By Camille van Niekerk
The term “chest voice” refers to the register in which most people speak and sing low to medium-high pitches. Chest voice is characteristically full and strong, with a naturally higher volume and warm, rich tone.
How is chest voice produced?
In the chest register, the TA (thyroarytenoid) muscles are dominant. This is the muscle pair that brings the vocal folds together.
By contrast, the CT (cricothyroid) muscle is dominant in head voice, your higher singing register. The CT muscle pair is responsible for elongating or stretching the vocal folds to rise in pitch.
For an intro to all the registers of the voice, including vocal fry and whistle register, check out this article: [link to “Intro to vocal registers”].
Why is it called chest voice? Does it have something to do with the chest?
Yes, it does! But the chest actually has nothing to do with producing chest voice.
The reason it’s called “chest” voice is because when you speak or sing in your lower register, you can feel sympathetic resonance (or vibration) in your chest cavity.
The term “chest voice” was used as early as the 13th century, well before people could visualize the vocal folds in action. The term has stuck around, but you may hear some singers and teachers prefer the term “modal voice”, which can also include “mix” and “head voice”, because of the similarity in function that produces the sound.
How do I know if I’m in chest voice or not?
The easiest way is to feel for that sympathetic vibration! Put one hand on your chest and say in a strong, full voice: “Hello, nice to meet you.” You should feel vibration from your chest! Now, choose something easy to sing in that low, speaking-voice range. If you can still feel that chest vibration, chances are you’re still in chest voice!
As an experiment, sing as high as you can in head voice, and notice how the vibration in your chest is greatly reduced, or disappears entirely.
Learn how to extend your range with the following lesson below.
Do men have a wider chest voice range than women?
Yes, they typically do. Basses and baritones will use chest voice almost all of the time. But they should still train mix and falsetto! Tenors and altos use a combination of chest, mix, and head voice/falsetto. Sopranos use the least amount of “full” chest voice, more often singing in mix and head voice.
All of that said, every voice type should exercise their full vocal range in each register for maximum health, strength, and flexibility!
What are some exercises I can use to strengthen my chest voice?
For low range extension:
1. Use narrow vowels like EE and OO, keeping your tone light & lifted.
2. Focus the sound at the front of your mouth, careful to not get heavy and let the sound “drop” into your throat.
To improve your chest tone:
1. Focus mainly on relaxation!
2. Use naturally warm, spacious vowels like AH, OH, and UH.
3. Work on developing vibrato and agility in a comfortable chest voice range.
To stretch your chest voice higher:
1. Ground down, using your low body for support instead of “grabbing” or tensing with the neck, jaw, and tongue.
2. Keep your vowel narrow to avoid a spread, “splatting” sound.
3. Don’t shy away from making a loud noise, especially if you have a naturally soft voice.
4. Higher in your range, experiment with vowel modification for greater ease and stability. Sometimes, a more closed vowel is easier as you’re nearing your passaggio. But if opening up by dropping the jaw works better for you, do that!
I use mostly head voice or mix when I sing. Do I still need to train chest voice?
Absolutely! Training chest voice helps to strengthen the coordination of your TA muscles, which bring the vocal folds together. This will help your mix and head voice to be stronger as well!
What if my chest voice feels strained?
1. First, start with your speaking voice. Use exercises in which you first “speak” on pitch, then sing, without tensing or “trying” to create a particular sound.
2. Then, use a neutral UH vowel to keep your jaw and throat relaxed.