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Singing Better: Chest Voice Control

Yesterday, I mentioned the difference between head voice and chest voice. Chest voice gives more power and volume to singing and if this is done properly, it isn’t at the expense of a greater amount of breath. A practiced singer can get to the point where the transition between the voices is smooth and it is used to give certain effects to the song. I wanted to make a point in regard to the control of the voice, especially with chest voice, but also with head voice. 

It is important to note that, with exceptions, going from high notes to low notes, or visa versa, requires more air. Since chest voice requires less air than head voice, singers will often use this to determine which voice they want to use.

With head voice, nearly all of the control comes from the mouth and the shape of the mouth. The example I want to use today is of Kirsten Maldonado (of Pentatonix) and Jeremy Michael Lewis singing with the acapella group, Voctave. I believe that I’ve shared this video before, but that was for simple listening pleasure rather than to point out how the singers are controlling their voices. I’m going to use screenshots as well, to highlight certain things.

Here is the full music video:

I want you to notice that most of Kirstin’s singing in this is in head voice. Her mouth remains mostly narrow and closed most of the time, so her control, as beautiful as it is, comes mostly from her lips, teeth, and tongue. Conversely, Jeremy is singing with a chest voice. Notice that his mouth is wide when singing.

Meanwhile, the ladies singing soprano are actually doing so mostly in chest voice. When both the ladies and gentlemen sing with their mouths shaped in an “O”, they are using head voice. However, when they open up into chest voice to put strength behind the notes they are singing, their mouths are open wide, allowing the sound out, unimpeded, without requiring additional breath for strength or volume. 

And again, here:

What is especially interesting with the second screenshot is that the female on the left is using a chest voice while the one on the right is using head voice. Notice the shape of their mouths. The gal on the right actually has a higher vocal range, but right here, she is controlling her head voice with her mouth, for effect. In the first image, she didn’t need to.

Here is Kirstin, controlling her head voice:

Kirstin’s mouth is partly open, giving her more volume, but she hasn’t yet transitioned into her chest voice. She finally does so here:

Kirsten’s mouth is nice and wide, allowing her to sing from the chest voice without running out of breath. It is also wide from side to side. This is an example of an excellent technique. Notice that when you actually listen to the singing, you aren’t even aware of the transition from head voice to chest voice, especially if you aren’t watching the video.

Jeremy is controlling his chest voice almost flawlessly. Notice how wide his mouth is here:

He isn’t singing high notes and they are well within his range, but he is increasing his vocal strength and volume, as well as his breath, by having his voice wide like this.

One final thing to notice and this is used by all the singers in this video, is that they are all displaying the exact emotions they are trying to convey and bring out of listeners; happiness, joy, love. This is done through smiles (grins, in the case of Kirstin and Jeremy), hand gestures, and body language. One of the keys singing is to make the audience feel emotions and the best way for a performer to do that is to feel the emotion, personally. This is a happy, joyful, loving medley, so they are all doing this to near perfection. I can almost guarantee that if they were singing a sad song, their faces and body language would show it. This has a surprising impact on how a person sounds when they sing.

This was something the late Lawrence Welk was a master of. He demanded that all of his singers smile or grin when they were on stage because his music was upbeat and happy. In his case, it wasn’t a suggestion for his singers, it was an absolute requirement. I’m unsure how many people here are old enough to remember Lawrence Welk, but if you ever have the opportunity to see one of his old shows, notice that all of the singers are smiling or grinning. This is why. He’d tell them to paste on a fake smile if necessary but to always, always smile when singing. 

All of this should also give you a deeper appreciation when you see and hear singers. They’ve learned these techniques and most have practiced them long enough that they’ve mastered the technique. This is actually more important than talent.

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Written by Rex Trulove

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    • I had my opportunity to have a band years ago, but enjoy music too much to make it a profession. That is too much like a four-letter word (work). Now, I just want to sing well enough that I can sing in the church choir so I don’t embarrass the congregation or myself. 😀

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