What Are Head Voice and Chest Voice? The Singing Voice Explained

By Andy Follin

It’s possibly the most common question for those studying voice. But it’s also the least answered. Or, to put it better, the worst answered.

The problem with head and chest

The reason is that the answers that most vocal coaches and singing teachers give seem innately wrong. No matter how hard people try to explain it, you really can’t convince anyone that the voice moves from the chest to the head, because you can always feel just where it is – in the throat!

The terms ‘head voice’ and ‘chest voice’ have some merit in that they can describe the location of some of the sensations you feel (muscle effort, for example) when singing higher and lower, but that merit is outweighed by the confusion caused when singers start to imagine that the sound-producing mechanism changes location.

Head and chest resonance

Head and chest ‘resonance’ can cause similar problems. It’s an acoustic principle that there can be no resonance before the sound source so – given that the chest is below the larynx – there can be no chest resonance. Chest vibration, maybe, but not resonance.

Similarly, the only way the voice can resonate in the head (as opposed to the mouth) is if the soft palate (velum) is opened to allow sound into the nasal turbinates. But this would give an excessively nasal sound – which is undesirable at best.

What’s head, and what’s chest?

Anyone struggling for an answer to this question will come up against a number of answers, even among those singing teachers who still insist on using the terms head and chest. Some say there are only two ‘registers’, some three (head, chest, mixed) and some four (add falsetto to the list).

The problem is that they can’t even agree amongst themelves! Are all high notes ‘head’? Are all loud notes ‘Chest’? So what’s loud and high singing? And what do they call very quiet low singing?

There’s no consensus – because there’s no scientific fact to back up any of their opinions. It’s like asking them to describe ‘blue’ (do you mean royal blue, or French blue, or cyan etc..)

So what’s really happening?

All of this needless confusion can be avoided through a better understanding of the voice.

The vocal folds (vocal cords) are complex and able to vibrate in a number of ways, but whatever you call a sound – Head, Chest, Mixed, Apple, Banana – it can be precisely defined in terms of how the vocal folds are vibrating.

The great advantage of Estill Voice Training™ over more traditional singing methods is that it replaces the vague and inexact concepts of Head voice and Chest voice with a precise understanding of the Vocal Folds and how they are vibrating in different parts of the range.

As a Certified Master Teacher of EVT, Andy Follin can explain how to control and allow the voice to move easily throughout your entire range – with or without a change in sound, and without introducing any confusing terminology!

Andy Follin is a Certified Master Teacher of Estill Voice Training, based in the North West of England. As the only CMT in the area, Andy is uniquely placed to help both speakers and singers who wish to understand and control their voice.

His website Vocal Skills, has an FAQ section that tries to answer some of the most common questions about the voice.
It contains a useful article on head voice and chest voice. Check it out to get the Vocal Skills you want and need. Take your voice and your career seriously.

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