As a singer, it’s important to precisely understand how your vocal cords work, especially with head voice vs. chest voice. A lot of language comes with singing, and defining your terms is the first step to developing your vocal range and honing your singing skill.
Professionals everywhere define head voice and chest voice in a variety of ways. But there are a few things most singers and vocal coaches can agree on.
Defining Our Terms
The simple definition of head voice vs. chest voice is singing high notes and singing lower notes. These two voices refer to the main vocal registers when singing.
The words chest and head simply refer to where you can feel the sound vibrating in your body. It’s no secret that singing can be a full-body effort and your vocal register is no exception.
The real secret comes in knowing when to use your head voice vs. chest voice and how to develop a robust range.
What is the chest voice?
Your chest voice refers to the lowest to the middle part of your vocal range. It is also the range you use when you speak.
When singing in your chest voice, your vocal folds vibrate across their entire length. Your chest voice produces a more resonant and full sound than a head voice might.
If you’re unsure whether you are singing in your chest voice, there is a simple test to evaluate. Place your hand on your chest. If you’re singing in your chest voice, you will feel the telltale vibrations or light buzzing in your upper chest.
You can even try this by just putting your hand on your chest and strongly making a sound like “Ah.” You’ll feel the telltale vibrations that separate a head voice vs. chest voice.
You’ll find yourself using your chest voice most naturally when singing melodies lower in your vocal range. Think edgy rock songs, which rely on a powerful chest voice.
Developing your chest voice
Every quality singer begins with a strong chest voice. Because it is your natural speaking voice, it’s the perfect foundation on which to build your talent. A weak chest voice means a lack of strength in your vocals.
Be sure to have proper airflow while singing in your chest voice to create a warm and powerful tone. Without enough air, you’ll notice a low and gravelly tone that may waver or crack.
That can be dangerous to your vocal cords, so be sure to avoid that cough-like sensation. You should rarely feel your singing in the throat. If you do, it’s a sign you’re too hard on your voice.
Practice breathing exercises to maximize your ability. You can also try this chest voice vocal exercise to warm up.
What is the head voice?
You use your head voice to sing higher notes. You will hear the sound high in your head. When using your head voice, you can hit the high notes without straining or stressing your natural voice.
To sing in your head voice, your vocal cords naturally shorten to get into that upper range.
When you sing in your head voice, you no longer feel the vibrations in your chest. Instead, you can feel your head voice in the crown of your head and behind the eyes and between the ears.
You can even feel it in the roof of your mouth if using your voice right.
Developing your head voice
Singing in your head voice is necessary to hit those high notes, but it’s essential never to push or strain to reach a note in your range.
Vocal coaches recommend that you allow the sound to move to your head naturally. Some suggest tucking your chin slightly to aid in your singing.
Many vocal coaches think of the head voice as the more classical of the two. When it comes to head voice vs. chest voice in choral and operatic singing, you’ll find head voice used more frequently.
Try these exercises to find your head voice and practice using it.
Head voice vs. falsetto
Be careful not to confuse your head voice with falsetto because although they sound very similar, there is actually a difference.
Falsetto singing reaches high into the upper registers of male and female singers. You may recognize falsetto as the hollow singing that sounds much like the high notes on a flute. The weak, breathy feature has almost a haunting effect.
When singing in your head voice, your vocal cords are still joined together, giving your sound depth and power. Instead, when singing in falsetto, your vocal cords actually come apart slightly.
A head voice will have a stronger tone that is not breathy at all. It stays bright and sharp.
Vocal coaches recommend singing in falsetto sparingly. It can add a lot of style and flair to your music. However, it’s better to rely on head voice to hit those high notes in the long-term.
Head Voice vs. Chest Voice: A Battle of the Sexes?
When it comes to head voice vs. chest voice, many vocalists agree that it is easier to sing in your chest voice.
Many women feel they naturally choose to sing in a more mixed range or even their head voice. Even so, both men and women would benefit from developing the richer sounds that a chest voice can offer.
Try not to compare yourself with other singers when analyzing your chest voice. Every singer has their own unique abilities. Some people find their chest voice to be less powerful than others, but they can still offer up a beautiful sound.
Rockers Who Sing in Head Voice vs. Chest Voice
When we think rock music, we envision singers with powerful chest voices that are raw and raspy yet pack a powerful punch.
Before you pick up a pack of cigarettes to achieve that gritty sound, work on strengthening your diaphragm. Being able to breathe well will go a long way towards creating that powerful sound we associate with rock music.
Rockers who sing in head voice vs. chest voice have ultimately mastered one thing — their mixed voice. This perfect blend of both chest and head voice allows for a smooth transition from a light head voice into a strong chest voice.
A strong mixed voice allows the best rockers to move flawlessly from falsetto to their head voice back to a powerful chest voice with little effort.
If you’re looking to emulate the masters of rock, it never hurts to start by looking closely at rockers who sing in head voice vs. chest voice.
Think Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody if you’re looking for a perfect example of this:
Use these daily mixed voice exercises to help you master that perfect blend of range and power.
Head Voice vs. Chest Voice: Which Should I Use?
When you think “head voice vs. chest voice,” it’s key to realize that neither is better or more useful than the other. A well-developed vocalist will use both their head voice and chest voice to develop a complete range.
You need both your head voice and chest voice to create a full sound and have a broad vocal range. The key is learning how to switch effortlessly from one to the other.
A skilled vocalist should work to achieve a mixed voice as well. It’s a combination of your natural voice, which we think of as the chest voice and your head voice that gets higher into your range.
With a mixed voice, you will have a well-balanced, strong tone that reaches high into your range.
Ultimately it would be best if you worked to achieve a mixed voice. In this way, you can hit the high notes in your head voice with the effortlessness of singing in your chest voice.
Work on vocal exercises to blend your chest and head voice together to create a mixed voice.
Getting Your Terms Straight
Although there is plenty of debate about head voice vs. chest voice, they’re ultimately just terms for vocal vibrations. As a singer, neither your head voice nor your chest voice is inherently more valuable.
Choose the singing voice that works best for you and highlight where your strengths lie. Trust in your instinct to bring out the best in your voice.
Of course, vocal coaches are a great resource to coax the best sound out of you.
For some, that will be a powerful chest voice. For others, the power to hit those high notes comes with their head voice. In the end, each vocalist has something unique to offer, and it goes far beyond the simple idea of head voice vs. chest voice.
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