Oh, yes…I feel your pain. A weak or unusable head voice can be the bane of lots of singers’ existences. Yet vocal coaches all agree that you can sing with a strong voice.
First thing: my definition of ‘head voice’ refers to the voice singers use that feels to them like it’s resonating only in the head, not the chest.
I’m skipping over the whole ‘head voice vs. falsetto’ debate for now, as there are myriad opinions floating around the interwebs on this topic…and we all know what opinions are like.
What you need to be mindful of if you want to produce a healthy, happy head voice:
Wait, before I get to the list, this comes first— (drum roll, trumpets, etc.)
DO. NOT. PUSH. OR. STRAIN. OR. CONTINUE. ANY. VOCALIZATIONS. THAT. HURT. YOU. OR. LEAVE. YOU. HOARSE.
Singing in head voice or in any voice should not cause pain or voice loss; if it does, STOP IT. Get some real live training so you don’t do it again.
We now resume your regularly scheduled broadcast, errrr, list:
Before you undertake this head voice thing fully, I have to encourage you all to insure your chest voice is well trained and supported. I believe that starting with a strong chest voice and then taking that knowledge over to your head voice is the best way to go (after you master those two areas, then you can move to your mix voice. Patience, Grasshopper). That doesn’t mean giving up on having a strong head voice if you haven’t taken any lessons yet, mind you; I just think you’ll be happier and safer the other way. You’ll be using the exact same techniques to hone your head voice into a high, mean killing machine: breathing through the nose as best you can (mouth breathing dries out your folds) and into all available areas of your torso: upper and lower belly, sides and…don’t forget the back!
Relax your neck and tongue, keep your throat open, lean into your breath and let your lower abdominal muscles remain vigilant and supported as you exhale; remember, every teacher has different terminology and techniques. I use technique that can be likened to the broad term appoggio (more on this in other articles and musings to follow). Every voice teacher has his or her own methodology so find someone with whom you resonate. Just because your friend loves her voice teacher doesn’t mean you will. Then, you’ll figure out how to:
Here are some examples in chest voice so you can get the idea:
Cher places her voice very far back. It’s thick; I call it dark. You can hear it in the first 20 seconds:
Kristen Chenoweth places her voice way up front; it’s way thinner than Cher’s and it’s bright:
And now, the greatest: Whitney Houston. Listen to her sing both in chest and head voice and hear how light and balanced she is. She’s placing her voice in a very wise and advantageous place: right at the highest tippy-top point of her upper palate. While I can’t know for sure, she certainly sounds like she’s singing with a raised upper palate (and a really open throat). There’s a good reason you hear most singing teachers blathering on and on about raising the palate: it’s because it works. Be like Whitney and learn how to raise your upper palate; it will help your head voice immeasurably. I advise starting by doing something you do all the time: yawning. Your palate will lift without you even trying to chuck it up there. Yawning is a great start, but it has to fit with the other puzzle pieces to insure your head voice will be stronger.
Any head voice (or chest voice, for that matter) will be a mere shadow of what it can be if there’s too much air escaping during singing. Scientifically speaking, your folds are less adducted when phonating (meaning they’re less closed when you’re singing or speaking), so you’re going to create a breathy sound. Aha, so how do we NOT do that? Well, think of a baby crying and listen to 30 seconds of this. That will definitely be enough. More than enough:
Can you hear any air escaping from that poor little guy or gal’s vocal folds? Nope. So, I urge you to get back to your roots and practice creating a clean sound, one with pure voice and no air, just like you did when you were a little lug nut. Remember the nyah-nyah schoolyard song? This Japanese song shows it a bit:
Same thing with that sound…there’s no way air can sneak out. Try it. Yes, you may be a little nasal, but when you’re starting out trying to produce a stronger head voice that’s ok. Ultimately, you really want to place the voice up and back. Just be careful; you may wind up not knowing your own head voice strength:
Just kidding! Seriously, though, head voice is definitely something you can and must work on; why not paint with all the colors, right?
Jaime was a Musical Director, coaching voice and performance for Disney and wrote “Working With Your Voice: The Career Guide to Becoming a Professional Singer” (Alfred Publishing). As a session singer, she ‘jingled’ for Coke, Pillsbury, Folgers, Chevrolet, and hundreds more. She’s sung on thousands of live gigs (covers and original music) and toured for years with Leon Russell and Sam Moore. Jaime sang BGVs live and digitally with George Strait, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Webb, Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus, Johnny Mathis, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Willie Nelson and others. She performed off-Broadway in “Search: Paul Clayton”, toured nationally with “Old Jews Telling Jokes” and presently coaches students in voice, performance, beginner guitar/piano, studio singing, songwriting and auditioning in NY, CT, LA, Nashville and virtually. For bookings: www.workingwithyourvoice.com
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