Do you find yourself straining to hit high notes? Do you prefer to stay in your chest voice as much as you can? If so, you probably need to get more comfortable with your head voice. But without a plan, that can seem overwhelming. In this list, we’ll take you through some simple steps to find (and use!) your head register.
Your Guide to Improving Your Head Voice
1. What is Your Head Register?
If you were in chorus in school, you’ve probably heard of head and chest voice. Your chest voice is used to sing lower notes. It gets its name because when you sing in your chest voice, the notes feel like they resonate in your chest.
Your head voice occurs when you hit high notes. As you’ve probably figured out by now, it gets its name from the fact that it feels like it resonates in your head.
Before you start finding and/or working on your head register, it can be helpful to know a bit about how the voice works.
There are two main muscle groups that work with your vocal folds and vocal cords: thyroarytenoids (TA) and cricothyroid (CT). The TA muscles mostly work with your vocal folds to change your pitch as you sing in a chest voice. But in your higher registers, the CT muscles get involved. These muscles stretch your vocal cords, lengthening the vocal folds.
Think of stretching out a rubber band: the bigger the stretch, the higher the pitch. It’s important to note that different voices have different-sounding head registers. For instance, a soprano’s head register will sound a lot higher than the head register of a bass singer. If you want to learn more about the head register and how it differs from chest voice, check out this cool video.
2. How Does It Fit in With Other Vocal Registers?
You’ve probably heard of voice types like bass, tenor, alto, soprano, etc. But different types of voices are different from types of vocal registers.
Head register – This voice has a light, sweet tone compared to the chest voice. The vocal folds lengthen and become tighter.
Chest register – This is a darker, warmer-sounding voice that’s used when singing lower notes. The vocal cords become relaxed and thick.
Mixed voice – This is a “mixed” register where singers are able to combine elements of the head and chest voices. When the registers are truly mixed, singers can move from head to chest voice without a break. They also combine elements of both registers on most notes. It often takes some training to develop a successful mixed voice.
Whistle register – This is a very high upper register usually found in the female voice. It is traditionally used to hit very high notes in opera, although some pop stars use it, too.
Vocal fry – This is the lowest vocal register. The vocal cords relax so much that the air moves through them irregularly, creating a “pop” or growl-like sound. Most experts believe that over-using vocal fry can cause vocal damage.
Falsetto – This is a voice that sounds so overly high that it is “false.” It is typically a “disconnected” register, meaning that it’s tough to switch from falsetto to another register without a significant break.
One thing has proven especially confusing to many new singers: what’s the difference between your head register and falsetto? After all, both of them are higher in pitch and resonate in your head. But from a physical standpoint, the vocal folds behave differently when you use falsetto vs when you use your head register. In falsetto, only the thin edges of the vocal cords vibrate.
For some people, it can be hard to tell the difference between your head register and falsetto. But falsetto usually sounds thin and breathy. If you’re a decent singer, even the higher parts of your head voice will have a warmth and richness that falsetto does not.
Both male and female singers have a falsetto register, though some vocal teachers argue against the female falsetto. But since the 1950s, research has indicated that women also have a falsetto. This video offers a helpful breakdown of the difference between falsetto and your head register.
3. Finding Your Head Voice: Speech
The first step to singing with your head register is to find that register. And since your speaking voice has a somewhat similar range to your singing voice, you can explore that higher range as you talk.
You might wonder why we illustrated this section with a gingerbread man. That’s because many children’s stories include parts where you tend to speak higher. You can try saying “you can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!” in a high voice. Talking like Mickey Mouse works, too.
Practice speaking in a high voice until you feel fairly comfortable with it. Don’t focus too much on sound or vocal tone at this point. You can sharpen and improve your tone later; for now, you just want to learn to speak high before you sing high. If you want some helpful guidance on how to find your head register, check out this helpful video.
4. Starting to Sing
Now you’re ready to begin to produce a head voice. Again, this is just practice (and very early practice), so don’t worry if your voice sounds like you need to work on your vocal power. Work on holding different notes at a high pitch. As you hold them, hold a hand on your chest, too. If you feel a vibration, you’re mixing in your chest voice.
When you’re first getting the hang of your head register, do your best to isolate it from your chest voice. So if you feel chest vibration, go up in pitch until you only feel the resonance in your head.
Focus on singing brightly and lightly. If you play guitar, think of the sparkling sound of the higher strings on an acoustic guitar. You might find the sound of pure head register vocals to be thin and unappealing. But remember that the sound you hear now is not the end goal.
We’ll talk some about mixed voice (or middle voice) a little later. This voice is a mix of the head register and chest register, and it can make a major difference in your vocal tone. Singing with a quality mixed voice also adds some warmth and power to your head register. If you want some helpful tips on finding and building your head register, check out this helpful video.
5. Look for Good Examples
As you practice hitting higher notes and growing your voice, it can be helpful to have an example to look up to. This is especially useful if you don’t have a vocal coach but are learning from online tutorials (or even trial and error!).
Trained singers typically have mastered the art of blending together just enough of the head register and chest register. That way, their voices have warmth, power, and great tone even at a high pitch.
Choose a singer (or more than one) who has your approximate vocal range. If you write or perform music in a specific genre, you might want to choose someone who performs in the same genre. Listen closely to how the singer’s voice sounds when singing in their head register.
The idea here isn’t to try and make your vocals a carbon copy of someone else’s. Rather, it should give you a sense of what a well-balanced head register sounds like.
As you work on your head register, you can record yourself so you can better hear and monitor your progress. Of course, when you’re still learning, it can be hard to assess your vocal progress. You can compare your vocals to the singers you chose. This video also offers some great guidance on how to assess your own progress if you don’t have a vocal coach.
6. Expanding Your Vocal Range
Almost all singers want to improve their vocal range. And now that you can reach a higher pitch than you could before, you might be newly inspired to try and extend your range while also developing a full voice from your lowest note to your highest note.
But in order to see if your range is expanding, you need to know your range in the first place. Start at middle C on the piano and see if you can match the pitches above and below it. If you don’t have a piano and/or if you have trouble matching middle C and other pitches, you can use an online tuner app.
Remember that your vocal range doesn’t mean the lowest and highest notes you can barely eke out; it means the lowest to highest notes you can sing comfortably. If you want to expand your vocal range, one effective method is singing scales and working toward difficult notes. This video from a vocal coach offers some advice on extending your vocal range.
7. Moving Toward Mixed Voice
As you work to improve as a singer, you probably want to improve the tone of your high notes and develop a full head register. New singers don’t always know this, but professionals are very rarely singing purely in chest voice or in their head register. The mixed voice or middle voice is effectively a blending of both registers. It’s easy to think in terms of two voices (head and chest), but blending them into one voice will give you the best results.
It may take some time and fine-tuning to get a great mix along with your vocal range. But there’s a relatively straightforward way to start developing a good mix. Try singing from the bottom of your range to the top and vice versa. The idea is to get through your whole range.
At some point, there should be a “break” where you switch from your chest voice to head register (or the other way around). To begin developing a mixed voice, you’ll want to sing through the break until the transition is smooth.
Of course, it’s possible that you’re someone who naturally is able to sing with a mixed voice. But if not, it might take some conscious effect before mixing becomes second nature.
Once you’re able to bridge the break, you can practice using more compression or breath support to add more chest voice to your head register. Practice adding this compression and taking it away, paying close attention to the difference in sound. Check out this helpful video if you want some additional guidance on developing your mixed voice.
Want to Learn More?
As they start vocal training, many singers get excited about vocal exploration. One way you can improve is by working with a voice teacher. However, vocal lessons are often very expensive, and they aren’t available everywhere.
An online vocal course is a great way to improve your head register, expand your range, improve breath support and airflow, or do just about anything to work on your voice. Most websites offer standalone video lessons or full courses for almost any level of the singer.
Many singers, even professional ones, have benefited from vocal training at some point in their lives. If you have a limited range, not much vocal power, or have trouble staying on pitch, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re stuck singing that way!
Don’t be discouraged if your head register doesn’t sound amazing right away. Virtually no singers start out sounding incredible. Just remember that your voice is an instrument just like a guitar. And when you put in the work to master it, you’ll be rewarded with better sound and better range.
But what do you think? Do you have any advice for finding and improving your head voice? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to like and share if you found this list useful!