Have you ever sounded like a duck?
This is what happens when singers flip from chest to head voice unintentionally. It can sound like a break in their voice if done harshly enough, unofficially referred to as quacking.
This happens most often when a singer is singing large intervals (notes that are far from each other). But not always — sometimes it happens, seemingly, out of the blue. The singer will find themselves singing normally and then suddenly the tone and color of the notes they sing sound lighter at best, weak, unstable, and completely mute at worst.
What is this phenomenon, and how can a singer overcome it?
The biggest culprit for a sudden change in tone is vocal placement. Each vocal register a singer sings in (chest, mixed, head voice, falsetto) has a specific vocal placement that helps the singer have resonant notes.
What are resonant notes?
Have you ever been in an empty house with no furniture? Maybe you just moved in, and all of your furniture is still sitting in the u-haul. You might have tried to sing or yell in that empty room if you're anything like me. Why? Because your voice sounds fantastic. It echoes — it reverberates around the room. Your voice has a larger space to reverberate, and there are no couches or other items to dampen the sound. Your voice has more…resonance.
Vocal placement is like the shape of a room, which can be changed by the addition or removal of items. There are things that we can do with the shape of our mouth and the placement of our tongue to aid the resonance of certain pitches.
With this particular issue of a singer unintentionally singing from chest to head voice — the singer is skipping a register entirely by not adjusting their vocal placement. Which register? The mixed register!
Every singer is different, but chances are, if singing low is a breeze and singing higher becomes more of a strain, they likely have a tongue that is dropped in the back of the throat when it should be raised.
Vocal placement is a subtle art, raise your tongue too high, and you’ll find yourself sounding too nasally. Drop your tongue too low, and you’ll sound like Kermit, the frog. It is a delicate balance.
Experiment by gradually moving your tongue from a neutral/relaxed position and slightly raising it as you slide vocally into higher notes.
Also, you will find circumstances when you want to have a sudden flip between the chest and head voice for the sake of the song/emotion etc.
The key is to learn how to do things intentionally and in a healthy way with your voice!
Want to take your voice to the next level?
R&B Vocal Coach & Founder of Indie Artist School