As a singer, I'm sure you hear the words 'chest voice' all the time. When learning to sing, it is difficult when everyone has a different definition or can't describe it to you at all. That is why I have created this article, so you can finally answer the question: 'what is chest voice?'.
Chest voice is the term given to a range of notes within a singer's vocal range which causes more resonance to be felt in the chest than in the head. Chest voice is part of the modal voice register and usually ranges from the lower limit of a singer's vocal range to one octave above that.
You will find a more detailed analysis of chest voice below, including which muscles are involved and what it sounds like. I have also included how you can find your unique chest voice range.
What is Chest Voice?
Over time, there has been much controversy over the definition of chest voice compared to head voice and falsetto. However, modern knowledge of anatomy and physiology has helped distinguish one from the other.
We now know that there are four vocal registers, which are listed below. You can learn a bit more about these different registers in this article.
- Vocal fry register
- Modal voice register
- Falsetto register
- Whistle register
The modal voice register is the natural register we use to talk and sing. This register is divided into the chest voice and the head voice. Within the modal voice register, two main muscles are engaged to produce sound waves.
- Cricothyroid (CT) muscle: Lengthens and tenses the vocal cords.
- Thyroarytenoid (TA) muscle: Shortens and loosens the vocal cords (some fibres also pull the vocal cords close together to prevent separation).
Therefore, as the CT muscle tightens and the TA muscle relaxes, your voice will increase in pitch. As the CT muscle relaxes and the TA muscle tightens, your voice will decrease in pitch.
Although both muscles are still engaged when you sing in the modal voice register, this shows us that the TA muscle is more engaged than the CT muscle when singing in chest voice. As you enter into head voice, the CT muscle is more engaged than the TA muscle.
Defining Chest Voice
Although anatomy helps us distinguish chest voice from head voice, the definition of chest voice is mainly determined by vibrations cause by the sound waves.
When you sing, sound waves are created and they cause vibrations in your body. This vibration is known as vocal resonance. Some of these vibrations are felt in the head and some are felt in the chest.
As you sing lower, more vibrations are felt in the chest than in the head. As you sing higher, more vibrations are felt in your head. This is where the terms 'chest voice' and 'head voice' came from.
Chest voice is characterised by the range of notes within your vocal range that cause vibrations mostly in your chest.
As you sing higher with your hand on your chest, you will slowly start to notice the resonance lessen in the chest and you should feel it more in your head. This is when you have entered into head voice.
Chest Voice Range
There is no set range for chest voice because every singer has a different vocal range. In other words, my chest voice range will be different to your chest voice range.
As a general guide, chest voice is usually the lower half of your modal voice range. Exlcuding the falsetto range, an average singer can sing two octaves in their modal voice register.
Within this register, the lower octave is generally your chest voice, while the upper octave is your head voice. I have explained how to find your chest voice range further down. As a general guide, below is the approximate range of chest voice in each vocal range.
- Bass Chest Voice: approximately E2 - E3
- Baritone Chest Voice: approximately A2 - A3
- Tenor Chest Voice: approximately C3 - C4 (middle C)
- Alto Chest Voice: approximately F3 - F4
- Mezzo-soprano Chest Voice: approximately A3 - A4
- Soprano Chest Voice: approximately C4 (middle C) - C5
How Do You Know if You Have Chest Voice?
Everyone has a chest voice. This is because, as mentioned earlier, chest voice is defined by the physiological process of sound resonating in your chest when you sing. This occurs at the lower frequencies of your vocal range.
If you're still not convinced you have a chest voice, below are some typical characteristics to look out for, as well as how you can find your chest voice range.
Characteristics of Chest Voice
Because chest voice and head voice are in the same vocal register, there is no definite sound you can hear to identify one from the other. This is particularly hard if you have strengthened your head voice.
In general, chest voice has the following characteristics.
- Strongest/loudest part of your vocal range
- Vibrations are felt mostly in the chest
- Lower range of notes
- Deeper sound
Below is an example of chest voice. This is a one-octave range for chest voice, ranging from E3 to E4, but yours may be different. Reaching the top note (E4), you should feel vibrations in your chest nearly disappear, but this is difficult to hear on a recording.
Finding your Chest Voice
You can test this by using a piano. Find the lowest comfortable note you can sing (the start of your vocal range). Place your hand on your chest and sing higher and higher, one semitone at a time. If you're not sure what a semitone sounds like, have a listen to a chromatic scale in this article.
You will notice a vibration in your chest as you sing the low notes. As you go higher, this vibration will lessen until you can barely feel it. Take note of which note you are singing as these vibrations are less than those in your head.
This note is the upper limit of your chest voice. Your lower limit is the lowest note you can comfortably sing. In an average singer, chest voice ranges across one octave (approximately).