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Starter Course Lesson 4: Vocal Register

Starter Course Lesson 4: Vocal Register

Head, Chest, and Falsetto Voices

This week we’re going to focus on embracing all the different parts of your range. The majority of new singers feel most comfortable with their lower ranges (what we call the chest voice) and often outright avoid singing way up high (in their head voices). One exception is with some females – generally those with a background in choir singing – who are accustomed to singing exclusively in their head voices.

Wherever your current comfort zone is, this week, we’re going to work toward making you more comfortable throughout your entire range.

I am often asked by new students to assess what “voice” I think they have, meaning soprano, alto, tenor, etc… When it comes to modern pop music, that is a somewhat old-fashioned assessment. With the right approach, information, and exercises, you can work to master a full vocal range unconstrained by those designations. That’s what we’ll move toward this week.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. DO NOT CARE HOW YOU SOUND. To get from not being able to do something to being able to do something well, you have to take a stroll through the land of “not that great at it.” You have no choice.

If you currently don’t use your head voice much, there is a high probability that the sound will be thin or pinched or breathy or shaky, etc… Use it anyway. Exercising the weaker parts of your range is the absolute ONLY way to develop the muscles and motor skills to make them stronger.

You can do this!

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Section One: Chest Voice, Head Voice, and Falsetto

You may be familiar with the terms Chest VoiceHead Voice, and Falsetto, but if you’re like many singers, you struggle to define these things. Let’s do that now.

 

Chest Voice: Your chest voice is the lower part of your range. The name comes from the way if feels to sing in this part of your range, because you feel the strongest vibration in your chest when singing lower. When singing properly in your chest voice, you are using your speaking voice.

 

Head Voice: The head voice is the higher part of your range when you feel the most vibration in your head, roof of your mouth, and sinuses. Since your head voice is not in your speaking range, most new singers have an underdeveloped head voice. The sound is thinner and weaker, and it feels as though there is an enormous shift necessary to switch into and out of your head voice. Over time, you can learn to make that shift in a gradual way as you rise through your range. On the road to developing that ability, you HAVE TO accept the “shift” as it is and exercise your head voice no matter how you feel about the quality of sound.

 

Falsetto: The falsetto register is often confused with head voice. In fact, when new singers first use their head voices, they are often singing falsetto instead. During falsetto singing, your vocal cords don’t come together the way they do during head voice singing (more about this below). Falsetto can be used as an artistic choice when singing, but if you’re looking to grow a strong, consistent sound throughout your range, you want to develop your head voice.

 

Let’s Go Deeper:

There are three main components involved in your body creating sound. They are:
  1. The air used to create vibrations
  2. The vocal folds (or vocal cords) which vibrate to create sound
  3. The vocal tract which changes shape to affect the quality of that sound.

 

In Week One, you learned about setting up your body (expanding ribs) to send the correct amount of air up to your folds. In Week Three, you learned about how the vocal tract changes shape to create your intended vowel sounds.

 

Now, it’s time to discuss component 2 above, the vocal folds, in more detail. Understanding how the vocal folds work will make clear the difference between head and falsetto voices.

 

The Vocal Folds

In the picture here, you see where the vocal folds are located (as part of the larynx, at the top of the trachea).

Notice that they are situated in an (almost) horizontal position. Keep this in mind the next time you try to reach your chin up high to sing a high note. Now you can see how completely unhelpful that move is to your vocal cords!

When you plan a certain pitch (with your intention), your folds know the exact position to take on to create that pitch. This is why you need to fully know your pitches in advance, so you can properly intend them.

 

This image depicts the vocal folds up close. On the left, you can see that the folds are open. This is the position they take on for breathing (without creating sound).

On the right, you can see that the folds have come together to create sound. Because, what is sound? Sound is vibrations. When air from your lungs passes through the folds while they’re touching it creates a vibration that then resonates through your vocal tract.

The great news is that your body handles this automatically. It goes like this:

  1. You intend a pitch.
  2. Your folds assume the appropriate position to create that pitch.
  3. Your diaphragm (because your ribs are open and it is therefore active) knows just how much pressure to place against the bottom of your lungs to send the needed amount of air up to the folds.
  4. Air vibrates the folds, sending sound up through the vocal tract.
  5. The shape of your vocal tract (another automatic function initiated by your intent) turns that sound into the syllables you want to sing.

Now, let’s apply this information to strengthening your full range.

I mentioned above that when singing falsetto, there is space between your vocal folds, which is part of what gives the sound a thin, breathy quality. To have strength in your upper register, you have to sing with folds that are touching.

The most important thing that newbie singers do wrong when trying to have strength in their head voices is that they push for it. They take a huge breath and try to force the pitch to happen.

The reality is, it takes less air to sing higher notes. So, pushing really hard to “make” the notes happen is counter-productive. Too much air will cause tension, abuse your folds unnecessarily, and can push your folds apart. The key is laying back and keeping your throat relaxed. This keeps your vocal folds touching and helps you build a solid head voice tone.

 

This Week’s Workout

As you go through this week’s workout, keep two things in mind.

  • Allow the vibration of your voice to be experienced as discussed in the Your Body’s Natural EQ video.
  • Be sure not to over-push your air, especially as you near a vocal register change. The EE Sirens exercise is a perfect time to practice backing of just enough to avoid a noticeable flip as you switch into your head voice.

Lesson 4 Videos:

Lesson 4 Workout:

 

  1. Stretch your neck and back. And if you’ve had a busy or stressful day, take several slow, deep breaths.

 

  1. Palm Press Inhale/Exhale: Can you do three sets without fatiguing?

 

  1. Ee Sirens: Use the advice from section two.

 

  1. Ah Full Range: Be sure to use the correct vocal register as appropriate, smoothing out your transitions a little more at each practice session.

 

  1. Larynx Drop: This exercise is one I mentioned in the first video in section two.

 

  1. Legato Ee Eh Ah: Slide effortlessly through your full range.

 

  1. Song Work: Using what you learned in section two, focus your song work this week on thickening up your head voice and adding brightness to your chest voice. Try to make your transitions as seamless as possible but also be patient with yourself. It can take time to get your different vocal registers to match.

 

Have fun!