Helping Students find Chest Voice

Weekly Teaching Tip – May 22, 2018
by MaryAnnKehler


Several teachers have asked me recently for specific exercises that will help singers find chest voice. The singer can’t mix because they’ve never experienced — or more likely have forgotten the feeling — of singing in the lower part of their voice.

Keeping in mind that there’s no one “right” way to solve any vocal problem, here’s an exercise that is successful much of the time.

Start with a top-down arpeggio (8-5-3-1) on whatever word that is most comfortable for the singer. There’s no “right” word — the important piece is the singer’s comfort level. Words I’ve used recently: “Wo” (boat), “yeah”, “wah”, “nah” (not), “no”, “gee” — essentially, whatever works. It’s usually easiest for singers to make this transition if we avoid extreme sounds in the beginning, because many will feel fear that they’re going to hurt their voices. For females, try starting on a D5, descending to the D4, but don’t be concerned if they need to start higher. For males, the starting pitches tend to vary significantly, depending on their usual genre. Male barbershop tenors can usually start in the same place as women, somewhere around a D5, depending to D4.

Repeat the root (8-5-3-1-1-1-1). The singer will likely be hesitant. If so, encourage them to “speak the root on pitch.” If necessary, switch sounds until the singer begins to ease into chest. They’ll often need lots of encouragement that this feeling is safe.

When the singer has begun to navigate the transition into chest, quickly change directions. From the bottom up, 1-1-1-1-3-5-8-5-3-1-1-1-1. The key is to keep the bottom notes in chest range.

When the singer is experiencing success — and this may require more than one session — start working the exercise higher, and then bring it back into chest. Encourage them to be patient. “The process of building muscle memory takes time.”

As success occurs, eliminate the repeated root (1-3-5-8-5-3-1) and return to it as necessary.

When transitioning from exercise into song, the same “repeat” is often successful … just take the song out of time and repeat the lower notes, first on whatever sound gives the feeling of chest coordination, then on the lyric.

Hoping that’s helpful. Have a great day!

– MaryAnnKehler

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