You’ve probably heard one or all of the following terms: chest voice, head voice and falsetto.

But do you know what each means?

Chest Voice Vs. Head Voice Vs. Falsetto

Chest Voice

Our chest voice is basically our normal speaking voice. It is referred to as ‘chest voice,’ because the main resonance cavity (the area of our body that vibrates) is the chest, specifically the lower neck and sternum

Give it a try now. Put a hand on your chest and say the word ‘at.’ Draw out the ‘a’ sound and feel the vibration in your chest.

Our chest voice occupies the lower part of our vocal range. When we use it, our vocal cords come together and form a firm seal. As the air flows between the cords, they vibrate along their entire length.

The chest voice has a firm and rich tone, but there is one problem.

As we move into the higher notes and our vocal cords tighten, we reach a point where the cords can’t stretch any further. If we push higher beyond this point, our vocal cords prevent damage by breaking apart (and actually changing their thickness) and entering the falsetto range.

Whereas the chest voice is firm and rich, the falsetto voice is airy and light. As a singer, we would love to maintain that rich sounds for higher notes as well.

Luckily, we can do just that.

The secret lies in practicing singing through the break, so that we can smoothly transition from a predominantly chest voice to a predominantly head voice.

Head Voice

A lot of people mistakenly believe that head voice and falsetto are basically the same thing. This is not the case at all.

Unlike falsetto, the vocal cords stay in contact with each other when using your head voice. No excess air escapes, making for a clean and clear sound that is very different from the airy falsetto sound.

The term ‘head voice’ refers to the fact that you feel vibration in the upper half of your face, with the main resonator being your nasal and sinus cavities.

Falsetto

Falsetto literally means ‘false voice.’ It is characterized by a very airy sound. When your tone changes from clear and firm to airy, you know you are singing falsetto.

The reason for the airy tone is how the vocal cords act. In falsetto, the vocal folds come close enough to one another to cause the edges to vibrate as the air flows between them, but they do not make contact. The airy sound is the result of the air escaping through the space left between the cords.

The head voice and falsetto can sound very similar. In fact some people say they are the same. They both use a ‘head’ tone where the sound is felt in the head and not the chest.

Falsetto is a thinner sound and is strictly in the head. It only uses the thin, leading edges of the vocal folds to vibrate. Head voice is actually a mix of chest and head voice (it should be anyway), which is generally a stronger sound than falsetto.

As mentioned, these two are often used interchangeably and they can sound similar, which is why some people say they are the same. With both, the sound is felt in the head and not the chest. Despite the similarities, they are actually very different.

In falsetto there is no natural vibrato. Yes, you can add vibrato, but you have to force it. When singing using your head voice, vibrato occurs naturally.

The head voice also goes along with the modal register (i.e. head and chest voice) and it is sung with an open throat and a lowered larynx, similar to when you yawn.

Falsetto, on the other hand, is achieved by stretching the vocal folds with only the ends vibrating. Your throat is closed and your larynx is up. For this reason, head voice is sometimes referred to as ‘open throat falsetto.’

Falsetto can reach much higher notes than head voice. The tonal difference between head voice and falsetto is very pronounced in men, due to the dark nature of the modal register.

In women, the difference is much more subtle, due to their more feminine timber. They have falsetto just as men do, but it simply is not as noticeable.

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