The Head Voice Chest Voice Myth …Aug 26, 2021
In my many MANY years of experience, one of the most complicated and nebulous parts of teaching voice is the ability to describe what a singer should be experiencing accurately. Using the voice as our instrument is very much different than those who work with other instruments -- as most of our instrument is inside the body and can’t be seen. So, a lot of training that I have experienced is that most voice teachers describe the sounds the voice is producing.
Descriptions are interpretive and, for the student, can be pretty confusing.
Most singers come to me asking me about the difference between a head voice and a chest voice … And yes, this is the niche terminology most voice teachers and vocal coaches learned growing up.
A head voice was used to describe a higher, lighter sound, while a chest voice was used to describe more robust sounds in the lower part of the voice.
The description of the voice comes from traditions and vocal technique from hundreds upon hundreds of years ago. This was due to the sensations of singing low notes that were felt in the chest. And when singing high notes, they were felt in the head.
Since then, technology has come a long way, and vocal science has shown us that all the sounds come from the vocal folds, or what many people call vocal cords.
One of the pioneers in vocal research was Jo Estill, who determined that the head / chest voice model was inaccurate and did not really describe what was going on anatomically for the singer.
Estill started to use the terms thick folds and thin folds to explain what was going on at the vocal fold level -- where the sound is being produced. So, when a singer sings in the higher register, the vocal folds thin out, and when the singer sings lower notes, their vocal folds were usually thicker.
Jo’s research was revolutionary to all forms of singing teachers and coaches because it gave a true physiological reasoning behind the sound singers create. For example, in Jo’s “belt” quality, one of the primary characteristics is using a thicker fold.
Learning about thin and thick folds -- and becoming an EFP for Estill -- gave my students (as well as myself) the real answers we were looking for. To have a head voice quality -- that can be taken throughout the range, even low -- we would use thicker folds. But if we wanted a “chestier” sound, we would use thicker folds.
But what about the vocal break you ask?
To maneuver through the break, Estill suggests using various percentages of thick and thin folds to smooth things out. This way, as you go higher, it may be necessary to thin out the folds to avoid the shift. Now granted, singing with a thinner fold does not mean you can’t have a loud “belty” sound in your higher ranges. There are many ways to create a fuller sound on high notes, like cricoid tilt, which is one of the Estill figures.
Check out this video to learn about thick folds and thin folds and how they sound.
Then practice going up scales in thick and thin folds.
Then from there, try going from thick folds to thin folds to avid the break.
In a very near future blog post, I will be sharing and teaching you just that -- how to make the thinner folds sound fuller by using other Estill figures like cricoid tilt. So, stay tuned!
Being prepared is the first step -- and that will lead to a great career.
If you are a singer and want to learn how to better your singing voice and or get your name out there, or just simply have a few questions and need some advice … feel free to comment below or hit me up by dropping me an email.