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I was reading the other day through a forum, and one question that kept popping up is how to transition from chest voice to head tone. Thus, I decided to answer this question in more detail and specifically from the vocal folds technique perspective. Of course, many people out there—who indulge in singing—are confused with their chest and head voice and claim not to know how to shift from chest voice to head tone. Yet, they may be doing it without being aware that they are doing it.
So, is it challenging to transition from chest to head tone? The answer is simple: It is not! Yet, to achieve that smooth transition from chest to head voice, you need to learn and unlearn some of your old singing habits.
Understanding the Different Types of Voice Registers
Some so-called experts believe that only two vocal registers exist: the head and the chest registers. However, according to speech pathologists, this belief is far from complete because there are four vocal registers. More often, singers only use one vocal register, i.e., the modal or chest register.
The belief in only two registers (chest and head voice) is misleading and implies that these two registers are exclusive of each other and that you need to switch off the chest voice to transition to the head register. This misleading belief makes it difficult for people to manipulate their voices.
The truth is—there are four vocal registers and that a continuum exists among these four whistle register. The term “vocal registers” also does not refer to distinct registers, but you predominantly resonate with your voice.
Of course, vocal resonance is the coloring or intensifying of sound after it leaves the vocal cords. The human voice likewise is molded by the shape and size of the structures surrounding the vocal tract. Some of these structures where sound resonates include the larynx, chest, pharynx, nasal cavity, oral cavity, and sinuses. It will help to note that these structures also can go as sing higher as your head to as low as your ribcage.
However, you can never manipulate all these structures, and the only structures you can willfully control are the mouth, the throat, and your diaphragm. So, when speaking of chest voice, head voice, and middle voice, you are just referring to the locations where you resonate when you sing.
1) Head Voice
The head voice can be your speaking or singing voice, where your voice primarily resonates in the head. So, when you are using your head voice, you would feel the vibrations around your face’s upper half because your sinuses are the predominant resonators in this case.
2) Middle Voice
Middle Voice resonates around your face’s lower half, including your upper neck and chin. So, you feel vibrations in your hard palate, though this doesn’t imply that the other structures are not sympathetically vibrating.
3) Chest Voice
Chest voice lets you feel the vibrations more around your sternum and lower neck. You will know if you are using your chest voice by placing your hand on your chest to feel its vibrations.
4) The Voice Continuum
From the above discussion of registers, you will understand that these three registers are not exclusive but form a continuum. Hence, it will help to mix these three resonance locations while letting one predominate.
Of course, there should be no tug-of-war in areas where you would transition from one register to another. As a trained singer, you can make this transition as smooth as possible. However, if you are not trained, you might feel this so-called tug-of-war with one register trying to dominate.
Important Techniques for Switching from One Register to Another
Knowledge is power, and the more you know about the different voice registers, the more familiar you will be with them. To master the art of transitioning from the chest register, for example, to the head voice, you need to learn some useful techniques:
Learn When to Transition
Not yet trained in singing, some people will feel uneasy when transitioning from one voice to another. Of course, you will feel at a loss if you don’t know your head voice and your chest voice. Moreover, you may also get confused as to when to transition.
One reason some people find it hard to transition is that they started high with their chest voice. So, to transition well to head voice, you need to start low with your chest voice. You may not be aware of your voice, so I suggest that you record your singing voice. Then, listen to the recording with care. Try to figure out your chest voice and your head voice. It will help to note that chest voice higher notes and low notes should be lower than your head voice.
You should practice this switch more often. At first, you may experience cracking and breaking. Yet, as you get used to it, you will no longer feel or hear that noticeable break when you switch from chest to head voice.
Practice and Master the Passaggio
The point where you transition from one register to another is called passaggio. The passaggio, of course, requires practice to master. Just like when developing a new skill, you need to practice as often as you could to make the transition second nature to you.
Passaggio is an Italian term that refers to the transition area between two voice registers. Its plural form is passaggi. You can achieve mastery of the transition only through constant vocal training. Of course, the training’s primary aim is to maintain a balanced or even timbre along the passaggio.
Practice Singing in Mixed Voice
Most successful singers have learned to mix their registers, and this ability makes them achieve high success in the field of music. Amateur singers, however, may be forcing themselves to transition from one voice to another. Most singers, however, stick to one vocal register to the detriment of the other registers.
Many people fail to master the transition because they do not practice. They become content with only one vocal register. But if you desire to have a mixed voice, you need to continually engage in practice and train hard.
Having a mixed voice dramatically expands and enhances your singing capability. Therefore, the goal of vocal practices is to develop a continuum when singing with a mixed voice. It will help to note at this point that you can accomplish nothing without sacrifice.
So, you will need to spend time and effort in practices. You can use established singing exercises like the Octave leaps, arpeggios, mixed voice exercises to enable you to sing using mixed voice.
Possible Reasons Behind Voice Breaking During Passaggio
There are some possible reasons why you experience cracking and breaking during your transition from chest to head voice. Here are some of these reasons:
Lack of Training and Damaged Vocal Cords
It will help to know how to navigate the boundaries of your registers. However, you end up having two distinct sounds without training: chest voice and head voice with very pronounced delineation. Without practice, you fail to develop some crucial vocal muscles to a smooth transition along the passaggio. Another reason is that you may have damaged your vocal cords by straining or overworking them.
You Hold and Pull the Chest Voice
You may be doing the transition early or late. However, the change from chest voice to head voice should happen naturally, like when you are trying to muster your voice to bring out your calling-out voice without messing the open vowel sounds up.
My suggestion is not to make the switch until you reach G4/A4. However, it should also depend on what you wish to do. If you want, for example, to produce softer sounds, you should switch. If you wish, however, to create louder sounds even at F4, you can still go on with your chest voice.
You may encounter some problems when you get around D4, wherein you would feel you hit a wall. At this point, there will be an urge for you to switch.
Constant practices aim to eliminate the breaks and cracks when transitioning from one register to another smoothly. But more often, if you are not trained, you will find it hard to do away with the break because you will also be breathing during the break (breath support). The abovementioned tips can help you smoothen up the transitions, and once you have mastered the switch, you will be surprised by the range of possibilities you can do with your voice. It will also enable you to be a better singer in the process.