We’ve talked a lot about learning to belt, which is a perfectly valid way to make your voice sound more powerful. But what if the notes are too high to belt, or you want to sing in a style that sounds better in your head voice or head-mix? Achieving a strong head voice probably won’t happen over night, but there are some very tangible steps you can take to strengthen your head voice.
What is Head Voice?
Before we talk about strengthening your head voice, it’s important to know what the term means and what it sounds like. Listen to the difference between these two ways of singing the same note. The first is chest dominant; the second is head dominant.
When you’re in a head mix or head voice, your vocal folds are thinner, so without solid technique, it tends to be softer and less “weighty” than chesty sounds. Luckily, with great technique, you can develop a big, powerful head voice, even with those thin folds.
How to Strengthen Your Head Voice
Use Great Posture
It’s amazing how connected the various structures in our body are. When we slouch, our respiratory system can’t work as efficiently: Our ribs won’t open very well, and there won’t be as much space in the thorax. Because singing is so much about how we regulate air, the simple act of standing up with good alignment (that is, stacking our vertebrae and keeping our tailbone gently pointing downward) will make our singing more efficient and powerful. Keep your feet firmly planted and your shoulders wide: You should feel stable enough that if someone were to push you, it would take them some work to push you over. Make sure to keep your head stacked on your neck and not pitched forward so that the space in your pharynx isn’t impinged on.
Work With Your Breath
Speaking of your respiratory system, learning breath control is important for strengthening your head voice. If you exhale the way you would on a normal exhalation, your head voice will sound like nothing but air. If you hold back your exhalation, you’ll get a lot more sound. Try taking a natural, relaxed inhalation, allowing your ribs to expand. As you sing a note in head voice, keep your ribs expanded, and don’t let your stomach suck back in. Try to let as little air out at a time as you can. It helps to start with a hum or an “ng” sound, because it’s easier to hold back your exhalation with a semi-occluded (partially closed) vocal tract.
Narrow Your AES
Aryepiglottic Sphincter may be hard to say, but luckily, it’s not that hard to manipulate. Narrowing your AES is a concept most people are very familiar with. Try saying “nya nya nya” in a bratty way. That narrow “ping” that you feel is the narrowing of your AES. You can use this concept in a belt, as well as in head voice. Pick a head voice note, and then make it brattier using the “nya nya nya” sound. You’ll probably immediately notice a difference in volume.
Lift Your Soft Palate
The twang you get from the narrowed AES is great, but you’re going to get a much louder, fuller sound if you couple that with a raised soft palate. You can experience what that’s like by finding that point at the top of a yawn when there’s a lot of space in your mouth and your cheek bones are lifted. You can also visualize a cat’s yawn, if that image is easier for you. That lifted palate will help give you a fuller sound (not to mention less nasal).
Lower Your Larynx (Proceed With Caution)
First, 2 disclaimers: 1. This one is only appropriate for certain styles of singing. You’ll certainly want to work toward a lower larynx for opera singing and some types of musical theatre, but this is very rarely a type of head-voice singing you’d want for commercial genres. 2. You’ll want to master the other head-voice tips before doing this one, because lowering your larynx without the other stuff solidly in place can cause new singers to drag down their soft palates and widen their AES’s.
When done correctly, singing with a relatively low larynx will create a much fuller, richer sound. To learn to do this, put your hand on your Adam’s apple. Swallow and feel how it rises. Now yawn and feel how it falls. Play around with this until you can learn to lower it at will. Just make sure you’re still using good breath control techniques and keeping your palate lifted.
Working on all of these techniques will increase the volume you can sing at in head voice over time. Don’t forget though: Singing is largely about muscle memory, so one of the very best ways to increase volume in your head voice is to sing in your head voice a lot. Knowing all this information in theory is great, but putting it to work by choosing vocal exercises and songs that require a lot of head-voice singing is the most important starting point.