Frequently asked questions
Do the 'Head' and the 'Chest' voice work together?
To tell the difference between these registers
How to handle the transition to give you that effortless sound you often hear from the singing stars.
What is 'Head' voice?
A good experiment to do to discover when you're actually in the head voice is to put your hand on your chest and sing a glissando from your lowest note up to the point where your voice flips over into the falsetto color. As you sing higher, you will feel less vibration in your chest cavity to the point where you feel nothing vibrating in your chest. When you feel nothing, you are on the head side of your resonance known as the head voice!
Head voice can be more like a falsetto color. What's happening there is that the vocal cords are not coming together firmly. They're coming together loosely with a lot of air flowing past the vocal folds. The more open the vocal folds are, the softer and more flute like the tone will be.
There's a way to reinforce the head voice so that it becomes a little bit more substantive in sound with what is called a pharyngeal tone. The pharyngeal starts to create more cut and precision in the sound as well as more brightness and clarity. As you use this color, the head voice becomes brilliant or shrill depending on how high the tongue rises. Also, the thyroarytenoid muscle flexes to create more closure in the vocal folds. A classic example would be musical theater voices like Ethel Merman or Al Jolson.
Head voice can also be very full. When you add chest resonance to the head resonance and pharyngeal tone then you get a very full warm sound, but also you get a lot of cut because of the pharyngeal tone. What happens here is the base of the tone sits a little lower allowing the larynx to seat just a little lower creating a darker tone so then you get more of what we call the chest resonance. Chest resonance basically is resonance that is dominant in the oropharyngeal cavity.
There's also another kind of head voice that has more of the dark tone of the chest voice along with that color falsetto mixed in but no pharyngeal. That's a little bit more buttery and still warm but it does not cut as much as would be the full head voice or the falsetto: pharyngeal admixture.
What is 'Chest/Full' voice?
Chest voice is classically defined as the sounds that primarily resonate in the chest cavity. This is not entirely accurate just as the classic definition of head voice is not entirely accurate. However, as a singer, if you put your hand on your chest and you sing from your highest note to your lowest note, you'll notice that the vibration sensation becomes stronger as you sing lower. This phenomenon is described as the chest voice, but the actual resonance is being formed primarily in the mouth and a bit in the larynx, acoustically speaking.
There are some singers who have a great deal of trouble singing in that lower part of their vocal range. When they try to sing in their lower register, the tone quality lacks the brightness and the clarity that they're looking for. It sounds almost breathy in quality. This is usually because they have not properly activated the thyroarytenoid muscle (vocalis). This can happen to some singers who were trained to bring what's called the head voice down very low in the range without learning how to coordinate back into the natural tone color of the speaking voice. In the French school of classical voice, this is a common thing. In that training,it is preferred that the singer not engage any of the color of the speaking voice when singing but keep that light flutie quality of the head voice. This is not appropriate for most contemporary music. Occasionally, some people have the challenge speaking with a clear resonant tone because they have habituated speaking with loose vocal folds where they don't engage with thyroarytenoid muscle.
For anybody with this challenge, it is necessary to help them learn to activate that musculature. It is also necessary for them to get accustomed to the resonance sensation of the full vocal fold vibration.
What is 'Mix' voice?
Mixed voice is a term commonly thrown around. There's a great deal of confusion as to what a mixed voice really is and it's understandable because there are several different things going on in order to create what is called a mix. When vocal coaches speak of a mix, they're speaking of a blending of the color of the heavy fluticolor falsetto and a meaty color of the chest voice. However, this kind of mix could be lacking in brilliance because it is mostly focused on resonance, but not so much on vocal cord compression. Mixed voice can be achieved also by adding what is called a pharyngeal tone which will be explained in another section. So, a mixed voice can be several things depending on how the singer coordinates a voice. A wonderful teacher of Bel Canto from back in the 1900s, E. Herbert Ceasare, spoke of different tone colors that a singer could achieve. He spoke of a falsetto pharyngeal, a head chest mix without pharyngeal and a full mixture where all three are added. All these are sort of a mix, however, each of their tonal characters differ. Singers use all of these different colors as they sing, but they may not necessarily differentiate them the way Ceasare does.
The pharyngeal tone
E. Herbert Caesare describes a pharyngeal tone as the forgotten resonator. In Italian, it is referred to as the strega voice. When translated into English, the strega voice can be translated as an old woman's cackle or witch’s voice. Many singers refer to the strega voice as a twang. This is a very useful device for building a very strong mix between chest and head. It gives the voice cut and brilliance.That said, on its own, the strega voice can be the opposite of beautiful. If a singer sings with too much of the original tone of the strega voice, it becomes irritating to the listener. Singers, thus, use different degrees of the strega voice to colour their tone. It all depends on the personality and taste of the singer. Nevertheless, it is a very useful tool for building effortless power in the voice.