The human voice is a complex instrument. As you move through your range you will notice that the ease and quality of sound changes. Some areas are naturally resonant, while others may feel weak or strained. The more naturally resonant areas fall into our four register: low head, upper head, bass and chest voices — while the weaker areas are typically the areas of transition between these registers.
The chest and head registers are the most frequently used, and an ideal place to begin exploring the transition area is between these two. The chest voice is where we speak; it’s the lower part of our range. Our head voice is the upper register, with different tonal qualities. As you might imagine, singers usually feel the upper register vibrational center in their head — and the chest in their chest. Some vocalists can move between registers with natural ease, and some require effort to smooth out the transition.
Try it: Lay on the floor. Sing a low note. Where do you feel it vibrate in your body? Sing a high note and notice where that is vibrating. Try to vibrate different areas of your body using sound.
It is easier to show by example when teaching about registration. There are certain tones that one can sing in both one’s chest and head voice. I start by singing the F above middle C in my chest voice, then my head voice, then a 50/50 mix. The difference in tonal quality is dramatic.
If you sing in your chest register, moving up the scale you will first start feeling tension and strain and then your voice will often stop or break. I sing as high as I can in my chest voice showing how strained it gets if I don’t transition. I demonstrate how weak my voice sounds if I go too low in my head voice.
Developing the transition and being able to control how you mix registers is critical for any vocalist in any style of music. Strengthening these areas and working with tonal quality helps singers have more choice in how they color a tone wherever they are in their range.
Try it: Find the lowest note that you can sing in your head voice. Sing the note in your chest voice then slowly transition from your chest to your head voice. Move up a half step and repeat the exercise until you are out of the transition area.
While it is important to work with the transitions it is equally important and fun to work with the purest strongest part of each register; these are the notes that naturally ring out and once we perfect this type of resonance here we can create the same ring in the transition areas.
Much of the above is purposefully oversimplified. Once a singer is more advanced, I can touch upon the subtle shifts between low head voice, upper head voice, bass voice, and chest voice.