How to Find and Develop Your Head Voice

Singing in Your Upper Register

Bette Davis Singing with Jimmy Durante
Bette Davis Singing with Jimmy Durante.

 Bettmann / Getty Images

Finding your head voice requires vocal exploration. The first three ideas we list are sequential: learn to speak in head voice, create a sing-song head voice quality, and finally sing in it. Once you do these three things, you can focus on strengthening the head voice, so you can eventually sing repertoire using it.

Practice Pitch Stories

Before learning to sing in head voice, take time to speak in it. Some stories naturally incline themselves to pitch variations. Since storytelling is mostly for children, some of the best known are: “The Story of the Three Little Pigs,” “The Gingerbread Man,” “Goldilocks and The Three Bears,” “Rapunzel,” and “Little Red Riding Hood.” You may have heard each one spoken by storytellers using head voice for young characters or witches and chest voice for older ones. Head voice examples are: “Not by the Hair of My Chinny Chin Chin,” and “You Can’t Catch Me I’m the Gingerbread Man.” Try and imitate your memory of someone speaking these phrases in the higher register or listen to someone telling the stories now and imitate their speech.

Drill Yawn Sighs

Yawn sighs are the next stepping stone between speaking in head voice and singing in it. In a sing-song fashion, slur from the very top of your vocal range to the bottom. Try to squeak out the top notes, while keeping your voice light and airy. Another way to describe the vocal style is an exaggerated, voiced sigh. Slide as slowly as possible, noting all the variations in your voice. Men have a natural break between their falsetto (highest notes) and head voice (next highest). Most of your friends who are part of a choir will be able to demonstrate a yawn sigh, if you describe it. Singers may not know its proper name, but most are familiar with them.

Sing in Head Voice Lightly First

The next step to finding your head voice is to sing in it. Start with a yawn sigh and stop somewhere in the top of your voice and hold the note. Add volume and suddenly you are singing in head voice. Now try stopping on different pitches and holding out the note. Keep one hand on your chest to see if it vibrates. If it does, then you are mixing in some chest. While first learning to sing in head voice, eliminate chest voice altogether. Concentrate on singing light, bright, and pure. The brighter vocal sound may not be your favorite, but it leads to greater vocal freedom as you learn to mix in the warmer sound of chest voice.

Use Warm-Ups to Strengthen Head Voice

Every warm-up that starts on the top and moves down develops your head voice. Using the ‘w’ also helps lengthen the vocal cords before you start singing, setting you up for a cleaner sound. My favorite exercise combines the two: sing ‘we-e-e-ah’ on a simple arpeggio 1-5-3-1. That would be C-G-E-C in a C-major scale. Make sure to connect each note. Sing up the scale as high as possible without hurting your voice. Once you feel you have mastered a simple arpeggio, you may also sing a 5-note scale beginning with ‘w,’ as in ‘we-e-e-e-e,’ on 5-4-3-2-1 or G-F-E-D-C in a C-major scale. The key is to really close your lips as you produce the ‘wuh’ sound.

Listen to Singers Who Use Head Voice

Listen to those who sing stratospherically high, like Diana Damrau’s version of the Queen of the Night aria from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. Though she utilizes the whistle register on the highest notes, imitating her overall sound quality will help. Kathleen Battle is also known for her pure high notes. Sometimes it is helpful to find someone famous that sings within your vocal range and listen to the way their voice sounds in head voice. Bryn Terfel, for instance, is a bass with a beautiful head voice.

Think Small

Especially for those who are used to singing mostly in chest voice, it may be a temptation to sing too heavy. To avoid this, think of your voice as narrow and small when you sing higher. Some people find it beneficial to imagine their voice coming out of a pinpoint on their forehead. The science behind such visualizations is that your vocal cords stretch thin as you ascend the scale in head voice, which means the width is literally rather than figuratively narrower.