained his voice to shatter glass by screaming.
  • In Blake Edwards's Victor/Victoria, Julie Andrews's character shatters a crystal wine glass by singing a single high note.
  • In Martin, Tisha Campbell's character, Gina shatters Martin's crystal by shrieking loudly.
  • In That's So Raven, Raven will shriek to show extreme cases of surprise, shock, sadness, or happiness. In fact, she will often even be speaking in the whistle register, helping to showcase just how distorted (squeaky) the vocal is that high.
  • In "The Parent Trap (1998)", Elaine Hendrix shrieking in displeasure showcases the very thin line shrillity makes between a scream and a note in whistle register, as her screams wave with varying degrees of vibrato.

External links

Access the following link to listen to clips of singers using their whistle register:


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