Head Voice vs. Chest Voice vs. Falsetto (Differences Explained Simply)

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  • What is the difference between head voice and falsetto?
  • Does everyone have a falsetto?
  • How do I know when to use my head voice, chest voice, and falsetto?

Did you know that you have more than one singing voice? The human voice is split into different regions: head voice, chest voice, and falsetto. Each of these voices has a specific application for singing and vocal performances. But can anyone use these different regions while singing? 

And is it possible to improve and develop your head voice, chest voice, or falsetto independently? 

We’ve put together a brief guide to understanding each of the primary vocal regions used for singing. We’ve also compiled a series of simple techniques or exercises you can try to find and strengthen your head voice, chest voice, or falsetto.

Voice Regions Explained

Head voice, chest voice, and falsetto are terms used to describe the primary types of singing used in most modern music. The region of each voice is also associated with the level of pitch that it generates. 

The chest voice is the lower part of a vocal register, followed by your head voice and then the falsetto. Chest voice also generally has the fullest and most prominent body amongst most singers, while falsetto is usually the thinnest and also the toughest region for most vocalists to master. 

The average person has access to every region of their singing voice even if they are unaware of it. Experienced and trained singers know how to switch between each vocal region on demand and can also blend elements of each voice type to add dynamic to their performances. 

Chest Voice

The chest voice is the most natural part of our singing and speaking registers. When you speak or sing in a relaxed manner and place your hand on your chest, you should feel a prominent vibration in this area. This is where the term chest voice originates. 

The chest voice is generally considered to be at the lower part of our vocal register, followed by the head voice and then the falsetto. The majority of singers use their chest voice as the central part of their vocal delivery as it is usually the strongest and most naturally developed part of our voices. 

The chest voice is responsible for the lowest part of our vocal register. As you reach the top of your chest voice, you’ll notice that your voice will start to crack or strain as you hit your pitch threshold. This point is the crossover mark between your chest voice and your head voice. When learning how to sing, most teachers advise that you start at your chest voice, and then work your way to head voice and falsetto. 

Chest Voice Tips and Techniques

  1. Finding your chest voice is a much simpler process than finding your falsetto or head voice. Simply place your hand on your chest and hum at a relaxed but firm level, as if you were speaking to someone in front of you. Change your hum to a vowel sound (ahh or ooh) to generate our normal chest voice.
  2. Using this previous technique as your center point, try and produce different pitches and volume levels with this part of your voice.
  3. Try singing at your lowest possible note for as long as possible. Practice using your breath to maintain a consistent pitch and volume level. Once you are comfortable at your lowest note, practice slowly sliding from this point upward into your vocal register. This exercise will help develop your air control and stamina while singing in a chest voice.
  4. You can use scales and patterns to help develop your chest voice. Start with something simple, like the lowest possible C major scale. It’s also healthy to use an app, a piece of audio, or even an instrument for note reference when practicing scales. 

Head Voice

The head voice is one tier above the chest voice in the vocal register. The head voice gets its name from the tingling sensation that singers experience in their cheekbones, sinuses, and temporal lobe while singing. These sensations come from the extra circulation in the facial muscles while singing in the head voice. 

One of the most identifiable head voices in modern music stems from the music group The Bee Gees. The band had originally released a series of somber ballads sung mostly in chest voice before switching over to a disco-themed catalog sung in a very strong head voice. Head voice has a distinct sharp overtone to it, and it can help singers hit high notes that they cannot reach in their regular chest voice. 

Head Voice Tips and Techniques

  1. Head voice can be slightly trickier to locate than chest voice. Begin by trying to find your highest note in chest voice, almost to the point of having to sing louder to reach this note. At this point, try to relax your shoulders, chest, and diaphragm. Your larynx will begin to contract, and this will engage your head voice.
  2. Smile. Lifting up your cheekbones creates openings in your sinus cavities that make it easier to generate a strong head voice. It can also help to look slightly upward and lift your chin to help with the vocal cord compression needed for a stable head voice. 
  3. Another way to find your head voice is to force a yawn and perform a sliding sigh sound with your voice while doing so. Repeat the yawn a few times and slow down your slide with each round, increasing the length of your note with each repeat. The first few notes that you hit in this yawn will naturally be in your head voice, and this will also show you how you can perform the technique without having to overexert yourself. 
  4. Once you have a grasp of the yawn technique, try to mimic the sound of a police siren at a relaxed and controlled level. If you have to shout or sing at a high volume to produce this sound, your technique is incorrect. Enunciate the vowels that make up the siren sound to strengthen the muscles in your face and larynx. This is needed for a comfortable head voice. 

Falsetto

Falsetto is the thinnest part of the singing voice and sits at the very top of our vocal register. When the falsetto is engaged, it only uses the outer edges of the vocal folds to generate sound. The vocal folds leave enough space for excess air to pass over them while vibrating, and this results in giving the falsetto its defining sonic texture. 

Falsetto is very often confused with head voice, especially with certain female singing voices. A common term associated with falsetto is a whisper tone, and this helps us identify the key difference between head voice and falsetto. Head voice has a distinctly fuller and richer body than a falsetto, which has a much more airy tonal character. 

Falsetto Tips and Techniques

  1. Falsetto is generally the most difficult part of the vocal register to access, as it is at the top of the vocal register and can easily be mistaken for the head voice. What’s most important to note is that the larynx is more relaxed in falsetto than it is in the head voice to allow excess air to pass. 
  2. The initial key to finding your falsetto is to concentrate on generating sound using as little volume or air as possible. Try to breathe out a particular vowel sound, and then gently add in a high pitch alongside this breathing technique. 
  3. Try to experiment with crossing over from head voice into falsetto by reaching for the highest note in your head voice and reducing the amount of force exerted from your lungs while doing so. You should be able to reach slightly higher notes that sound thinner and airier. 
  4. If you get stuck trying to find where your falsetto starts, let out an enthusiastic ‘’Woo!’’ sound as if you were cheering someone on. Gradually repeat this sound with less volume until you are producing equal amounts of air and pitch at the same time. 

Final Thoughts

Learning how to harness and master each of the respective vocal regions takes consistent practice and patience. Some singers have a natural ability to access their head voice, chest voice, and falsetto. It’s important to know that everyone takes different lengths of time and practice to get a firm grasp on these techniques, so don’t rush, and remember to have fun. 

FAQ

  • Is head voice higher than falsetto?

Yes, the head voice sits at the top of the human vocal register and is considered to be the trickiest of the vocal registers to master. 

  • What is the opposite of falsetto?

The opposite of falsetto is the full or modal voice, which sits in the chest region of the vocal register. 

  • How can you tell the difference between falsetto and head voice?

Head voice has a distinctly nasal tone to it and is generally fuller and more resonant than falsetto. Falsetto also has an airy character to it due to excess air passing over the outer edges of the vocal cords. 

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