Learning to properly identify your own vocal registers will allow you to cultivate a complete voice that will open up a world of confidence while singing on and off the stage.
There are three widely agreed upon registers when describing the voice — Chest Voice, Head Voice, and Mixed Voice. These concepts can seem abstract, and the exact pitch where each “voice” switches is distinct in every performer.
“Chest” is the lower part of the voice that typically encompasses the notes one uses to speak. The tones are brassy, clear, and warm while creating a subtle vibrating sensation in the chest; thus, the register’s namesake!
To identify and practice using your own chest voice, begin by speaking the word, “Goo,” recognizing the pitch of which you are saying the word. Then, sing the same word on that same pitch.
This exercise should feel relatively relaxed, allowing you to descend the scale with relative ease. However, as you begin to climb the scale in the chest voice, you will start to feel a slight strain in your voice until it cracks. This crack is your “break” into your head voice. It might be helpful to think of this “break” as your voice shifting gears, much like in a car.
If this is your first time discovering your break, you should be aware that it will take a small amount of time to strengthen the muscles surrounding your vocal folds. You may also feel that your lower register is not as pretty as the voice you have become accustomed to using, but be encouraged that if you accept your chest voice as a valid part of your collective voice, you will improve your other registers, gain more control of you “break” with practice, and overcome many vocal limitations.
The Head Voice is the higher register of the voice that most people sing or speak with when they are nervous or trying to be polite. It has a sweet, sometimes airy quality that requires perhaps a tad more effort to achieve than the chest voice.
Continuing with the “goo,” sing the word while ascending until the sound feels like it is going through the top of your head. As you descend, you will notice that your lower notes are airier. This is a signal that you are singing those lower notes in your head voice, not in chest voice. It is not necessarily incorrect, but you need to know the difference in the tonality in order to have more flexibility.
In addition, a great song to practice transitioning from chest voice to head voice is, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” due to its octaval leaps in the melody.
Lastly, Mixed Voice is a combination of both chest voice and head voice. Many singers use mixed voice when performing or recording, because it has the most balanced resonance that permits the singer to project a pleasant blend of their registers while singing.
Going forward in your musical journey, attempt to spot the vocal registers your favorite singers are utilizing in their songs! Don’t get too bogged down when practicing in these different registers, especially if these concepts are brand new. As singers, our voices are major components of our identity, so remember that the goal is to expand your vocal capabilities, not change your voice or deny its nuances. Having a grasp of these ideas will give you the freedom to be more intentional with your artistry. Be encouraged and excited to see what your voice can do!