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Dialogue of Cultures

The Schiller Institute's
CHART of Human Vocal Registers

Printable Version of this Chart
See Also:
The Tradition of Florentine Bel Canto - "Painting with Music"
Revolution in Music Page
The Fight for the African American Spiritual as Classical Art


Click here for a PRINTABLE version
of the
Schiller Institute Register Chart


The Tradition of Florentine Bel Canto

Composition of Classical music, according to the Italian Renaissance principle of bel canto, ("beautiful singing") is one of the best examples of mankind's ability to discover an existing physical principle, and to use that discovery to create new works of science and art, which then increase humanity's power to build civilization.

Today, bel canto signifies the physical principle, discovered in the Fifteenth century by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and his collaborators, that the human singing voice is innately endowed wth differentiated voice registers and other qualities, which allow a composer to create a unique density of new ideas in a musical work.

As Leonardo indicated in his treatise on the human voice, bel canto singing can be compared to painting, because of the conscious use of 'colors' in the voice, either as natural colors (conferred by the different registers), or as a conscious change of color for purposes of interpretation.

For example, great singers are able to make theri voices darker while singing a part in a Lied corresponding to a change in the poetic text, or a change from major to minor, or to make them lighter in a particularly joyful part.

Generally, the audience will perceive a clear register shift from the second to the third, high register (particularly in the tenor voice, which is stronger), as a change in color, (See Bergonzi program., 1993). Physically, the shift from the soprano's first to second register, is located in the scale precisely where the tenor's shift from second to third register occurs, which is between the F-F# above middle C, (with C tuned to the scientific tuning of C=256Hz, or A at 430.5- 432HZ.)

Third register notes, if sung with the right impostazione (placement), have a particular brilliance, which they lose if they are shouted, or sung in the throat, where they become opaque. First register notes, being sung mostly with a chest resonance, are perceived as darker notes. This implies that each note of the scale does not have the same value for singing.

Great composers such as J.S. Bach, Mozart Beethoven and Verdi were aware of these differences in registration when they wrote their vocal works, and Bach developed the well tempered scale based on this palette of vocal colors.

Since instruments are an imitation of the bel canto singing voice, they echo the natural registration of the six species of voices, the only difference being that they introduce a new degree of freedom, often allowing motivic development, by moving from one voice to the next. (See Concert at C=256 and also interview with violinist Norbert Brainin)

Thus, when a composer constructs a musical composition, he has six species of the adult singing voice-- soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, and bass (above)- each containing three or four different registral "voices", a well defined palette of colors, with which to "paint."


The register shifts are located between the intervals,such as F to F#, rather than precisely on a tone itself. The colors used are not aribitrary; they are the colors of the electromagentic spectrum. This chart was designed in 1987 by Susan W. Bowen , according to specifications outlined in a series of unpublished papers beginning with one entitled "Truth is Beauty," by Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr.


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