Voice Over Sydney: There is a common misconception that there are two discrete vocal registers, “head register” and “chest register.” The truth is, in speech pathology terms, there are actually four vocal registers, but only one of them is used in everyday singing—the modal register. Belief in this disconnected head and chest register is dangerous; the implication is there are only two separate, mutually-exclusive modes your voice can occupy—head and chest—which you can flip on and off like you would a light switch. This makes it difficult to feel and manipulate your voice, because that’s not how it actually works. There is a continuum between chest voice, middle voice, and head voice, and the terms refer not to separate registers, but to where you predominantly feel your voice resonating in your body. In order to understand, let’s talk a little bit about the vocal instrument.
Voice Over Sydney: Vocal Resonance
Vocal resonance is the process by which sound is intensified or “coloured” after leaving the vocal cords, but before leaving the body. Our unique voices are not only a product of the thickness and length of our vocal cords, but also, the size and shape of surrounding structures around the vocal tract. There are a number of structures in your body that resonate when you sing, including your chest, larynx, pharynx, oral cavity, nasal cavity, and sinuses.
Voice Over Sydney: Resonance Chambers in the Vocal Tract
Notice that these structures range as low as your ribcage, and as high as the top of your face. The only structures you can actually consciously manipulate are your throat, mouth, and diaphragm, and this transitively affects the rest of the resonators. Head voice, chest voice, and middle voice simply refer to where you feel the majority of resonance when you sing.
Voice Over Sydney: Head Voice
When you sing in your “head voice” it means you should feel vibration around the upper half of your face, because, at that moment, the predominant resonator is your sinuses. This doesn’t mean the other vocal structures aren’t resonating. It means that more resonance is occurring in your sinuses than anywhere else.
Voice Over Sydney: Middle Voice
When you sing in your “middle voice” you should feel more vibration around the lower half of your face, chin, and upper neck. What you are primarily feeling is your hard palate resonating, but again, this doesn’t mean the remaining structures, including your chest and sinuses aren’t vibrating sympathetically.
Voice Over Sydney: Chest Voice
When you sing in your “chest voice” you should feel more vibration around your lower neck, and sternum. If you want to know what this feels like, talk in your regular speaking voice, and put your hand in the middle of your chest. It’s vibrating.