It All Starts And Ends With Chest Voice, Part 1

I have regular lessons myself, (because all voice coaches should be having regular ongoing lessons themselves, period – no-one knows everything, and we can all improve), and recently I have returned to regular study with Greg Enriquez. Greg is an extremely knowledgeable and incredibly experienced voice coach out in Las Vegas.

Greg is a longtime friend and student (both as a singer and a coach) of Seth Riggs. For those who don’t know, Seth is responsible for what is arguably the greatest revitalisation, rediscovering, and refocusing of voice technique in the 20th Century. So when Seth or Greg stop to talk about various concepts, quite frankly it’s worth your time to lose the ego and listen.

What I’m going to talk about here, is just one tiny slice of the stuff we’ve gone over in our sessions together.

One of the things that we’ve been looking is the importance of chest voice. The bottom end of the voice. The thing that beginner or under-confident singers often like to hide at the bottom of, and the thing that who think they are more advanced believe they’ve got sorted… and then forever seem to be running away from with every song in pursuit of high notes!

I know what you’re thinking “yea yea yea Mark, we GET that chest voice matters”… well, just hold your horses, because there’s even MORE to it than we’ve discussed thus far.

So critical is the role of chest voice in full and total development of the voice, that it would not be overstating it to say that when it comes to vocal technique and overall development…

“It all starts and ends with chest voice”

OK Mark, that’s a little dramatic.

Maybe. But so massive is the concept that we’re talking about here, that there’s no way I can do it all in one blog post. I’m going to break it up into three components that (I think) reflect the importance of chest voice.

1. “It all starts and ends with chest voice… sonically

2. “It all starts and ends with chest voice… technically

3. “It all starts and ends with chest voice… psychologically

By the end of this series, you should have a clearer understanding of why your chest voice should NOT be neglected, and how understanding it is the key to unlocking great tone in every other area of your voice.

And today, we’re going to start with part 1…

“It all starts and ends with chest voice… sonically”

What do I mean by this?

Put simply, we are all “experts” or at the very least we are “experienced” when it comes to hearing other people’s voices. How so? We have been listening to people speak since the day we were born.

We hear fellow human beings speak in their normal speaking voices every single day. Some people having higher voices, some people having lower voices, but we all get used to hearing people speak. And where does everyone speak for the bulk of the day? Their chest voice.

Thus, we can argue we are all (at least on some level) experts in what people are supposed to sound like – what sounds good and normal, and what doesn’t… just by way of pure experience.

Unconscious Benchmark

Even if we don’t realise it, this creates an unconscious sonic benchmark in our own minds for what constitutes a “normal” or pleasing sounding voice, or whether we think a given voice wrong, weird, or just sounds out of place. This applies to both others and ourselves, because we so innately recognise the sound of chest voice.

Now, we should obviously clarify that though most people often can’t articulate why something is out of place, or they may even sometimes struggle to point out that something IS out of place, if they hear someone speaking/singing in a way that isn’t congruent with their unconscious benchmark, they will certainly FEEL like something isn’t adding up… and in the world of singing, that’s all that really matters.

Why is this such a big deal?

We’ve all got the quality of chest voice locked into our ears, our brains, our very psyches. It’s not that we don’t WANT to hear higher notes, nor that singing ONLY in chest voice is bad or good… I’m not trying to make such a sweeping statement. Instead, the point I’m making is simply that this idea of always hearing people speak in chest voice creates a sonic benchmark in people’s minds and ears for what constitutes an aesthetically pleasing and tonally consistent voice. We are ultimately judging singers based on whether their voice sounds congruent with our sonic benchmark of chest voice… more specifically, their chest voice.

Let’s take this example…

When we hear someone who goes to sing a high note, and it suddenly goes incredibly light, or it starts to become very shouty in quality, it sounds off and there’s a disconnect with the audience. Why? Because the sound has deviated from the benchmark in our minds. We don’t like it as much as someone that sounds like they’ve stuck to the same vocal quality throughout.

So why is it that some people can sing relatively high without it ever sounding like they are going that high? Well, they aren’t doing anything magical per se, they are simply playing by the rules of our own sonic benchmarks. They’ve made damn sure that when they hit a high note, it is congruent and consistent with their chest voice as you would hear it.

It’s about congruency, consistency, uniformity with chest voice. We are all consciously excited by high notes, but we are all mentally set up to look for consistency with chest voice – we can’t escape this.

It all starts and ends with chest voice
Irrespective of what arguments singers who want to sing high can make, once you depart from the true quality of someone’s natural chest voice, you’ve already lost… you’ve lost the quality, lost the tonal connection, AND lost the connection with the audience.

The overriding message here is not to compromise your chest voice just to get to the high notes. Those high notes are nothing without the bottom ones to ground them and impart depth. The results of approaching the voice in this way are totally worth it.

You can find part 2 right here…

Learn More: Related Articles

If you want to learn more about vocal technique and great singing, you may enjoy these related articles:
The Difference between Amateurs and Pros
The problem with trying to teach voice using ONLY voice science
Vocal Pedagogy: Past, present and future
Singers: The Difference Between Vocalists and Performers
Can vocal technique help laryngitis?
Vocal Tessitura: What is it?
What is vocal fach?
The Key to Vocal Consistency

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