Head and Chest Voice for Pop Singing

Sia – Wonderful example of expression with head/chest voice

An understanding of Bel Canto’s simple, yet difficult to master, techniques, can be of tremendous use to classical singers who crossover to popular styles of music. Crossing over to popular music, convincingly and safely, is a necessity for the majority of classical singers, both amateur and professional. At some stage, most classical singers are going to be called upon to sing crossover, whether we like it or not!

One of the fundamental differences, between classical and pop singing, is the need for a microphone. Generally speaking, classical singing has carrying power and pop doesn’t. In upcoming posts, I will be demonstrating some microphone techniques but, for now, I wanted to begin with a post on the use of head and chest voice in pop singing because, in many ways, this is putting the horse (tone colours) before the cart (microphone).

In Bel Canto, a Soprano would normally use chest voice until around ‘e’ on the bottom line of the stave. The voice must then transition to head voice without the listener noticing. To learn more about this, I suggest reading and practicing Dame Nellie Melba’s ‘Melba Method’. I have been practicing Dame Nellie Melba’s exercises on blending every day and I now feel a lot more secure. The Melba Method is available on the internet for free.

To contrast with this, in pop singing, there is more opportunity to use head and chest anywhere in the range because the microphone will amplify the voice. In addition, a pop singer is not so concerned with blending the voice to make a seamless instrument – all they need to do is compensate with the microphone or sound engineering. Hence, a pop singer can use head down low or chest up high. A first class example of the mastery of chest and head voice is Sia. I love the emotion Sia achieves with her highly skilled use of head and chest voice. For example, in her acoustic performance of the song ‘Chandelier’. The use of chest voice up high also adds expression by creating cracks and a shredding sound. I love this in Sia’s voice. (I wouldn’t want it in my voice, to be honest, but it is such a perfect sound for her style of music).

Sia’s brilliant use of head and chest voice

Here is a short and simple video from Lisa Popeil that explains where to begin exploring head and chest voice.

Lovely explanation of where to begin exploring head and chest for pop singing

Finally, here is a video I made demonstrating this use of chest up high and head down low. It is not too difficult if, as Lisa Popeil says above, the singer thinks of chest as being the speaking voice.

Demo of using head and chest voice differently than in classical to achieve a pop sound.

The analysis of the first few six notes of the song are – chest, chest, head then chest, chest head. Again, to reiterate, this form of voice production does not carry like classical singing does. You will notice, if you know my voice, that I have also stripped away resonance to thin the sound down. However, that is what a microphone is for. We classical singers shouldn’t be afraid of it but we do need to learn more about it. More about that in later posts.

Published by Deborah Wai Kapohe

I am a classical singer and guitarist. I have created a project called 'The Lilli Lehmann Project'. The project, lasting from 2020 until 2023, aims to refresh my voice and prepare me to be a singing teacher. The scope of the project is that I am studying Lilli Lehmann's singing book, bibliography, recordings and her reviews, as well as other historical vocal pedagogy. I have chosen this platform in order to blog about my discoveries, demonstrate techniques and exercises, and perform pieces of music. I have done so because I wish to be transparent. I think that if a student is prepared to learn from me then I should stand up to public scrutiny.

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