Before we start with my 4 favourite head voice exercises, let's talk a bit about this sneaky term head voice. It used to mean:
“the sound which resonates in the head resonance”
Some called it
“the sound which naturally occurs at a certain point at a higher part of the range."
To be honest, there are so many explanations to head/chest/mix voice and other types of voice qualities and registers it make the head explode. But for now, let me tell you what I am talking about when I say head voice.
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What is head voice in singing: the 'beauty' part
To me, head voice is a vocal function. It’s a certain vocal quality which is soft in my ears, but can still be rich and dark. It’s the “beauty” part of the sound, while the chest voice function I would describe as bright and clear. You probably won’t get all voice teachers to agree on this topic. But that’s my point of view.
The great Justin Stoney backs me up on this. Head and chest voice are both functions of the vocal cords. Listen to how he eases the confusion:
Head voice and M2
The function of the vocal cords that some people would call head voice is called M2 (mode2). Justin explains that M2 in male voices is falsetto and in female voices is head voice - this has historically been the way those terms have been used.
What Justin would call a male head voice, would be a kind of mixed voice when the singer uses a lighter form of M1 (chest voice). Confusing, right?
In any case, head voice can have a spectrum of densities, richness and a plethora of colors to it. Some use head voice which is relatively soft, breathy and less audible. Some have more “meat” to their head voice.
I would like you to have the choice between different kinds of head voice, and that’s why in this tutorial I will teach you to enrich your head voice. You can always add more air to it and make it less rich, but at east that would then be your own choice! Let’s go for it:
Here are the four head voice exercises I demonstrate in the above video.
Exercise 1. Sighing and humming
00:34 in the above video. You can feel head resonance by putting one hand right under your skull in the back of your neck. (We also did this with the hand trap in the resonance exercises). Start with humming, and see if you feel vibrations there. Make sure you relax your muscles, make it a bit like a sigh. If you feel your sound is too airy (you can tell if you quickly run out of air, or if it sound airy in recordings), try not to exhale too much. You can also put your fingers under your cheek bones and feel the vibrations there.
Next step: sigh and hum on an exercise, for example mm mm mm mm mm (1-2-3-2-1). 2:49 in the above video. Make sure you sigh. By the way, you can have this head voice quality, this 'sighy' quality, also in the low notes.
Personally, as I go higher, I need to close my vocal cords a bit better, and will get a bit more speaky voice. You can experiment and see how that goes for you.
Exercise 2. About to sneeze/yawn
6:28 in the above video. Try with me: make a sound as if you are about to sneeze. That will get you a head voice that is a bit richer: the sound right before you would sneeze. We will make that sound on 'hoaw' (3-2-1).
Play around with the amount of air and pay attention to what that does to your throat. Different people can tolerate more or less air going through their vocal cords. I don't like it, personally. But some might not mind it so much. In the long run, I wouldn't recommend being in your head voice all the time.
Exercise 3. Owl noises
10:55 in the above video. Slide from bottom to top and back. We're looking for an almost spooky voice. Some people think of a ghost, which is a slightly different sound, but same principle. it gets you more head voice. It will also help you go to the low notes with that quality.
Experiment and see what helps you more: the ghost or the owl.
Exercise 4. The yoga teacher voice
13:37 in the above video. To have a direct access to the head voice when you're singing a song. Your sound should always be clear and exist in the resonances and not be 'sent out'. When singing in head voice, the sound can sometimes be a bit too dark and unclear. My tip to make people still understand you while using head voice, is to use the yoga teacher voice. Talk like you're calming someone down. First say the words in the yoga teacher voice, then put it on the notes.
We are not looking for a powerful sound: that would be the chest voice. We're looking for something that is quite soft. Also, it doesn't need to be very airy, it will be more so than chest voice, but it is your artistic choice how airy to make it.
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If by this point you are wondering: can there be a sound which has both chest AND head function? The answer is yes. It’s called: mixed voice (spoiler: every sound you sing is mixed, but there are mixes which are mostly head or mostly chest).
Where in my practice session do I do head voice exercises?
I teach a structure for practicing with best results:
I always tell my students to follow a 4 part practice structure, to keep them motivated and on a clear path:
- Warm up
- Vocal technique
You can read more on the article: how to practice singing.
This tutorial counts as the technique part, as in part 3, after the warm up. Do the tutorial in addition to working on your song, or just on its own. Finish up with some singing for the joy - very important as well!
Curious to know what new head voice qualities you will get, so give these head voice exercises a try a few times and let me know what you think. I also have other vocal exercises, such as belting exercises.
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About the author
I'm an opera singer and (online) voice teacher, based in Amsterdam. It took me more than a decade to overcome my share of mental and physical issues and reach a professional level as a singer. Because of this background, and my 10+ years of teaching experience, I believe I can speed up your learning curve as a singer.