Full voice, mix voice, chest voice, and head voice are vocal terms we heard a lot in vocal pedagogy.
These vocal terms can be very confusing for people who are just starting to sing, or even for people who are experienced singers.
Today I would like to address a very important and fundamental subject in singing – What is full voice? Why is it so important? How do we train it?
A Simple and Clear Comparison
First of all, let me show what full voice is NOT. Listen to this cover version of “You Raise Me UP” on Youtube:
Someone sent me this video a while back and asked me about her singing. I really enjoyed the very high-quality and professionally-produced video, but the singing is not that great .
If you want to learn the opposite of full voice, this is it. She sings the entire song of “You Raise Me Up” without much full voice.
There’s nothing wrong with singing in a good falsetto voice or mixed voice, but you will notice a lack of vocal power and excitement in her singing.
Watch this video of Sohyang singing the same song to get an clear idea of what full voice is and what it can do to excite the audience:
If you watch both videos, you will get the idea of what full voice sounds like – FULL!
Now the term has been used by voice teachers from different schools to mean different things, making the concept really vague and confusing. Today I will attempt to give you a clearer definition of what Full Voice is.
A Somewhat Scientific Explanation…I know, bear with me!
Before you freak out, let me assure you that this is going to be simple and easy-to-understand.
In order to produce sound in the human body, air needs to pass through the vocal cords that are “pulled together” (tension) causing vibration and, thus, producing sound waves.
How “tight” those cords are pull together will determine the tone of the voice. The tighter the cords are pulled together, the more solid and fuller it sounds, and the more closer to full voice the sound will be.
In the first video, the girl sounded very airy and soft. You can say that she is singing in falsetto or head voice. Definitely not full voice!
In the second video, Sohyang’s voice is full voice to the core. It is solid, it is edgy, and it is powerful!
Falsetto = loosely pulled cords / without too much resonance
Full Voice = tightly pulled cords / with fuller resonance and beauty of tone
Let’s take a look at this simple graph to get a better idea:
On a scale of 1 to 10 on vocal cord tension, (1 being the lowest, 5 or 6 being right in the middle, and 10 is the highest) the girl in the first video is at around a 3, which is too airy and soft for pop singing.
You can get away with a 3 for classical female singing because of the stylistic differences, but it doesn’t cut it for pop singing.
In order to sing pop, male or female singers need at least a 5 or 6 for vocal cord tension, which is what people have when they are speaking.
Sohyang in the 2nd video is singing at a 7 at her most powerful notes, especially in the climatic high notes. You cannot sing at a vocal fold tension of 10 – it would be too tight and edgy and would end up hurting the voice.
The Benefits of Singing Full Voice
I don’t know know about you, but listening to the girl in the first video is a very frustrating experience as a listener. When you are singing on stage, audiences want to hear you pound out those notes, whether they be soft or loud notes. If audiences have to strain their ears in order to listen to you, then you have a problem as a singer on stage.
Let me tell you about some of the benefits of singing a legit full voice:
1. Training your vocal cords to ability adduct(close)
If you sing like the girl in the first video, after a period of time, your voice will lose its power and range. The vocal cords are very delicate muscles. If you do not use them efficiently and adequately, they will become weaker and weaker.
If you sing and train with full voice, it doesn’t mean you will always sing loud and powerful all the time. You will be able to sing with a fuller dynamic range, meaning you can sing powerful OR SOFT if you choose to, which makes you a more versatile and superior singer to listen to.
2. Beautiful tone quality
When your vocal cords are closely adducted at the higher intensity, your tone quality is actually better and more superior than the airy, falsetto tone, because the harmonics and overtones that determine the color of the voice are more complete and present.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t sing with falsetto – Falsetto has its purpose and use for extra vocal color for the singer to utilize. However, it cannot be the norm of your voice. Usually you cannot sing a pop song entirely in falsetto unless your the one and only Bee Gees.
3. Vocal power and penetration
A lot of pop singers undermine the importance to penetrate with their voice through the band and make themselves more audible to the audiences, just because they have a microphone.
I am a crossover singer who sings pop and classical music. I sing with full voice that has power and penetration all the time even when I’m singing with a microphone.
There is a difference between amplifying your voice with the microphone vs. doing it by superior vocal technique BEFORE the voice is picked up by the microphone.
What’s the difference? Again, watch the 2 videos and you tell me the difference…
4. Great audience experience
If you want to become a successful singer, you need to sing with full voice.
Nothing excites the audience more than powerful high notes sang from the stage. On the contrary, nothing frustrates the audience more than hearing very weak vocal tones produced by the singer on stage.
The Confusion Surrounding Full Voice
Different teachers have different definitions of what Full Voice is. Some of them can be really confusing to the students. Let me give you my definition of Full Voice:
Full Voice is the sound produced by the full vibrating length of the vocal cords which contains highest intensity and depth in sound quality.
Full voice is solid, edgy, beefy, and “steely” if you’re in the higher range. When you hear full voice, you know it. There’s no way around it.
There are voice teachers who claim that mixed voice (vocal cord tension of 5 or 6) can be maneuvered into full voice, or the mixed voice IS full voice. I used to hold that view myself, but I have to say that there is still a difference in intensity between mixed and full voice.
The “Danger” of Training Full Voice
Having said all the great things about singing in Full Voice, I have to warn you that there is a risk of hurting your vocal instrument if it is not done correctly.
You could easily overpower your vocal cords with a great amount of air pressure thrown at them. If done incorrectly, you could cost a great amount to strain in your voice.
That’s why many voice teachers advocate using Mixed Voice to train because it is a very gentle muscular coordination and a lot safer, which is true.
However, if you do want powerful high notes like Sohyang or Whitney, you need to take a more aggressive training approach, much like weight training.
How to Train Full Voice
If you do want to commit to training your full voice at the highest level, there are a couple of vocal exercises I recommend:
1. Octave siren on “Ah” from low to high
2. 5-tone scale on “Ah” from low to high
3. Sing “Ah” on a high note for as long as possible.
I won’t get into too much details as to how to train full voice in this post, as it is very difficult to describe vocal exercises on words.
If you are interested in training full voice and extending your vocal range, I suggest you check out Robert Lunte’s online trainng course The Four Pillars of Singing.
Robert is an expert in training full voice or belt to make the voice more powerful and the range extended.
Conclusion on Full Voice
If you want to be able to execute an electrifying performance with the audience on their feet with your awesome singing, you need to train and learn how to sing Full Voice.
Although many teachers would advocate singing mixed voice throughout the range because it’s safer and more efficient (you could find your mixed voice in typically one lesson), I still would recommend that every serious singer train full voice extensively and aggressively.
Train your full voice with the mindset and attitude of an Olympic athlete. The training should be intense, serious, and daily.
Being a vocal coach from the Mix school of singing, I have adapted the Full voice or belt training from other schools into my training routine. I believe it is such an important and vital part that every singer should include it in their training program.
If you have any questions you would like to discuss concerning Full Voice, comment below and I’ll be happy to discuss with you.
To great singing,