Good morning everyone. A student asked me the other day if there was a difference between singing with chest voice, and singing with chest connection? It seems like they would be one in the same don't they? But actually they are quite different! I can tell you this as fact because at one time, my entire voice was pure chest voice with little to no head voice.
As I've mentioned in past articles, I had 4 primary teachers who were excellent pedagogues, including Dr. Carole Clifford, Victor Jannett, Leona Matthews and of course Maestro David Jones. In between these four extremely gifted teachers, I landed in the studios of several teachers who were teaching predominantly high chest singing techniques that were not only extremely dangerous to a young voice like mine, but created a sound that was raw, ugly and out of balance.
I became so trapped in my chest voice, that it seemed the only way to sing a high note was to carry my chest voice up as high as possible, which created a Tarzan-like yell. There was a huge hole between my pushed up chest voice, and my very weak, breathy head voice.
I was so frustrated, and the discomfort I felt when singing anything above the staff was causing tremendous tension and fatigue in my laryngeal muscles.
In 1999 I had my first lesson with the late Leona Matthews and she said "We need to get Jeff out of the way of Jeff's voice!" I was a little shocked by that statement, but I knew she was right since I had heard almost the exact same thing from Victor Jannett many years earlier. After the 6 lessons I had with Leona, there was a freedom in my upper register like never before, but I was still using too much "heavy mechanism" or chest voice.
Working with David Jones took my voice to a level I never dreamed possible. One of the first exercises he taught me was the two octave "Vocé Cuperto" which is featured prominently in my instructional DVD/CD "Let Your Voice Soar". This amazing exercise balances the registers of chest and head like nothing else. The more I practiced the "Cuperto" in those first of many hundreds of lessons with
David, the more I began to escape the chains of the chest register.
As soon as my head voice became more secure, David introduced the idea of connecting more chest resonance without pulling the chest voice up. The way this was accomplished was by placing either one or both hands on the sternum, and gently pressing down while vocalizing. I found this was most effective with the "Alleluia Arpeggio" scale, which is also featured in the DVD/CD.
Placing either one hand or both on the sternum while vocalizing accomplishes two things:
First, it allows the back ribcage to open upon inhalation. The first time I felt my back ribcage expand for singing, it was nothing short of miraculous. All of the sudden the sound that came out of my mouth was deeper, fuller and certainly less strangled!
The next most important effect the hand on the sternum has upon intonation is that it allows the larynx to drop and stay in a comfortable, low position without imposing it down.
Once the larynx is in a comfortable, slightly lower position, the color of the chest voice begins to mix into the head voice. And it (the chest voice) doesn't need to come up so high to do so.
My wonderful teacher, the late Leona Matthews once told me during a lesson "Now Jeffrey, your chest voice is beginning to stay where it needs to! Which is down and not up!"
It took many more years of intense work to balance my chest register with my head voice. But I can honestly say, that through the exercises of the Swedish-Italian school of singing, my chest voice and head voice are now good friends! This is what I teach in my studio. Once these two primary registers are balanced and connected, a solid middle voice can be built upon this foundation. A secure middle voice is vital for any type of vocal music, especially pop and musical theater styles of singing.
I hear a lot of un-balanced singing in the rehearsal facility where I teach in New York. It seems the trend of singing with a high larynx, completely closed throat and colorless, tight, nasal sound is the trend. I sometimes sit outside of whatever room I am teaching to greet the next student, and I am often astonished to hear singers warming up for auditions, because the sound is just as I described...tight, nasal, colorless and ugly. Just recently I was sitting outside of my studio and there was an audition going on for a show that is about to open on Broadway. There were 5 female singers warming up in different rooms. All five of these singers sounded exactly alike. It was incredible in the worst way possible. Each of these five singers sang with pushed up chest voices that were void of color, resonance or individuality.
When a singer sings with an unnaturally high larynx, it forces the chest register to become dominant in a most unhealthy way. The sound becomes what I can best describe as "generic". All of the color of the voice is gone because there is so little acoustic space for the vocal folds to vibrate in. The chest voice, which by nature is the most colorful part of the voice, is completely drained of it's beautiful quality.
It is sad that this type of singing is the trend on Broadway. It sets the singer up for a major vocal injury because the chest voice is "heavy mechanism". By taking the chest voice abnormally high with out head voice mix, it's like forcing the thick strings on a guitar to play the high notes. It's stresses the strings and will ultimately cause them to break.
When students come in for their first lesson I often ask them if they understand how a speaker works? I'll explain to them that a beautifully balanced voice is much like a good quality speaker. It has a woofer (chest voice), a mid-range speaker (speaking voice) and a tweeter (head voice). I will sometimes play a song on my iPhone through my studio sound system, and while the song is playing, I'll turn the low range way up on the mixer. The student will often make a funny face and I'll ask them what they think of the sound? The usual answer is something like "It's too muddy" or "It sounds muffled". I will tell them "That's what too much chest voice sounds like!" Then I'll over boost the mid-range on the mixer and drop out the low end. The reaction is usually something like "It sounds flat" or "dry". Finally, I'll really boost the high end on the mixer and the student will usually cover their ears. They will say it sounds "shrill", "harsh", "too bright" or "piercing". That's when they begin to understand the necessity of a completely balanced voice. A voice should have a healthy balance of chest middle and head. Too much of one or the other, and you have a sound that is unpleasing to the ear.
If you are looking for vocal exercises that will balance your voice like nothing else, I highly recommend finding a teacher who teaches these concepts. If you are unable to find a teacher in your area, I have studios in New York City, West Orange, New Jersey and Fair Lawn, New Jersey. I also teach via SKYPE to students all around the world. And of course you can always purchase my instructional program called "LET YOUR VOICE SOAR".
I am also working with some very fine vocal coaches that understand and teach these concepts as well. I highly recommend:
Ruth Ratliff in Hope, New Jersey. Ruth is a vocal coach who is a vast well of knowledge for not only the voice, but for the whole body. She is brilliant and will line your voice up in the most holistic way possible. She teaches full body connection to her voice students. I recently taught a master class at her studio and was so happy to hear how beautifully lined up her students sounded. She is a kind and compassionate teacher who gets results!
As a bonus, her wonderful husband Jim is a fine piano teacher with decades of experience.
Wendy Martelli in Apex, North Carolina. Wendy is a Coloratura Soprano who teaches singers from 7 on up to very mature. She teaches from a classical standpoint, and for the last few years has successfully crossed over to teaching pop, rock and musical theater styles. Her students sound incredible!! Many of them win NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) competitions. And many of them get into colleges with very nice scholarships thanks to Wendy's careful guidance. Wendy is also an excellent piano teacher.
Gregory Sandkowich in Hillside, New Jersey. Gregory is a young "up and comer" as they say, and a vocal coach whom I've had the privilege of teaching for the last year and a half. He comes to his lessons armed with questions that not only challenge, but also help me to put everything into perspective for him. This is the sign of a great coach. He is eager to learn and shares his knowledge with his students in a healthy way that gets results. You want your vocal coach to know the voice inside and out, and Gregory is well studied on the mechanics of the voice. He is always learning and is also very fine rock singer!
If you have any questions about this topic, please feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.