If you’re a singer or even if you were just in chorus in grade school, you’ve probably heard the terms “head voice” and “chest voice.” You might know that they sound somewhat different, but do you know how to use each one? In this list, we’ll take a look at what your chest voice is and how (and when) to use it.
Chest Voice: What You Need to Know
1. What is Chest Voice?
You’ve probably heard the term before. This is a vocal register that causes you to feel a vibration in your chest when you use it. This is the same register you use in your speaking voice. When most people speak in a relaxed manner, they’ll feel chest vibration.
To understand why this register sounds the way it does, you need to know a little about vocal anatomy. Your vocal cords (or vocal folds) are short and nearly closed in this voice.
As air moves through them, there is sympathetic vibration across the whole length of your vocal tract. That sympathetic vibration causes the sensation in your chest that you feel in this register.
This voice sounds lower because when the vocal folds are shortened, they are very relaxed. If you loosen (relax) a guitar string, it is going to sound flat, too. The relaxation in the vocal cords is controlled by the thyroarytenoid (TA) muscle. So not surprisingly, singing in this register requires a lot of engagement of the TA muscle.
Understanding some of the scientific knowledge behind how the voice works can be helpful. But you don’t need to know it to develop your voice. If you do want to learn more about how the vocal cords and other muscles of the vocal anatomy create the sounds you hear when you sing (or talk), check out this helpful video.
2. What Other Vocal Registers Are There?
You probably hear the terms head voice and chest register a good bit. And while these are the two most commonly mentioned vocal registers, there are others as well. Most vocal teachers acknowledge three main registers:
Head – Your head voice is the one you use to sing high notes. It gets its name from the fact that you feel a vibration in your head as you reach high notes.
Chest – As we mentioned earlier, this lower register causes the sensation of vibration in your chest.
Mixed (or Middle) – This voice is a mixture of the chest and head voices. Most singers will try to use a register with some level of mix, as you can reach higher notes without losing all of the depth and color of the chest register. (Later on, we’ll talk about accessing your mixed voice.)
The division of the vocal range is a point of contention in the vocal world, but some voice teachers and performers recognize lower and higher registers:
Falsetto – This high register translates to “false voice.” It’s used by male singers (largely tenors) to sing notes outside of their normal range. It used to be used interchangeably with “head voice,” but these two techniques involve many different movements in the vocal tract.
Whistle (Flageolot) – If someone with an already high voice reaches to hit an especially high note, they just might be using their whistle register. This is the highest possible register of the human voice. In order to create it, vocalists only use a portion of the vocal cords.
Vocal Fry – This is the lowest vocal register, and it has a creaky or rattling sound. When using vocal fry, your vocal cords become very slack and cause air to move through irregularly. If you’re interested in hearing more about the various vocal registers, check out this informative video.
3. When Should You Use Your Chest Voice?
If you’re a relatively inexperienced singer, you might wonder when to use your chest register. In most cases, a vocal coach will tell you to simply sing a note as written and see what register it happens to fall into.
But if you write your own songs, it can be tough to decide what register to sing a given piece in. If you’re like a lot of singers, you may have found a portion of your vocal range that you feel most comfortable in. But if you just stay within a relatively narrow range, you likely won’t reach your full potential. The bottom line is to get comfortable singing in your chest register but still work on other registers. In particular, you can learn to use a mixed voice to sing high notes with some of the power and warm tone usually found in your chest register. If you want to work on developing your chest register further, check out this video for some useful exercises.
4. How Can You Tell If You’re Using It?
We’ve talked a good bit about improving as a singer and using your chest register. But especially if you’re self-taught, you might worry whether you’re using the right register. Luckily, there’s a fairly straightforward way that singers can make sure they’re singing in the right register.
Before you start singing, speak in a relaxed way and place your hand on your chest. You should feel the vibration as you talk. Then, sing in your chest register. If you’re in the right register, you should be able to feel the same vibration you feel when you speak. That vibration comes from the vocal folds.
If you want to get a feel for how your chest register differs from the rest of your range, keep your hand on your chest and sing a high note. You shouldn’t feel your chest vibrate this time, but you may feel some resonance in your head. If you want some more guidance on making sure you’re singing in the right register, this video can give you some pointers.
5. Can You Hit High Notes In Your Chest Register?
Singing with a good bit of chest tone gives you a warm, powerful sound. And when you sing higher notes, you run the risk of your voice sounding a bit thinner.
That’s why most trained singers learn something called a mixed voice or (middle voice). This is essentially a hybrid of the chest and head voice. In mixed voice, singers “zip up” the vocal folds so they can sing high with some of the warmth and power of the chest register.
Most good singers rarely sing only in the chest or head voice. But learning to sing with a mix of the two can be tough. If you want to start, begin by singing at the lower end of your vocal range. Gradually sing higher until you reach the high part of your range. At some point in the middle, your voice will likely reach a point where it cracks or breaks.
To be able to sing in a mixed voice, you’ll need to be able to bridge that point. Once you find the point where your voice cracks, work on sustaining a note that crosses smoothly from your chest to your head voice.
But be patient with yourself! Really developing your mixed voice will take some time and effort. Of course, if needed, you can always seek out the guidance of a vocal coach. For some more suggestions on finding your mixed voice, check out this video. It suggests five easy exercises to help you discover and grow it.
6. How Do You Increase Your Chest Voice’s Range?
If you’re a singer wanting to enhance your vocal range (especially in the chest register), you might not know where to begin. In trying to maintain a chest voice while singing higher, some singers pull their chest voice “up.” But doing this can make your voice crack and distort your vowels.
Instead of trying to pull your chest register upward, most vocal coaches will suggest that you work on developing a stronger mixed voice. When you create a smooth connection between your chest and head voice, you’ll be able to sing with warmth and power.
Of course, if you’re like many singers, you probably want to see if you can expand your range in general. If you haven’t had a lot of training, you will likely be able to extend your range both lower and higher than it is now. This video suggests some exercises for extending your range.
7. Getting the Most Out of Chest and Head Voice
As we mentioned above, bridging the gap between the two voices is a great way to improve your vocal ability. And while developing a mix is important, you can always improve your chest and head voice independently, too. Here are some suggested exercises to improve each register:
Begin on a low note close to the bottom of your range. Hum it for a full breath, breath in for your nose, and do it again. You can focus on getting a warm tone that isn’t overly heavy.
Start on the same low note and hum siren-like sounds. Move up as high as you feel comfortable and then move back down. You should notice your vocal range expanding over time if you do this one regularly.
To get a better sense of your head voice, practice singing long vowel sounds like “pwee,” “ooh,” “quo,” and “wee.” Focus on making sure your voice doesn’t sound weak or quivery.
One way to get a stronger head voice is to make sure that you don’t exhale too much, as you need adequate breath support to sing high. Practice singing a note in your head voice without letting your stomach completely flatten back out. It may help to hum or make an “ng” sound. These sounds make your vocal tract partially close, so it’s easy to make sure you don’t exhale too much.
Sing through a scale, but use a “gee” sound for each note. By starting each note with the “g” sound, you make sure that you open and close your vocal cords on each note. As you do it, make sure you aren’t running into an issue where you suddenly “flip” from chest to head voice. It’s a great exercise for vocal agility, too!
One vocal coach has a very interesting way to work on your mixed voice. She suggests listening to Mrs. Bennet from the movie Pride and Prejudice (1995). She uses a voice that has a remarkably good mixture of chest and head voices. If you want some more guidance on developing vocal control and improving your tone, check out this helpful video!
Ready to Learn More?
If you’re working to improve as a singer, you can make a good bit of progress on your own. But if you’re trying to hit higher notes, expand your vocal range, improve the tone of your chest and head voices, or reach another ultimate goal in music, it’s not unusual to hit a plateau. That’s where an online course can help. Even professional singers will often work with a vocal coach.
But online courses let you access professional coaching at a fraction of the cost of in-person voice lessons. You can find lessons geared toward just about every genre and voice type. And when you have professional guidance on how to practice, you can avoid vocal tract issues and other problems that can arise from singing the wrong way.
There’s more to being a good singer than just having a voice with a nice tone. knowing when to use chest, head, or mixed voice is one of the key elements of being a great vocalist. And with some time and effort, it’s a skill you can absolutely develop.
But what do you think? Do you have any suggestions for perfecting and using chest voice? Let us know in the comments, and please don’t forget to like and share if you found this list useful!