Tips on How to Find and Sing Whistle Register

Axl Rose beats Mariah Carey, carrying a just-over 5-octave voice range
Axl Rose, 'November Rain' at Nottingham Arena, Nottingham, UK, in May 2012.

 Delusion23/Wikimedia Commons

The whistle, bell, or flute register is the highest register in the voice. It is the least understood register physically since it is impossible to film. What we do know is the high pitches sound squeaky, bird-like, and adds at least a half octave and often much more to the upper range. Learning to sing in whistle register can open up a whole new repertoire world for singers.

Speaking in Whistle Register

The first step to learning a new register is to speak in it. That may or may not be true when it comes to whistle register, as there are very few examples of whistle register speech to imitate. Some people suggest whistling first and then trying to open your mouth as you do so. Be leery of this advice. When you whistle, you use the shape of your mouth to create different sounds and pitches. The whistle register uses the vocal cords to produce sound.

Listen to Singers Who Use Whistle Register

You have to hear whistle register to mimic it. Diana Damrau’s version of the Queen of the Night aria from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute is a good example. Not an opera fan? Minnie Riperton and Mariah Carey are popular singers known for singing in the whistle register.

Practice Yawn Sighs

Simple vocal exercises are best when you first explore a new register and yawn sighs are a perfect example. In a sing-song fashion, gently slur from the very top of your whistle register range to the bottom. Another way to describe the vocal style is an exaggerated, voiced sigh. Slide as slowly as possible.

Use Sirens

Another helpful exercise is to imitate the sound of a tornado siren by shifting from low to high. Ideally, you will do this entirely in the whistle register. Some find it helpful to vocalize back and forth between bottom to top and top to bottom of the register. Doing this will give you more control over the register without damaging the vocal cords. Be sure to stop if there is any pain, as this may be an indication you have not actually found whistle register.

Look for Qualities of Whistle Register

Start with a siren or yawn sigh and stop, hold the note, and add volume to start singing. Now try stopping on different pitches and holding out the note. The sound should feel small, focused, bright, piercing, and squeaky. In whistle register, the epiglottis covers the vocal cords as it would when you swallow, so you may associate the register with a swallowing feeling. Many also say that it feels as if the sound is coming out from the top of their heads.

Drill Slurs

Connecting notes can give you more control when singing in whistle register because it is easier than singing scales. Simple two note or five-note slurs up, down, or both will do the trick. Pitch comes with practice, so be patient with yourself and keep it simple as you develop this new part of your voice.

Keep Practice Sessions Short

Short practice sessions are a good idea with any new vocal technique, but particularly with whistle register. Long-term strain on the vocal cords can cause irreparable damage, so for those who practice true whistle register, the lack of control one has over a new register warrants practice. If you are really motivated, then consider practicing several times a day for short amounts of time.