How to Sing with Head Voice: A Complete Head Voice Guide for Singers
Developing your head voice is a huge part of becoming a talented, well-rounded singer.
Unfortunately, it’s also a low priority for most singers – which also makes it one of their biggest opportunities for growth!
Finding and balancing your head voice definitely comes with some challenges, but it’s definitely worth it! So let’s get to it!
By the way, feel free to use the Table of Contents below to skip ahead to what you’re looking for.
Table of Contents
Understanding Head Voice & the Benefits of Developing It
The term head voice refers to the lighter voice we use when singing in the upper part of our range.
It got the term head voice because of the vibrations we experience in our head when we sing using this coordination.
That said, it feels more dropped in than pulled up.
Yes, head voice feels lighter, but it’s not lazy. When it’s done well it can create a very full sound.
You might be surprised how often it’s used in music today.
It also requires consistent energy, a solid flow of air, and tension-free resonance to get momentum and fullness.
The Difference Between Head Voice & Chest Voice
Chest voice is what more people use when speaking. It is most often used in the low to mid part of our range, and is created when using a thicker or heavier coordination in the vocal cords. Closure in chest voice is deeper, like this
Head voice, on the other hand, is the term we use for a thinned out coordination in the vocal folds. It is used mostly in the upper part of our singing range. This thinner coordination is what makes it feel lighter, and more dropped in. Comparatively, it would look more like this
If we try to sing high notes in chest voice, it leads to force and strain. Ever wonder why?
Well, when we sing higher notes, the vocal cords vibrate faster. The vocal folds can only vibrate so fast in a heavier coordination.
Taking chest voice too high causes tension, makes you more likely to crack, and ultimately turns into a yelling tone.
A quick note – Many people think their favorite artist sings their high notes in chest voice because of the fullness of the note. But more often than not, the singer is using their mixed voice to get that result.
So yeah, high notes are for head or mixed voice, not chest voice.
Head Voice vs Falsetto
I often times get the question – “What’s the difference between head voice and falsetto?”
My response – “According to whom?”
Why? People use these terms in different ways. There are some commonalities, and some differing views.
Nearly everyone, whether they ask you to sing in head voice or falsetto, is asking for your to sing in a lighter sound used in the upper part of your range. So as long as you give them that, you’re good.
If you want my thoughts though, head voice has vocal cord closure. This closure allows the voice to transition from head voice back to chest voice without having to break.
Falsetto lacks vocal cord closure, and therefore has a breathier quality and is unable to transition into chest voice without cracking. I’ve provided some audio samples for you below.
Biggest takeaway here is when someone asks for either of these types of singing, sing a lighter sound in the upper part of your range and you’ll be good.
How Does Head Voice Feel?
As I mentioned before, head voice gets its name from the sensation it creates in the head.
It feels lighter and more dropped in than chest voice, though it doesn’t have to sound lighter with good resonance and a balanced coordination.
The sound we will strive for is more bloomy and full.
Creating the feeling of bloominess may feel ridiculous, but it’s what helps us keep the larynx from rising. A rising larynx is bad because it lowers the quality of the sound and makes singing harder.
We also want to make sure the sound lacks breathiness, as this is a sign of the vocal folds not being together.
The exercise I’ve included later should help. Skip ahead if you’d like – Head Voice Warm Ups.
It’s important to master these basics first. Practicing these feelings over time creates more vocal balance, and allows you to use head voice in more creative and stylistic ways.
The Sound of & Examples of Head Voice Singing
Depending on how it’s created, head voice can sound very different.
As a rule though, you can hear when someone sings a high note in a completely free and easy way. It usually sounds light and spoken, or fuller and bloomy.
Sometimes you’ll hear a transition from head voice to chest voice when someone is singing. This transition may be identified by a small break, or perhaps the sound changing in tone or quality.
This transition can be a stylistic choice. Think “Fix You” by Coldplay or the first hook of “Uninvited” by Alannis Morissette.
Other times you’ll hear no real transition between head voice and the return to chest voice.
Having this option is ideal as it gives the listener the impression you’re singing with “the same voice” throughout your entire range. Adam Levine of Maroon 5 can do this well, but one of my favorite examples is Justin Timberlake’s “Still on My Brain.”
Obviously, you can look up the above songs and give them a listen. Or, check out a couple of demos I’ve put together below.
How to Sing with Head Voice
If you’re wondering how to use your head voice, you’ve come to the right place.
Some people already know how to access that lighter coordination, and that’s great! But if you struggle to find head voice, don’t worry – we can trick you into it.
Below are a couple of exercises that can help you can find your head voice. Play with these ideas and see what works best for you.
Try not to overthink it. Just find the one that feels best for you, and then move onto the next section where we’ll build upon what you’ve found.
Find It in Scales
Vocal Technique 1 - Ascend Until the Voice Flips
At some point, as you ascend in your vocal range, your voice will give up on singing chest voice and flip into some version of head voice or falsetto.
Let’s be real, most of you have experienced this already. But some really struggle to find any coordination other than chest voice. So for those people, this can help.
Quick Note – If your singing voice turns into a yell or pushes so much it disappears as you go higher, you’ve got to allow the sound to be lighter.
This break may be gnarly, but it will give you starting point to practice and play with.
Here’s a scale you can use to help you find this. Try it on different vowels to see what flips the easiest. For many, oo will be the easiest.
Important Note: Use the above scale to FIND you head voice, not to PRACTICE your head voice.
Vocal Technique 2 - Start a Descending Scale Higher than Your Chest Voice Allows
One of the easiest ways to find that higher and lighter coordination is to start the scale in your head voice range.
Starting here makes it nearly impossible for that heavier coordination to grab hold, making our lighter coordination the natural default for most.
Do do this, guys will need to start around an A above middle C. Ladies, I like to start you off closer to a D. This can be pretty high if you’re not used to it, but that’s kind of the point.
Remember to keep support and feed the notes solid airflow. Start from a more bloomy place, and that’ll make creating the sound much easier and fuller.
I’ll include a couple of examples below.
Find it by Mimicking Other Heady Sounds
One of the easiest ways to find any sound is to mimic others’ good examples of it.
For many, doing this will help you find an easy and released sound much quicker than trying to logically understand it or find it in scales. With this release often comes more power, but don’t push it if not.
A few of my favorites head voice examples are Julia Childs, Monty Python skits, or Lizzo when she sings, “Ooooh Lord, tired of the…” in “Truth Hurts.”
Mimicking any of these sounds puts you in a heady place, and oftentimes comes with the added benefit of it feeling more like your speaking voice.
Play with some of these sounds until you get a free vocal tone and it starts to come out with ease.
Head Voice Exercises
The right warm ups will without a doubt strengthen your head voice and help you hit higher notes in a light, easy way.
The more you practice in this vocal register, the more success you’ll find.
That said, as a vocal coach, I know that different scales and sounds work better for different singers.
So, I’m including a couple of generic head voice warm ups below for both male and female singers.
These exercises are designed to make it easy for you to access a good head voice coordination.
When practiced correctly, these exercises should help you strengthen head voice.
Ok – Time to stop reading and practice what you’ve learned. Sing through these scales, and see how they work for your voice!
Male Head Voice Exercieses
Hopefully these exercises helped you find a strong head voice coordination and helped you become more comfortable in it.
That said, as a vocal coach, I know that we all have different habits and sometimes would benefit from different scales.
If you want to explore more head voice exercises that can help you develop your head register and find more vocal power there, you can always book a lesson with a coach. Just check out the Lessons page of our site for more info.
Either way, practice makes permanent (not perfect!).
So practice that right coordination over time and it won’t be long before head voice becomes second nature.
How is Head Voice Used in Singing Today
I think one of the biggest misconceptions some singers have is that head voice is only used in choir or opera. That’s far from the true.
I think people arrive at this conclusion because a) singers on the radio always sound so full and present throughout their vocal range, and b) their own upper vocal register seems weak comparatively.
But the truth is, head voice shows up in nearly all genres of music in different places.
It’s probably most easily found in jazz and R&B, but you hear it in pop, country, rock, Christian… pretty much everywhere.
You just have to listen and become more aware.
Below are some popular songs with examples of singers using head voice. Listen carefully and see if you can identify where.
Also, feel free to share you favorite examples in the comments below.
If you pay attention, you’ll notice that all of these singers are using their high vocal registers – singing light with thin vocal folds.
Sometimes the high pitches are done in a mixed voice, other times in head voice. One is not right over the other.
In fact, I’d argue most artists with mastery over their higher register will use both – the deciding factor being what gets the feel of the song across better.
Head Voice FAQs
Quick answer, one performance at a time. We become confident by doing.
It definitely did for me. The more I became confident as a performer, the more that extended into other areas of my life.
Absolutely! Performance anxiety for public speaking is basically identical to that of a singer.
I used to hate it, but now I love speaking publicly (assuming I’m prepared, of course). Though I will admit, most people don’t take up singing just to get better at public speaking.
Shyness is often a symptom from feeling uncertain.
Relax, breathe, and start focusing on your words of power. Give yourself a pep talk. Imagine your perfect performance, free from nerves and worry.
See yourself being Bold! Start trying to incorporate this feeling into your speech, and really step into this newer, bolder you.
No one else can do it for you. The only way is to start believing in yourself and do it.
That said, I know you can do it because I did too. Keep at it!