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A chest voice is a term usually used in singing which refers to the full use of the vocal chords and the voice’s resonance in the chest. Everybody has a chest voice, and it is commonly used during speech. Singers specifically aim to have control over which voice they are using, head, middle, or chest, so that they can replicate high and low end notes comfortably. The distinction between these voices also enables singers to better control the notes they produce. Singers place a hand on their chest to see if the voice is resonating in the chest during singing.
The most basic chest voice is a speaking voice. When people speak at an ordinary volume, they use the full length of their vocal chords and the voice resonates in the chest. During singing, particularly when higher pitches are involved, many people frequently change to a different voice, which can have undesired effects on tone production. Singers focus on how their vocal chords operate during speech and then extend those muscle movements to singing.
Reverberation is a big part of the chest voice. A vibration in the singer’s chest during singing means that he or she is correctly using the voice. Higher notes are often produced using the head voice, in which the sound reverberates in the head. Singers practicing while checking the reverberation in their chest can help to teach them control over their voice. Scales and other vocal exercises can be performed during a check for chest vibration.
The use of the chest in singing also implies that the full vocal chords are being used. People unconsciously close off part of their vocal chords when they wish to produce higher tones. Full use of the vocal chords is required for the production of low tones, and is associated with the chest voice. The more singers practice using their chest voice, the more control they have over the vibrating length of the vocal chords. A middle voice closes off half of the vocal chords and reverberates in the head and chest.
Speech level singing is the name given by singers to the correct use of the chest voice. This enables singers to understand when they are using their chest and when they need to switch to their middle or head voice. Exercises can be found to teach singers how to make use of the chest voice and how to change between different voices. Ideally, singers should be able to switch between different voices at will, and practice using each one. Mastery of the chest voice enables singers to sing tunes in lower octaves more effectively.
I sing a lot of karaoke, but I'm not a trained singer. One time, I was sitting with a guy who actually used to be a professional back-up singer in Nashville. He listened to me sing a few songs and then offered me some free advice. That was the first time I ever heard the term "chest voice" in a sentence. He said I had plenty of power in my voice, but I needed to recognize when to shift from my chest voice to my middle and head voices.
He did a few songs to demonstrate the difference, and I was amazed at how good he was. He did a song by Roy Orbison that started really low in
his chest voice and then end on a really high falsetto note in his head voice. Every time I tried that same song, I couldn't hit the high notes without running out of breath. He told me that a lot of amateur singers tend to stay in chest voice too long, and they can't support the higher notes very well from there.
I remember a disk jockey on a very popular rock station in Cleveland who had the best "chest voice" I've ever heard. When he'd do some on-air patter about the next song, the rumble in his voice was amazing. Other disk jockeys on that same station had good radio voices, but this guy would make the walls rattle when he spoke.
A few years ago, I got to hear actor George Takei from "Star Trek" speak at a convention, and he didn't even need a microphone to be heard at the back of the auditorium. His chest voice was just that powerful.