Chest voice

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Chest voice is a term used within vocal music. The use of this term varies widely within vocal pedagogical circles and there is currently no one consistent opinion among vocal music professionals in regard to this term. Chest voice can be used in relation to the following:

Vocal music is a type of music performed by one or more singers, either with instrumental accompaniment, or without instrumental accompaniment, in which singing provides the main focus of the piece. Music which employs singing but does not feature it prominently is generally considered instrumental music as is music without singing. Music without any non-vocal instrumental accompaniment is referred to as a cappella.

Vocal pedagogy the study of the art and science of voice instruction

Vocal pedagogy is the study of the art and science of voice instruction. It is used in the teaching of singing and assists in defining what singing is, how singing works, and how proper singing technique is accomplished.


Vocal range is the measure of the breadth of pitches that a human voice can phonate. Its most common application is within the context of singing, where it is used as a defining characteristic for classifying singing voices into groups known as voice types. It is also a topic of study within linguistics, phonetics, and speech and language pathology, particularly in relation to the study of tonal languages and certain types of vocal disorders, although it has little practical application in terms of speech.

Vocal register range of tones a certain voice type can reliably produce

A vocal register is a range of tones in the human voice produced by a particular vibratory pattern of the vocal folds. These registers include modal voice, vocal fry, falsetto, and the whistle register. Registers originate in laryngeal function. They occur because the vocal folds are capable of producing several different vibratory patterns. Each of these vibratory patterns appears within a particular range of pitches and produces certain characteristic sounds.

James C. McKinney, a renowned vocal pedagogue and longtime professor of voice at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's school of church music, defines vocal resonance as "the process by which the basic product of phonation is enhanced in timbre and/or intensity by the air-filled cavities through which it passes on its way to the outside air." Throughout the vocal literature, various terms related to resonation are used, including: amplification, filtering, enrichment, enlargement, improvement, intensification, and prolongation. Acoustic authorities would question many of these terms from a strictly scientific perspective. However, the main point to be drawn from these terms by a singer or speaker is that the result of resonation is to make a "better" sound, or at least suitable to a certain esthetical and practical domain.


The first recorded mention of the term chest voice was around the 13th century, when it was distinguished from the throat and the head voice (pectoris, guttoris, capitis—at this time it is likely head voice referred to the falsetto register) by the writers Johannes de Garlandia and Jerome of Moravia. [2] The term was later redefined during the bel canto period when it was identified as the lowest of three vocal registers: the chest, passaggio and head registers. This approach is still taught by some vocal pedagogists today. [3]

In vocal music, the head voice, depending on vocal pedagogy, is a particular part of the vocal range, or type of vocal register, or a vocal resonance area.

Falsetto is the vocal register occupying the frequency range just above the modal voice register and overlapping with it by approximately one octave.

Jerome of Moravia was a medieval music theorist. He was a Dominican friar. His origin is unknown, but he is believed to have worked in Paris at the Dominican convent on the Rue Saint-Jacques. He most likely came from the Dominican convent in Elgin, Moray, although based on some renderings of his name he may have come from the Dominican community in Moravia.

However as knowledge of human physiology has increased over the past two hundred years, so has the understanding of the physical process of singing and vocal production. As a result, many vocal pedagogists have redefined or even abandoned the use of the term chest voice. [3] In particular, the use of the term chest register has become controversial since vocal registration is more commonly seen today as a product of laryngeal function that is unrelated to the physiology of the chest and lungs. For this reason, many vocal pedagogists argue that it is meaningless to speak of registers being produced in the chest. The vibratory sensations which are felt in these areas are resonance phenomena and should be described in terms related to vocal resonance, not to registers. These vocal pedagogists prefer the term "chest voice" over the term "chest register". These vocal pedagogists also hold that many of the problems which people identify as register problems are really problems of resonance adjustment. This helps to explain the controversy over this terminology. Also, the term chest register is not used within speech pathology and is not one of the four main vocal registers identified by speech pathologists. For the purposes of this article, the term "chest voice" is adopted as it is less controversial. [1]

Larynx voice box, an organ in the neck of amphibians, reptiles, and mammals

The larynx, commonly called the voice box, is an organ in the top of the neck involved in breathing, producing sound, and protecting the trachea against food aspiration. The larynx houses the vocal folds, and manipulates pitch and volume, which is essential for phonation. It is situated just below where the tract of the pharynx splits into the trachea and the esophagus. The word larynx comes from a similar Ancient Greek word.

The contemporary use of the term chest voice often refers to a specific kind of vocal coloration or vocal timbre. In classical singing, its use is limited entirely to the lower part of the modal register or normal voice. Chest timbre can add a wonderful array of sounds to a singer’s vocal interpretive palette. The introduction of chest timbre is common to singers trained in the historic Italian school, but largely shunned among singers who have emerged from the Nordic/Germanic tradition. Such approval or disapproval is largely an aesthetic decision. [4] However, the use of overly strong chest voice in the higher registers in an attempt to hit higher notes in the chest can lead to forcing. Forcing can lead consequently to vocal deterioration. [5]

Modal voice is the vocal register used most frequently in speech and singing in most languages. It is also the term used in linguistics for the most common phonation of vowels. The term "modal" refers to the resonant mode of vocal folds; that is, the optimal combination of airflow and glottal tension that yields maximum vibration.

Physiological process

As the opinions on what exactly chest voice is vary greatly, there is no one consensus on the physiological production of chest voice. However there is a developing body of scientific knowledge regarding the production of various definitions of chest voice:

Bel canto understanding

Vocal fold, scheme Vocal fold scheme.svg
Vocal fold, scheme
Glottal cycle, chest voice Vocal fold animated.gif
Glottal cycle, chest voice

This view understands chest voice as the vocal register used within normal speech. It was discovered via stroboscope that during ordinary phonation, or speaking, in a man, the vocal folds contact with each other completely during each vibration, closing the gap between them fully, if just for a small length of time. This closure cuts off the escaping air. When the air pressure in the trachea rises as a result of this closure, the folds are blown apart, while the vocal processes of the arytenoid cartilages remain in apposition. This creates an oval gap between the folds and some air escapes, lowering the pressure inside the trachea. Rhythmic repetition of this movement a certain number of times a second creates a pitched note. This is how the chest voice is created. [2]

Stroboscope instrument used to make a cyclically moving object appear to be slow-moving, or stationary

A stroboscope also known as a strobe, is an instrument used to make a cyclically moving object appear to be slow-moving, or stationary. It consists of either a rotating disk with slots or holes or a lamp such as a flashtube which produces brief repetitive flashes of light. Usually the rate of the stroboscope is adjustable to different frequencies. When a rotating or vibrating object is observed with the stroboscope at its vibration frequency, it appears stationary. Thus stroboscopes are also used to measure frequency.

Phonation Process of creating phonetic sounds

The term phonation has slightly different meanings depending on the subfield of phonetics. Among some phoneticians, phonation is the process by which the vocal folds produce certain sounds through quasi-periodic vibration. This is the definition used among those who study laryngeal anatomy and physiology and speech production in general. Phoneticians in other subfields, such as linguistic phonetics, call this process voicing, and use the term phonation to refer to any oscillatory state of any part of the larynx that modifies the airstream, of which voicing is just one example. Voiceless and supra-glottal phonations are included under this definition.

Apposition is a grammatical construction in which two elements, normally noun phrases, are placed side by side, with one element serving to identify the other in a different way; the two elements are said to be in apposition. One of the elements is called the appositive, although its identification requires consideration of how the elements are used in a sentence.

Vocal resonance understanding

This view believes that the chest voice is a product not of vocal registration but vocal resonation. Opinions within this understanding vary. Although some pedagogists believe the chest is an effective resonator, most agree that chest voice actually resonates in the head while creating vibratory sensations in the chest. Tarneaud says,

"during singing, the vibration of the vocal folds impresses periodic shakes on the laryngeal cartilage which transmits them to the bones in the thorax via the laryngeal depressors, and to the bony structures in the head via the laryngeal elevators. Singers feel these shakes in the form of thoracic and facial vibrations".

These internal phonatory sensations produced by laryngeal vibrations are called "resonance" by singers and teachers of singing. [6]

During singing in the lower register, the larynx is lowered since the muscles which connect it to the rib cage are tensed whereas the muscles above the larynx are not tensed. Consequently, a large proportion of the vibratory energy is transmitted to the thoracic area, giving singers the impression that their voice is resonating in the chest. This impression however is false. The chest by virtue of its design and location can make no significant contribution to the resonance system of the voice. The chest is on the wrong side of the vocal folds and there is nothing in the design of the lungs that could serve to reflect sound waves back toward the larynx. [1]

See also

Notes and references

  1. 1 2 3 McKinney, James (1994). The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults. Genovex Music Group. ISBN   978-1-56593-940-0.
  2. 1 2 The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians . Edited by Stanley Sadie, Volume 6. Edmund to Fryklund. ISBN   1-56159-174-2, Copyright Macmillan 1980.
  3. 1 2 Stark, James (2003). Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy. University of Toronto Press. ISBN   978-0-8020-8614-3.
  4. Miller, Richard (2004). Solutions for Singers. Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-516005-5.
  5. The Oxford Dictionary of Opera. John Warrack and Ewan West, ISBN   0-19-869164-5
  6. Tarneaud, J. (November 1933). "Study of larynx and of voice by stroboscopy". Clinique (Paris). 28: 337–341.

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Hoarse voice voice disorder

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