Published on January 28th, 2010 | by Hugh Hession4
What is head voice?
As a vocalist playing the Midwest club circuit in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, the music of that time required me to hit some incredibly high notes. The band I was in at the time was covering everything from Rush and Queen to Stone Temple Pilots and Alice In Chains. Needless to say, I had to learn how to hit those crazy notes (take a listen to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody or Rush’s Spirit of The Radio), but more importantly, how to do it without killing myself night after night. The key to this, was to learn how to utilize my head voice and chest voice in a seamless manner. Simply put, the listener shouldn’t be able to tell that you are sliding in and out of two different vocal registers.
Falsetto is not your head voice
There is a common misconception by many that your falsetto is your head voice. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Falsetto is very weak and breathy. I use it typically to add color. Kevin Richards from RockTheStageNYC has a great video on youtube that explains this:
I can remember having a conversation one night years back, with the guitarist/vocalist of one of my bands. He was always able to hit all that high stuff…Boston, Journey you name it. A few years earlier, FM 104 (Toledo, Ohio) caught on to one of his original songs and placed it into heavy rotation (this kind of thing just doesn’t happen anymore, unfortunately). The chorus of the song was very catchy, but more apparent to me, was how high his voice was. “How do you do that,” I asked him? He told me that it was his ability to go in and out of his head voice.
So as time went by, he would encourage me to develop this “new” voice I never thought I had. Strange part about it, was that you didn’t have to push it. You actually used less air! It took awhile to catch on, but I started practicing and using it in our sets. After about a year, I could really start to hear a big difference. I started singing tunes I couldn’t touch before. It was cool.
So the million dollar question is, how do I know what my head voice is, and how do I make it work? I’m going to defer this back to Kevin again.
As mentioned by Kevin, when you hit the head voice, your vocal chords zip up, or what is technically called vocal adduction. This voice is going to resonate in your head, as opposed to your chest. The way you can tell the difference between the two, is by placing your hand on your chest. When you sing in your normal or chest voice, you can hear the sound vibrate in your chest. However, when you slide into your head voice, that vibration moves away from the chest and the sound resonates in your head.
Most great singers use their head voice. Though Kevin uses a higher pitch in the first vid (reminiscent of the old hair bands of the 80’s)– that is just one way to utilize it.
Finding and using your head voice takes some work, but once you catch on, it gives you an extended range that you never thought possible! And, when you master it, you can then mix both the chest and head voices together to add real vocal power. More to come!