Head voice is a much more popular term among females than it is among male singers. This is primarily due to the confusion between head voice and falsetto. Many people believe that falsetto is the same as the male head voice, but this is not true. This article will help unpack exactly what we mean when we say 'male head voice'.
Male head voice is the higher range of a male's modal voice register, where resonance is felt more in the head than the chest. When singing in head voice, your vocal cords are thinner and barely touching. An individual's natural vocal range will determine the range of their head voice.
I will clarify these points further in the article below. I have also clearly defined the differences between male head voice and falsetto and given tips for singing in head voice.
What is Male Head Voice?
Both men and women can sing in head voice. This is because it simply describes a way of singing where most resonance is felt in your head. Hence the name 'head voice'.
Head voice is the upper range of the modal voice register. This is the register we use to talk and sing normally. There are four different types of voice registers, listed below.
- Vocal fry register
- Modal register
- Falsetto register
- Whistle register
Each of these registers describes the way air passes through your vocal cords to produce sound, but I will talk about that more later. The modal register can be divided into two categories; 'chest voice' and 'head voice'.
Like I mentioned earlier, head voice occurs when the resonance from singing is primarily in your head. As you might have guessed already, chest voice occurs when the resonance is primarily in your chest. This change occurs naturally as you sing higher and lower.
Chest voice accounts for the lower range and head voice accounts for the higher range of the modal voice register. However, because everybody has a different vocal range (click here to find yours), the transition between chest voice and head occurs at a different pitch in each person.
Generally speaking, males transition to their head voice at a lower pitch than females because their vocal range is naturally lower.
What Does Head Voice Sound Like?
Head voice has a lighter, more airy sound when compared to chest voice. However, it still has an element of strength to it, which gives it a natural ringing tone. This is one of the differences between head voice and falsetto, which I will explain in more detail below.
Head voice sounds weaker than your chest voice, because more air is passing through the vocal cords, making it harder to produce sound. But it is important to note that the vocal cords are still touching at this point.
Many singers train to strengthen their head voice, which is often referred to as 'finding your middle or mixed voice'. This involves adding more of your chest voice to your head voice.
Basically, you are training your voice to use more of the muscles used in chest voice, while still singing in head voice. Although the ratio of head resonance and chest resonance still favors your head voice, you are making the ratio much smaller.
This adds audible strength and clarity to your head voice, which is what gives it that lovely ringing tone.
What Are the Vocal Cords Doing in Head Voice?
There are two main muscles involved in stretching and relaxing the vocal cords; the cricothyroid (CT) muscle and the thyroarytenoid (TA) muscle. The CT muscle will lengthen and tense the vocal cords, increasing your pitch.
The TA muscle will shorten and loosen the vocal cords, decreasing your pitch. It also contains some muscle fibres that draw the vocal cords closer together. This means that, although the vocal cords are loosening, they are still close enough to touch.
As you sing through the vocal registers, you tend to use one muscle more than the other. When singing in head voice, the CT muscle is used more than the TA muscle. When singing in chest voice, you use more of the TA muscle.
Therefore, in head voice, the CT muscle is lengthening and tensing the vocal cords. Because the TA muscle is not dominant, those additional muscle fibres are not drawing the vocal cords as close together. This is why you might feel more air escaping as you sing higher.
In 'middle voice', you are engaging the TA muscle more, drawing the vocal cords in closer together and holding more air in. This is what gives your head voice more power and volume.
Male Head Voice Range
As I mentioned earlier, there is no specific range that defines the male head voice. Each voice has its own unique range. For men, the three common vocal ranges are bass, baritone and tenor. These ranges are as follows:
- Bass: E2 - E4
- Baritone: A2 - A4
- Tenor: C3 - C5
For more information about vocal ranges, click here. As you can see, most vocal ranges span over two octaves (approximately). Normally, your voice will naturally resonate in your head in the upper octave of your range.
For example, taking the three vocal ranges from above, we can presume their corresponding head voice would lie in the following ranges.
- Bass Head Voice: approximately E3 - E4
- Baritone Head Voice: approximately A3 - A4
- Tenor Head Voice: approximately C4 (middle C) - C5
Note that all vocal registers have a chest voice and a head voice. Head voice does not apply to high notes only. As I have mentioned, it is simply the range of notes where the resonance from singing is felt more in your head than your chest.
Male Head Voice vs Falsetto
Falsetto is a different vocal register to head voice. Again, both males and females have the potential to sing falsetto. This has just become associated with males because a female's falsetto blends in with the soprano range, making it harder to identify.
As I mentioned earlier, head voice is part of the modal voice register and falsetto is the register above that. In the modal voice register, the vocal cords are still able to touch each other. This can be linked to the involvement of the Thyroarytenoid (TA) muscle, which has fibres that draw the vocal cords closer together.
In the falsetto register, the TA muscle becomes lax. This means that, when singing falsetto, the only muscle activated out of the two muscles is the CT muscle.
The result of this is that the vocal folds are no longer touching one another. They still vibrate, but without touching, this creates a different vibratory pattern. A different vibratory pattern therefore creates a new unique sound; falsetto.
Falsetto sounds even more airy than head voice and loses a lot more strength. This is because more air can escape as you sing with the vocal cords separated. Falsetto normally adds another octave to the singer's vocal range. Therefore, the falsetto vocal range for men is as follows.
- Bass Falsetto Range: approximately E#4 - E5
- Baritone Falsetto Range: A#4 - A5
- Tenor Falsetto Range: C#5 - C6
Another characteristic sign that you have entered into the falsetto register is the audible 'flip'. This is a small disruption to the flow of your voice as you sing. This disruption to the airflow is natural when the vocal cords change from barely touching (head voice) to not touching at all (falsetto).
This can be likened to the flip that occurs in young men as they experience puberty. The muscles around their vocal cords tense or relax suddenly, causes the vocal cords to seperate unexpectedly. This causes their voice to jump from the modal voice register to the falsetto register.
How to Sing in Male Head Voice
Your voice will naturally enter head voice as you sing higher, without your even knowing it. The vocal ranges above provide a rough guide to when this will occur. If you place your hand on your chest when singing through your vocal range, you should feel the vibrations lessen in your chest as you reach the upper half of your range.
In saying that, there is a certain way of singing in head voice that allows your modal voice register to blend together. This will allow the higher notes of your head voice to have a similar strength to your chest voice.
Strengthening Your Head Voice
Your head voice can be strengthened by adding nasality to your tone. To give an example, try to sing high (using 'Ah') as you normally would. Now try doing the same with your hand covering your mouth. You should notice there is less strain on your voice and it is easier to reach the note.
Putting your hand over your mouth forces more air into your nasal cavity as you sing. This is how we achieve a more nasal tone. For a detailed description of singing with a nasal tone, have a look at this article. It is well known that nasality makes it easier to sing higher pitches.
This process of introducing nasality into your head voice, is what some people call the 'middle voice'. We say this is a mix between head voice and chest voice because you are adding strength to your head voice and the resonance moves between the head and chest.
To introduce more nasality, you need to train yourself to lower the soft palate and the back of your tongue (both at the back of your throat). This seems difficult in theory, but we do this naturally when making certain sounds. For example, imitating the 'meow' of a cat, or the whimpers of a puppy causing you to subconsciously lower your soft palate.
Certain vowel sounds will also cause the soft palate to lower as well. For example, the sounds 'ee' and 'oo' will naturally introduce more nasality into your tone. You can find some great exercises for strengthening and controlling your voice in this article.