Chest Voice vs. Head Voice: What's the Difference?
You may have heard singers and teachers throwing around the terms head voice and chest voice, but what are they really? As a singer it's important to get to know your instrument, and understanding the different registers and qualities in your voice is part of that. Let's explore what these are and even how we can blend the two together.
The term chest voice commonly refers to the lower range of your voice, which has a deeper, lower, and richer quality to it. I like to think of chest voice as the speech-oriented voice, and most people have the easiest time accessing their chest voice because it feels like speaking. If you put your hand on your chest while singing in chest voice, you will probably feel a vibration. Usually this speech quality can be brought up in pitch to a certain point before you might feel like you're yelling. In order to not sound like you're yelling, and to protect your voice, you'll need to introduce some head voice into the sound (or flip entirely into head voice) when you reach this "break" point. So what exactly is head voice?
You might think of head voice as the higher, more sing-songy register (think Julie Andrews' sound).
The truth is head voice is used by every properly trained singer who has a command over her voice. The question is when and how much. If you're a classical singer or working on legit musical theater repertoire, you will mostly be using your head voice. Try sighing or yawning to feel how to access the lifted soft palate which is necessary in head voice.
It's worth noting that falsetto and head voice are not the same thing. Falsetto is the use of an intentionally lighter and breathier sound in the upper register of the voice. Sometimes beginning singers are only able to get this sound when attempting to sing in head voice. Head voice can and should still have strength behind it.
Many students I work with often have the misconception that head voice = weak or bad. They tend to favor their chest voice, and then once they reach a certain register they need to "flip" into head voice. They get frustrated because the sound changes, usually to a thinner, breathier sound. This is NORMAL when first learning to sing. Part of vocal study is to learn to strengthen the head voice. We do this with proper breath support, tension release, and sometimes, depending on the genre, by using what we call a mixed voice.
As you can probably guess, a singer's mixed voice is a mix of head and chest voices. It incorporates the feeling of singing in chest, using a speech-like quality, with the lifted soft palate and nasality of head voice. Mixed voice is used heavily in pop and musical theater. Many singers use a mix when "belting," because it is a safe alternative to bringing the chest voice up very high. When mixing, the amount of head voice you introduce vs. amount of chest voice will depend on the pitch and sound quality you are trying to achieve.
Singing in mixed voice often feels very open due to the necessary relaxation in the throat, jaw and larynx juxtaposed with the lift in the palate and the "mask" (area of the face including nose and eyes). Mixed voice can be the hardest of the registers/qualities to master. Don't get discouraged! Proper vocal training can help you get the sound you want while making sure you are keeping your voice healthy.