History and development

The first recorded mention of the terms chest voice and head voice was around the 13th century, when it was distinguished from the "throat voice" (pectoris, guttoris, capitis—at this time it is likely that head voice referred to the falsetto register) by the writers Johannes de Garlandia and Jerome of Moravia.[9] The terms were later adopted within bel canto, the Italian opera singing method, where chest voice was identified as the lowest and head voice the highest of three vocal registers: the chest, passagio and head registers.[10] This approach is still taught by some vocal pedagogists today. Another current popular approach that is based on the bel canto model is to divide both men and women's voices into three registers. Men's voices are divided into "chest register", "head register", and "falsetto register" and woman's voices into "chest register", "middle register", and "head register". Such pedagogists teach that the head register is a vocal technique used in singing to describe the resonance felt in the singer's head.[11] However as knowledge of human physiology has increased over the past two hundred years, so has the understanding of the physical process of singing and vocal production. As a result, many vocal pedagogists, such as Ralph Appelman at Indiana University and William Vennard at the University of Southern California, have redefined or even abandoned the use of the terms chest voice and head voice.[10] In particular, the use of the terms chest register and head register have become controversial since vocal registration is more comm nly seen today as a product of laryngeal function that is unrelated to the physiology of the chest, lungs, and head. For this reason, many vocal pedagogists argue that it is meaningless to speak of registers being produced in the chest or head. They argue that the vibratory sensations which are felt in these areas are resonance phenomena and should be described in terms related to vocal resonance, not to registers. These vocal pedagogists prefer the terms chest voice and head voice over the term register. This view believes that the problems which people identify as register problems are really problems of resonance adjustment. This view is also in alignment with the views of other academic fields that study vocal registration including: speech pathology, phonetics, and linguistics. Although both methods are still in use, current vocal pedagogical practice tends to adopt the newer more scientific view. Also, some vocal pedagogists take ideas from both viewpoints.[7] The contemporary use of the term chest voice often refers to a specific kind of vocal coloration or vocal timbre. In classical singing, its use is limited entirely to the lower part of the modal register or normal voice. Within other forms of singing, chest voice is often applied throughout the modal register. Chest timbre can add a wonderful array of sounds to a singer's vocal interpretive palette.[12] However, the use of overly strong chest voice in the higher registers in an attempt to hit higher notes in the chest can lead to forcing. Forcing can lead consequently to vocal deterioration.