My thoughts...Wisdom from over the years


Posted in: Blog, tip of the week ♦ Monday, February 11th, 2013, 11:37 am ♦ 13 Comments on CHEST VOICE, HEAD VOICE & FALSETTO


Understanding the different parts of our voice can at times be confusing. There is so much terminology out there and so many people using those terms without a real understanding of what they mean. One of the most common misunderstandings of the human voice can be boiled down to one question:

“Isn’t ‘head voice’ the same as ‘falsetto’?”

The lack of understanding about this aspect of the voice is responsible for many vocal problems. Even many vocal teachers and coaches don’t really understand the difference and often use the terms interchangeably. This is largely due to the fact that the original intent behind the terms has been lost as a result of so little “real” or classical vocal training in the world of contemporary music. Let’s have a look at the terms and what they were originally designed to mean.

Chest Voice

Most of us truly enjoy singing in what is commonly known as the “chest voice”. The term “chest voice” is actually a term used to, in essence, describe an area of the voice that is resonating (or more technically:  registering resonance) in the chest cavity. The “chest voice” is the area of your range which is typically used for speech. If you put your hand on the upper part of your chest and speak you will most likely feel a vibration. The chest cavity is one of the largest areas to resonate in. So in other words, we are (more properly stated) singing in a chest register. This was the original, and yes “classical”, term for singing in this area of the voice. But for reasons which I will attempt to explain as we go along, we now more often hear the term “chest VOICE”.

When we are resonating in the chest, we are also most likely experiencing full vocal cord adduction. This means that they are completed connected and have a “seal” all along the edges of the vocal folds. Therefore, we are able to utilize the full length and strength of the cords. This is why we like the chest voice. It is rich, it is full of resonance, and it’s powerful (we have full use of the cords and we’re very comfortable there because it’s in our speaking range).  Since this is such a favored sound, many people will try to continue singing in this manner into a range beyond what the vocal cords are able to withstand.  This, of course, can cause multiple problems for the vocalist—including serious damage.


Simply defined, falsetto means “false voice”. This is because of what happens to the vocal cords. The vocal cords are muscles and as such they have some incredible abilities!  They can stretch out and become long and thin, or they can shorten and become thick as they vibrate against one another, resulting in many varied pitches.  As a singer climbs to higher notes, the cords begin to tighten (and stretch), much like a stretched rubber band or even like a guitar string when tightened. At some point however, the cords will reach a crisis point; they can only stretch so far before they risk damage. At this point, they will come apart—often with a “pop” or a sound similar to the shifting of gears in a car. Then the singer can go on to sing higher and higher notes in the new vocal configuration. This takes the stress off the cords and prevents damage from occurring.

At this point the voice is typically much weaker for a number of reasons. First of all, without training and a good deal of practice, there will be a tendency to have a more airy tone since the cords are not fully adducted (closed) and air can easily escape. Secondly, since you are only vibrating on a portion of the cords, the voice will naturally be weaker since the vibrating length of the cord is now shorter. Thirdly, the cords will be thinner as well; this is in order to hit those higher pitches. All of this is actually wonderful news if you are a guy. Why? Because if you are a man, the ability to go into falsetto will typically double your range.

What about Women?

In reality, there is no functional falsetto for women. Yes, they can reproduce the same scenario described above but it doesn’t serve the same function. Instead, it becomes the natural consequence of singing incorrectly—with too much strain on the vocal cords. In the end, this vocal configuration mimics a falsetto in tone quality but doesn’t provide the extra range as it does in a man.  It simply cuts the woman’s range in half rather than doubling it! It relegates everything above an A, Bb or B (on average for most women) to a voice using only a portion of the vocal cords. I doubt that the average female singer with a “break” in voice does this on purpose. Nonetheless, countless female singers DO sing in this way. The reason for this is simply ignorance of the female voice and how it can work. There is no physiological reason for the female vocal cords to abduct (split apart) in the middle of a woman’s range except for the application of too much pressure on the cords.  Women can learn, with proper training, to keep their cords fully adducted for the full length of their vocal range.

So what is Head Voice?

Many people commonly refer to a “falsetto” voice as a “head voice”.  In the same way that a chest voice is a voice that is resonating in the chest, a “head voice” should be a voice that is resonating in the head.  It is specifically NOT a falsetto voice. Falsetto is a voice that is made only when the vocal cords are not completely adducted and unfortunately that is typically the type of voice people are referring to when they say “head voice”.  Because of a lack of training/understanding there is lot confusion today over this. I don’t like the terms “head voice” and “chest voice” because they add to the confusion.  We should have ONE voice as women. Men have two distinct types of voices:  full voice and falsetto. There are different areas of resonance that allow for different registers. When we resonate primarily in the head, we are in our head register. Although our cords are thinned out at this point, they should not come apart if we are using proper vocal technique. The term “head voice”, although frequently used interchangeable with the term falsetto, is not one in the same and should be exchanged for the more accurate term of “head register”, otherwise its confusing and sends the wrong message.

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  1. Posted by: Melody Wallace
    March 21st, 2013 at 10:10 am

    nice and clear!

  2. Posted by: Sheri Gould
    March 21st, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Thank you Melody! (love your name 🙂 )

  3. Posted by: Isaac
    April 10th, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    I love dis,buh wuh am nt still clear wit z dat,hw can i no if am singing wit head voice or falsetto,nd also d voice exercise dat z advisable 4 head voice

  4. Posted by: Antome
    April 25th, 2014 at 11:47 am

    So how men don’t have head voice? Both have the position of head voice and falsetto.

  5. Posted by: Miranda
    June 27th, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Antome you might want to read the article again : /

  6. Posted by: Haymaker
    July 23rd, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    This article is rather confusing. Male and female vocal tracts are basically the same, except for the length & thickness of various parts. This means that they can both fundamentally produce the same kind of sounds with enough training (though these differences will of course make them sound different). To say that falsetto doubles a male’s range and that it halves a woman’s makes no sense, you could also say that falsetto simply halves a trained male singer’s range too.

  7. Posted by: Sheri Gould
    July 23rd, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    By definition:

    noun, plural fal·set·tos. unnaturally or artificially high-pitched voice or register, especially in a man.
    2.a person, especially a man, who sings with such a voice.

    This voice makes an increased range/register accessible. I surmise that this is because of the length and thickness of the male vocal cords. By allowing the cords to go into a falsetto configuration, most men are able to access about 4 1/2-5 octaves of range. The average female range–regardless of whether or not she experiences a female break is not changed and remains about 2 octaves.

  8. Posted by: Mick
    November 1st, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Thank you for this. I have tried to explain the subject to people many times. I have been singing for many years and studied voice with a number of vocal coaches. It drives me nuts when I hear people on singing competition shows (The Voice, American Idol, etc.) comment on women singing falsetto.
    Add to that women who yodel … Not possible from what I have been taught.

  9. Posted by: Oblomov
    April 27th, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Hi Mick, well that I know indeed women yodel too because they can and they have falsetto as well. Falsetto, as correctly states is what chest voice breaks into when cords can’t keep up abduction, so the cinetic energy decreases and the vibration can’t be transmitted to the body of vocal folds, only their surface will, and it’s usually airy. There is no reason for why this shouldn’t happen to woman. The good news is then, that women have no less range than us men.
    In chest voice folds are not only stretched, rather I’d say, especially on males, because of habits, the vocalis muscle will resist lengthening, remaining thick and contracted, this will take the voice close to passaggio zone with increased stress and tendency to yell, then this tug of war comes to a crisis and voice breaks into falsetto.
    Falsetto can be taken down as well, but it will mix with full voice because the fold surface and their muscle will have similar consistency in lower tones and can’t be easily separated.
    I give you an example, when Christina Aguilera yells her C#5 too much on her lives (especially being her a mezzo aka a lower voice), she sometimes break into falsetto and the difference can be heard.
    As correctly stated G# – C5 are crisis points exactly like D4 – F4 are for males (passaggio) and that voice that “mimics falsetto tone” I think it’s just that, female falsetto. In fact falsetto is a blocked head voice, locked into its most shallow dynamics because of tension and lack of balance. Hell it even shares the same range as head voice.
    Head and chest are indeed the heavy and light mechanism or primary registers also called m1 and m2, such registers we all agree in fact, that have to be trained to become one, that’s why in Bel canto we learn the “passaggio”, that’s “mixed voice”, which is what allows having high notes not screamed not falsetto, nor excessively light for the pitch in question.

  10. Posted by: Oblomov
    April 27th, 2015 at 11:47 am

    Too bad, men don’t classically get taught head voice or full M2 tones too much, that is considered falsetto. That’s why they assess the limit of a tenor full voice to C5 and baritones even “worse”, a G#5 with exceptional A4s. Women get to go more than an octave higher and that is considered full voice, yet their passaggio or crisis point is not that higher (Ab4- B4) – hint: they use a fully functional and developed M2, perfectly mixed and consistent without breaks with their lower registers while men, at least in classical school, only learn a few tones off Mixed voice with as much “chest” (weight) as possible in it. The sensation is that by going higher the voice breaks.
    Another factor is that a darker voice might have less consistency, stylisticall speaking with head voice, the higher it goes, but that can be “easily” tackles with resonance and stylistical twists.

  11. Posted by: Sheri Gould
    May 30th, 2015 at 10:31 am

    Dear Haymaker,

    My point, in part, is to illustrate that the male voice can not reach certain notes without the partial abduction of the vocal folds whereas with a female, the same range can be accessed with either fully adducted OR partially abducted vocal folds. So in this sense the range is not extended through the use of a “falsetto” tone in women. I hope that clarifies it a bit.

  12. Posted by: Oblomov
    May 26th, 2016 at 5:14 am

    Oh, well the women can take the M1 register up to F4 with some effort, especially sopranos, which is consistent, as it’s half an octave above C5, BUT, above it it’s mostly M2 and a less deep vibration, and that register is that very same register as the one where falsetto happen, and women can also get a weaker and falsetto tone in that register. Speech patology simplify it by calling this M2, whatever the, close quotient, timbre, mode and power level you can obtain behind this register – M1 is modal and M2 is falsetto, aka Operatic female “head voice” would be technically falsetto, but also a more chesty sounding twanged G5 of Anastacia.
    If we want to call it falsetto based on insufficient fold closure and resonance, it’s perfectly ok, but this situation can happen to both men and women, but BOTH can get more closure, cover, twang and chestiness on their M2 with possibly increasing difficultie in lower voices.

  13. Posted by: Kristin
    August 25th, 2016 at 7:55 pm

    I am still so confused every time someone tries to explain that women do not have head or falsetto voices. There comes a point in my range where if I try to sing in my “chest voice” any higher, my voice breaks. But then I can flip into a higher register and sing all the high notes and they sound quite pretty. In my chest voice I’m probably a mezzo soprano, but I can easily do all the high notes in a much higher register when I “flip” into what I was told was my “head voice.” When I hear what is described as falsetto for men, all I can ever think is, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

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