There's a lot of power and mystery surrounding the whistle tone register, and for a good reason. Singing this high and sounding great while doing so is something like a superpower.
The whistle tone register, also known as the flute register or flageolet register, is the highest register that we, as humans, can sing from. It's above the chest voice, head voice, and even your falsetto voice.
It's called the whistle register because it literally sounds like a whistle!
Your chest voice, also known as your modal voice, is the voice you use when you speak, shout, and sing in your lower range. Your head voice allows you to sing high in your range without having to strain your voice.
The falsetto range often gets confused for whistle tone, but falsetto is a method of singing in your head voice but with a breathy and more relaxed approach that causes your vocal cords to blow apart in a cool way in comparison to your normal voice.
But singing in a whistle register is a unique process for your vocal cords, and the physiology behind the process is still being discovered since it's actually hard to view the process in comparison to speaking or talking in other registers.
When an otolaryngologist (also known as an ENT doctor) goes in to literally view the happenings of our vocal cords in the whistle register, they can't film it since the epiglottis closes down over the larynx.
What is known for sure, though, is that the vocal cords (AKA your vocal folds) only vibrate near the front, unlike other vocal registers where the whole fold vibrates.
The whistle range starts, on average, around a D6 in the soprano range, and trained singers can usually go up to an octave higher comfortably.
But the possibilities of the whistle tone register can extend much further, as shown by the world record winner for the highest note ever, Georgia Brown (the "proof" is in this video here, but some say the real octave is a little lower, although she still has the highest note!)
Although it's a tricky thing to do and even more tricky to do in a manner pleasing to the ears, vocal experts like Matt Ramsey insist that we all have access to this register in our voices, even males!
This means that all of your favorite singers who don't use their whistle tone may be able to level up even further if they practice with the right instruction or teacher.
The key to remember with the whistle tone is that everyone's is different, depending on their range. Since males have access to this range, you can imagine their octaves will start much lower than D6.
For women, the whistle tone isn't just limited to soprano singers either. Altos can have a clean and crisp whistle range that is still a bit lower than the average D6 starting whistle register for sopranos.
I am an alto singer with a whistle register staring at C6!
When you think of whistle-tone notes, the names that come to mind from the best singers who are capable of them include Mariah Carey, Minnie Ripprton, Ariana Grande, Beyonce, And Christina Aguilera.
While most female names pop up in the whistle-tone conversations, male singers like Adam Lopez and Dimash can sing some flawless notes in that register as well!
The thing I find interesting about whistle tone in music is that it is used much more often with higher notes in the pop music world in comparison to the classical music world.
Soprano singers in classical music that have easy access to this range, as well as the tendency to perform fast, will trills and ornaments, are referred to as coloratura sopranos.
Unlocking your whistle register is a great way to boost your street cred in the singing world by saying you can sing more than 3-4 octaves.
I often do blog case studies on the vocal ranges for popular singers, like Mariah, and the ones with the widest ranges mostly include singers who have unlocked the whistle register!
A wider range can give you so much more creative freedom when it comes to your singing voice and performances, but it's definitely a challenge to unlock.
Whistle-tone notes that Ariana Grande hits can be a real challenge for some, but the more you warm your voice up and do scales that help you comfortably stretch to your high notes, the easier it will get for you as you practice singing.
One of the best ways to slowly open that register up is to do sirens and sighs, starting at the highest point and lowest points of your range.
I personally know that without a proper vocal warm-up, it's almost nearly impossible to sing in the whistle register because it often comes out very airy. A good whistle will still have a lot of air in it, but getting a clear tone is the main goal.
One easy part of the whistle tone register is the fact that you won't likely be singing any actual words all the way up there, just a vowel sound.
And I must stress that a wide open mouth placement with a dropped jaw is an absolute must here; trying to hit this register with a clenched jaw is a setup for failure.
To try to start this type of placement as a beginner, mimic the feeling the back of your throat has when you yawn. You can also drop your jaw and place your fingers right in front of your ear, and you should feel your jaw fully separating from it.
Along with a long jaw placement, you will also want to raise your soft palate in order to relax the muscles in your throat and avoid constriction. Singers often benefit from a raised soft palate to help them to release a more resonant sound that can fill a room.
Your soft palate is the muscular section that is located at the back of the roof of your mouth.
Some people confuse the tonsils and the soft palate, but the tonsils are actually called palatine tonsils, which allude to their location on your soft palate on either side.
Lastly, there's no need to worry about vibrato when it comes to your whistle tone, so focusing your tone on being straight and light but full at the same time is key.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her recent collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!
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