What Is Chest Voice?
Chest voice, or simply put your low register is the rich and deep sound we often associate with our speaking voices. Now, as I often point out to my students, singing and speaking are an entirely different process and wholly unrelated in the manner in which they are performed – so let’s get a little bit more technical when answering “What is Chest Voice?”. This tutorial will illustrate what is chest voice along with practical examples and exercises that will help you increase chest voice range and build a powerful voice that connects chest voice vs head voice.
Chest voice is a function of the thyroarytenoid muscle (TA), which ultimately dictates the weight of your vocal folds by engagement or release of this muscle. By engaging the throarytenoid you thicken your vocal chords and alter the dynamic frequency with which they vibrate – meaning that you sing with a deeper tone.
Hit high notes chest voice
Now, to hit high notes chest voice in it’s pure form and the weight accompanied by engagement of the TA muscles simply won’t allow for your high range – often male singers experience this issue when they approach their first vocal break and simply cannot sing any higher, or they ‘flip’ up into their high register. Now, your high register, or Head Voice as it’s often known, is allowed by the Cricothyroid muscle (CT) which dictates tension (in terms of how tight your chords stretch, not to be confused with strain) in your vocal folds. If you wish to hit high notes chest voice actually needs to coordinate with the CT muscles to balance in the centre between weight and tension, in essence ‘mixing’ your two main registers to retain the rich depth of chest while accessing the extension of range afforded by your head register.
Pure chest voice cannot be used to sing high notes and your voice needs released coordination of these two muscles, the TA and ST to allow head voice chest voice connection and ultimately, a high range that is connected to your chest voice and sung in a full manner similar to your lower range.
Head Voice Chest Voice Connection
Chest voice head voice connection occurs when you learn to centrally coordinate the muscles responsible for these two main registers in a balanced way. If you wish to increase chest voice range, it’s important that you understand a stretch of your chest voice register actually occurs in the opposing musculature to the TA muscles which allow your chest voice in the first place – by stretching the CT muscles (ie: head voice) while engaging the TA muscles (ie: chest voice) in a balanced way, you will achieve head voice chest voice connection with ease and soon be able to hit high notes chest voice would otherwise be unable to access.
The best way to build a released register coordination is via use of a lip trill exercise or a cat trill if you experience problems with the former. You’ll notice that if you sing with a light, breathless lip trill that your two main registers cease to exist in the way that you probably recognise them currently, and your voice simply has no vocal break – this is due to cooperation between the TA and CT muscles and ultimately engagement of your middle register.
Head Voice vs Chest Voice
I’m often asked by budding singers which register they should sing in for a particular phrase they are experiencing issues with, and the answer really isn’t as simple as head voice vs chest voice. In essence, you really only have one long and connected voice that has the capability of connecting through your middle range without a break – if you experience a break in your middle range and feel the need to sing in either head voice vs chest voice rather than a central coordination of the two, you haven’t yet developed your mix register and your voice could do with professional coaching to get you on the way to head voice chest voice connection with ease.
In essence, your head voice and chest voice should be working together at all times in a released coordination that can alter it’s balance in a fluid way with a moment’s notice – this released coordination is often called mix voice and takes time and practice to develop in a controlled and powerful way, but will ultimately lead you to a much more impressive and professional singing voice.
Your Chest Voice is like a Gradient
Singers often run into trouble when they treat their voices as a ‘switch’ between head voice vs chest voice when in actual fact, your registers work more like a gradient – if you think of your chest voice as black and your head voice as white, then the tone you sing within the middle of your range should be grey. Often, beginner singers feel the need to sing in a full and pushed chest tone as high as possible and run into the requisite issues associated with pulling chest and lacking a middle voice coordination. Your chest voice is like a gradient in that it should never be fully engaged unless at the extreme end of your range, and you’ll likely find that most of your repertoire actually requires you to sing in some form of register gradient.
By treating your vocal registers as a connected slide at all times you ensure greater vocal health while allowing a much more extensive vocal range in full voice.
Increase Chest Voice Range
If you wish to increase chest voice range, then middle voice is the answer you’ve been looking for. By adding a slight engagement of the CT muscles as you near the top of your chest register, you actually invite a slight stretching of your vocal folds to allow faster frequency vibration which results in a higher pitch, while still retaining the rich and deep tone associated with your chest register.
Head and Chest voice really work as a team in many ways, and I often see singers experiencing issues with their voice out of pure avoidance of the muscles responsible for their head voice. Completely avoiding your head voice in place of trying to increase chest voice range purely through TA engagement is a recipe for vocal damage and ultimately will lead to an unbalanced and shorter range than proper balancing of your middle register. If you wish to increase chest voice range, it is an absolute must that you develop your middle register.
If you have any questions about how to increase chest voice range, leave any feedback or questions below!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.