Monday, February 17, 2014

An introduction to vocal faggotry, part one: The Voice

As many of you might know, Chuck thought it would be a good idea to put me on the AKF roster because I'm a "vocal fag" and it would be interesting to see how I counter composition fags such as Kpopalypse. I haven't really been living up this title as I've only actually posted one article on here where I talk about vocals - albeit quite briefly.  Since many of you seem to enjoy Kpopalypse's articles on composition and whatnot, I thought I'd introduce you all to the science behind the world of singing.

This "lesson" will come in two parts because vocal pedagogy is very vast and there's only so much text you can read in one post. The first part will focus on the voice, and the second part will focus on the technique behind the voice.

WARNING: This article is text and video heavy, therefore I've added some pictures of K-Pop idols to make it more tolerable. I tried to cut out any irrelevant information, but there's only so much I can do when it comes to a science.

What is "singing"?

Singing is a physical manifestation of our increased emotional expression, state and personality, through the production of musical sounds, a larger and sustained form of speech. The act of singing consists of three components:
  • Body: Skillful use of the body parts in order to sing properly, also known as vocal techniques
  • Mind: Consciousness, habit, concentration/focus, musical creativity and intelligence, muscle memory(e.g vocal direction, sense of pitch)
  • Emotions (or soul): motivation, desire, interest, joy and passion in the act of singing, emotional release or total confidence, as well as the portrayal or delivery of a certain character's emotional state.
All three components work together to produce a "perfect" vocal performance ("perfect" because emotions are entirely subjective, and a performance can be perceived to be moving by one person but bland as a Korean ballad by another (once again K-ballads are also entirely subjective)).

Talent VS Training

Everyone can be taught to sing well simply because everyone possesses vocal cords, for example Minkyung learned how to be an above-average singer during her days as a trainee and further improved her singing on Immortal Song 2. Our vocal cords all produce the musical sounds the same way. Being able to sing well means you are capable of adjusting your vocal cords at their optimal position during vocalization, or in other words, sing with power. Voice lessons can help you achieve that. So in a physiologic sense, anyone, whether they have vocal talent or not, can learn to sing well.

Singing is 98% mental. The rest is physical and emotional. You need to apply the correct technique every time you sing. You need to make it a habit every time you vocalize. Your brain needs to remember every sensation and muscle memory that happens when you sing. This is why singing is mostly a mental/habitual process. Training the mental part of singing highly affects your vocal consistency, which is the most essential aspect for a good vocalist.

 One way to determine the presence of "talen"t in singing is the speed of vocal learning. "Talented" people in a field tend to learn the skill in question faster than others. "Talent" is basically superficial because there's no set definition as to what it is, and it's pretty much immeasurable (unless we're talking about the old-fashioned currency were talents were worth a shit ton).

Regardless of whether one has talent of not, it does not change the fact that everyone needs to be vocally trained in order to sing well. A raw talent NEEDS to be trained. Talented singers such as Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé all had vocal training to develop their talent and become virtuoso singers.
Differences between a Vocalist and a Singer:

  • Vocalist: Someone who has COMPLETE control, manipulation and authority over their voice, similar to an instrumentalist. Hence, they are judged by vocal technique and consistency.
  • Singer: Someone who uses their voice to deliver a message musically and convey emotions. They are partly judged by technique, but mostly subjectively judged by sense of interpretation wit, musical and vocal delivery, musicianship, musical and vocal creativity. 

The Voice

When most people sing they mainly use three parts of the voice: lower register (chest voice), middle register (modal voice), upper register (head voice and/or falsetto). Each part of the voice requires a different placement (which I will get on to later) and produces a different sound. However, the basic technique required remains the same for each register: good breath support and control, and proper placement.

Chest/Modal Voice

The chest voice is the part of the voice that is most commonly used when we are speaking. The chest voice, also known as the lower extension, is where a person sings the lowest notes of their range (below F#4 ).

Middle/Mixed Voice

Used for notes at F#4 and above is the mixture and blending of the chest voice and the head voice together. It is used when singing high notes (not in falsetto or head voice) in a belted manner. For example, when you hear singers belt they are doing it in their modal voice. You can belt in a chest dominant-mix (for example Ailee) or with a balanced mix (Younha). A head dominant mix is also used to hit high notes. A chest dominant mix is dangerous for those with light voices because it wears away at the vocal cords, so Ailee needs to learn how to belt with a balanced mix if she wants to keep that voice in tact!

Head Voice 

Used in upper notes. It has that “ringing” and bright sound. It is called “head voice” as the feeling of the resonance is in the head when singing. Example of head voice in K-Pop (3:31-3:33)


False, airy voice that makes the upper register (high notes) easier to access with this voice. To be more specific, it is a weaker, breathier extension of the head voice. An example of falsetto in K-Pop is Rain's 30Sexy

Head voice and falsetto differ in tone and  production. Head voice is produced by thyroarytenoid muscles fully vibrating and coming in contact with each other, whilst falsetto is produced by only thin edges of the thyroarytenoid muscles vibrating and coming in contact with each other, which offers less resistance of the breath flow. In other words, in falsetto production, there is air passing through the vocal cords, as opposed to head voice production where no air is passing through it. This causes the tone to be airy and weak with lack of resonance. Falsetto is therefore a disconnected part of the voice, while head voice is a connected part of the voice (the whistle tone is however a disconnected part of the voice) We can also refer to falsetto as a "disconnected head voice". If the falsetto is unnaturally airier than usual, meaning that an extremely small portion of the vocal cords come in contact, then we can call this falsetto a "disconnected falsetto". When a head voice is resonant, we call it a "developed head voice" and well developed head voice usually sounds operatic, for example Ock Joo Hyun at 3:53~3:57:

Falsetto can also lead to vocal irritation which leads to the damage of vocal cords if it is used too much. 

Falsetto vs Head Voice in the MALE VOICE

In the male voice, falsetto and head voice sound/are somewhat different from the female voice. Most male voices cannot produce a pure head voice. Most of their so-called "head voice" are actually a very predominant heady mix (99% head, 1% chest, they have that trumpet sound). Why? Because male voices have thicker vocal cords (this also applies to SOME female contraltos), which does not allow them to produce a pure head voice, but a mix of both head and chest to a certain degree. However, certain male voices that are really light and thin are able to produce a head voice. Falsetto, when pushed/forced to have a fuller sound is called a "reinforced falsetto" or 'falsettone". It is indeed more resonant and supported type of falsetto, but is still not as powerful or truly connected as a head voice or heady mix. 

Other parts of the voice: 
  •  Vocal Fry Register: Lowest register of the human voice. It has that “frying”, sizzling or rattling sound. This register is however useless in singing and it cannot be counted as part of one’s vocal range. Plus, using this register too often and bringing up to relatively higher notes can be very damaging to the singing voice. 
  • Whistle Register: Highest register of the human voice. Think Mariah Carey’s whistles… 
  • Passagio: Place within the vocal range where the voice shifts into a different register. Each voice type has a different passagio, which is why the latter is a good indicator of what voice type you are. 

Voice Classification (fach system)

The vocal fach is a system used to identify opera singers' voice type. Although it is a mere speculation if applied to "pop singers" (keep in mind that opera singers use a completely superior technique as opposed to pop singers e.g 10x more breath support and an operatic placement), many people do believe there are undeniable components of the pop voice that could be associated to that of the opera voice, leading us to believe such pop singer has such voice type, or will have such voice type, if operatically trained. Voice classification is done by analysing certain aspects of the voice, such as timbre, vocal weight, tessitura, passagi and vocal range. However, when it comes to pop voices, only timbre, vocal weight, passagi are useful in identifying their voice type. The more well-trained the voice is, the more accurate the voice classification will be.

A person’s timbre is the quality of their voice. Examples are bright, dark, cold, rich, soft, steely, metallic, mellow, warm, etc.

Vocal weight refers to the “lightness” or “Heaviness” of one’s voice. It is determined by the “thickness” of one’s vocal folds. Lighter voices are associated with the term “lyric”. Heavier voices are associated with the term “dramatic”. Lyric voices = thin, small and bright sound. Dramatic voices = huge, deep and dark sound. Lyric voices have more speed and better agility/flexibility than dramatic voices. Dramatic voices have more power and more volume output than lyric voices. Spinto voice refers to a voice with medium vocal weight. They have that "creamy", "rich", "womanly" and fuller sound than lyrics, but are not heavy or dark enough to be considered dramatics. The weight of certain voice types may be sub-categorized into “full” or “light” (e.g light lyric soprano, full lyric soprano, etc). Light voices possess that “youthful”, "girlish" quality whereas full voices sound more mature, smooth.

Tessitura: Range where a singer is most comfortable singing and where their voice sounds the most pleasant. It is also known as "supported range" or "comfort zone". 

NOTE: These aspects MUST be analyzed in a vocalist's MIDDLE VOICE, the most important part of the voice

Voice Types 



  • Lyric Coloratura Soprano: Mariah Carey during her prime.
  • Light Lyric Soprano: The majority of female k-pop vocalists are LLS', for example Hyorin, Ailee, Taeyeon, Luna and Haeri.
  • Full Lyric Soprano: Celine Dion, Lara Fabian, Seeya's Yeonji, Ock Joohyun, Big Mama's Younghyun, CSJH's Lina etc.
  • Spinto Soprano: Sohyang, Whitney Houston during her prime
  • Dramatic Soprano: Patti Labelle, Monica Naranjo
  • Falcon Soprano: Vanessa Amorosi
  • Lyric Coloratura Mezzo-Soprano: Beyonce
  • Lyric Mezzo-Soprano: Barbra Streisand, Toni Braxton, Big Mama's Jiyoung, CSJH's Stephanie
  • Dramatic Mezzo-Soprano: Anastasia
  • Lyric Contralto: Cher
  • Coloratura Contralto: Annie Lenox

Male: -

  • Leggiero Tenor (equivalent of a coloratura soprano): Ryeowook, Michael Jackson
  • Light Lyric Tenor: Most of male idol vocalists in K-pop, Chris Brown, Bruno Mars, Ne-Yo,
  • Full Lyric Tenor: K.Will, Luther Vandross
  • Spinto Tenor: Michael Bolton
  • Dramatic Tenor: N/A
  • Baritenor: Fly to the Sky's, Hwanhee
  • Lyric Baritone: Rain, Park Hyo Shin, Chanyeol, certain male rappers in K-pop
  • Dramatic Baritone: N/A
  • Bass-Baritone: N/A
  • Lyric Bass: N/A
  • Low Bass: N/A
Falcom Sopranos, Basses and Contraltos are very, very rare voice types.  

Vocal Range: Series of notes that a singer is able to produce, starting from the lowest note to the highest note. Only notes that are musically “useful” are counted as part of a singer’s vocal range. Notes produced by squealing, screaming, shouting and etc are however not counted as part of one's vocal range as they cannot be used musically. A vocalist has full control over their instrument when they can produce a healthy and powerful sound in EVERY single note of their range. 
A person's vocal range can be very small (Judy Garland) or very large (Mariah Carey), but the size of ones range does not determine whether or not they're a good vocalist - contrary to common belief. Therefore, if someone says X is a good singer because they have an "extensive range", they're most likely talking out of their ass.
You can find your range by using this video:
Your vocal range also doesn't determine your voice type.
Some vocal range videos in K-Pop:
As you can see Taeyeon has quite a small vocal range whilst Gain has a significantly bigger one; however, Taeyeon is far superior as a vocalist to Gain emphasising my point that range =/= good vocalist.

Note identification/naming

One of the commonly used methods to name a note, is through the "Scientific Pitch Notation".

The musical notes consist of (in order), C, D, E, F, G, A, B. If you count the next C, it would be 1 octave. So one octave is 8 notes. The number next to the note is the octave. For example, C5 is the note C (from the piano) in the 5th octave.
b = flat = half-note lower than the note.
# = sharp = half-note higher than the note.
Musical notes in order (sharp and flat notes included): C, C#, D, Eb, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, Bb, B.  
For example, my vocal range is B2 to C#6. Therefore, I have 3 octaves, one note and a semi-tone of vocal range. Most untrained people have around a 2 octave range, but as you master vocal techniques, your range can expand.
That's part one done, please anticipate the concluding part to be uploaded some time next week! Here's your reward for making it this far.


  1. Ever since Akisame has entered the AKF roster people have been trying to pit my opinions against hers, but I'm not going to bite. I would like to know John Tardy's vocal range and singing style though. How does he do this for hours at a time?

    1. Why you make me listen to Death Metal?! Huh?! I can't figure out his range from one video, but fucking hell his vocal cords are obviously in a lot of agony, he must have be hospitalised a lot tbh.

    2. He just smokes and drinks a lot....

    3. I listened to those awful ballads with Luna and Ock Joo Hyun so I think fair's fair. Seeing as how one video makes it difficult to judge, here's a video from 1991 and another one from 2005: - now you can judge his vocals more accurately as well as whether his vocals are getting better or worse over time! Personally I think the later stages sacrifice some raw energy for a more controlled vocal approach.

    4. Metal-Vocalists can keep it up because they have learned the right technique to scream, shout or growl over long time-periods and are trained, without the right breathing and training it gets painful and the voice cant keep up, when overdoing it, it can damage your vocal cords, you can see differences the best on live-footage, for example Oliver Sykes from Bring me the Horizon sounds really bad live most of the time, also he cant keep his growling over longer time-periods, while Phil Anselmo, Corey Taylor or Tom Araya can keep it up for 2h+ and repeat it the next day without problems.

    5. Yeah, so kpopalypse I've watched your videos and other videos and I'm sure that this guy has had vocal training of some sort which is why he hasn't lost his voice or anything.

  2. So do you sing or did you just get rrreeeeaaaalllllyyy bored?

    1. A bit of both, I started reading things about vocal pedagogy simply because my mum refused to pay for singing lessons and I wanted to teach myself, but I want into further scientific detail because I was bored.

  3. Akisame, I'm so glad you put this up! I'm not as versed in vocal pedagogy as you are, thanks for doing this! ^_^

  4. SPEED just released a really good song (Well, a good song by boy-band standards that is.)

  5. Great article. I like reading about stuff like this.

  6. There's some stuff that I would like to ask, about you saying that vocal range =/= better singer, so assuming 2 singers are equallu talented and recieved equal vocal training, wouldn't the one with more range be able to sing more songa, and thus better?

    1. oh and my range is from B2 to C6 I guess that's good :D

    2. No. It doesn't matter because if one is straining the higher they go, than that isn't good.

  7. now go tell this to those idols singers fans, so they can stop praising them for fucking up songs that are levels above them musically.

  8. I could only reach G3 - F5... did you train your voice by yourself, or did you have singing lessons?

    1. I was in a choir for about ten years and received a very minimal amount of training, I think I was just born with a big range.

  9. Where would Boyz II Men be on the list; especially someone like Wanya who is an incredible vocalist and seems to be able to hit almost any note . Or Christina? I'd put her Dramatic Soprano with Chaka Khan who was Whitney Houston's idol.

    Even though lots of kpop singer fit into a category their range and clarity is horrible. No clarity and barely any range. Whitney Houston had such clarity and amazing range in her prime. The Voice.

    1. Boyz II Men were amazing and they went from being Tenors to Bass-Baritones. Christina Aguilera is a Soprano and she sucks (if that is who you're talking).

      Range does not even make a good singer, did you not read what I said about range not meaning anything? Whitney had a small range tbh.

    2. Why does Christina suck? She's my favorite American singer (after the legends of course.)

  10. Aki, the back of my throat always hurts after singing a minute or two. I think it's due to tension... how can I stop it?

    1. You'll have to learn how to stop singing from the throat, by using proper diaphragmatic breathing Stab.

  11. My range is G2 to C5... (including falsetto notes; without, it'd be F/G4). Thanks for writing this article, btw; I'm a big of a vocalfag, but the only training I've had is a year of choir, so I'm interested in the next part of le article ^^

  12. Hello ! I stumbled upon this post (the magic of internet...) and I was wondering if you could help me ? I recently discovered a singer, Keiko Kubota, who has an unusually low voice for an asian idol/singer. Most people agree that she's a contralto but some say she's a mezzo soprano who specializes in the lower register. What do you think ? You can watch or (at 2:20 and from 4:00 till the end where she hits her highest note ever i think) and (from 2:24 to 2:59 and from 4:28 to 4:48). Hope you'll have the time to answer my question :)

    1. Oops i recopied the 2nd link ! The last video is

  13. Most people on this site seem to be "visualfags." That is, obsessively concerned with visuals and fapability.


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