The Secret Behind Lady Gaga’s Academy Award Win: Chest Voice
The winner of six Grammys, three Brit Awards, two Golden Globes and an Academy Award, Lady Gaga has had an absolutely stellar year.
What’s her secret?
I mean, after all, there are lots of creative, beautiful and hard-working vocalists out there.
So what makes Gaga so different?
The truth is that the Lady Gaga has a secret weapon in her singing voice.
And this weapon is not something ambiguous like a perfect pop “sound” or the multi-million dollar mix by her high-powered producers.
Actually, Gaga’s weapon is something we can all appreciate; but only a trained ear can hear.
Her secret weapon?
Lady Gaga has an amazing chest voice.
Now, unless you happen to be a professional singer or a choir director, you probably haven’t heard of chest voice before.
Here’s what it means:
Chest voice is the lowest vocal register in the singing voice and is known for having a strong and brassy tone.
The chest voice is created by thick vocal cords (think of thick guitar strings).
Those thick vocal cords chop up the air from your lungs and create the strong vibrations we hear as a voice.
Here’s what a cross section of the vocal cords look like in chest voice:
And it is this part of Lady Gaga’s voice that is responsible for her tremendous power.
Let me explain:
Imagine that the singing voice is built like a house.
If the foundation is strong, then the floors, walls and framing (as long as they’re built correctly) will also be strong.
The vocal registers, or ranges where a person singers, act the same way.
In most cases, people sing in two registers: the chest voice and the head voice.
Since the chest voice is the lower register, if it is strong, the head voice is usually strong also.
However, if the chest voice is light or breathy, the voice will often get shakier as you sing upwards.
This may result in a vocal crack or strain.
Think of the crack you hear in a 12-year-old boy’s speaking voice.
But when used correctly, the chest voice register can act as a stabilizing force for the entire vocal range.
And that’s what everyone hears in Gaga’s voice.
Even on her lowest notes, Gaga has a beautiful and easy, spoken sound to her singing.
A good example is the second verse of her duet with Bradley Cooper “Shallow” from “A Star is Born”.
Listen from “Tell me something boy…”.
Do you hear how all of her low notes are rich and full?
There’s not a trace of breathiness or strain in them, even when she’s singing quietly.
That’s Lady Gaga’s chest voice.
And more importantly, it’s her secret for phenomenal vocals.
Just like the house analogy, since Gaga has worked so hard on strengthening the bottom part of her voice, she is able to belt across her entire range.
You can hear how she can belt those high notes in the chorus of “Shallow” starting from “I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in”.
The bottom line is this:
It doesn’t matter whether she’s singing low notes or high notes, her entire vocal range has a strong and consistent tone.
And for us as an audience, that strong sound is incredibly exciting.
But don’t let her performance fool you.
Even though those high notes sound easy, it takes a lot of work to strengthen a vocalist’s range.
Here’s a quick video where I talk about the common timeline for a good vocalist:
That’s because it’s too easy to do it incorrectly and strain.
That strain can lead to flat notes or even hoarseness; neither of which will snare you a Golden Globe.
Instead, learning to balance the different vocal registers is the secret to Lady Gaga’s beautiful strong tone.
And singing with chest voice is the first step.
As for me, as a singing teacher, I can’t tell you how happy I am for Gaga’s big win.
Of course her acting and the story she embodies as a rising star are captivating and whimsical.
But I’m also glad that her voice will be the one taking the spotlight at the beginning of this year.
My studio is already full of singers who want to find the best way to get the same belty sound Gaga achieves so easily.
And as she continues to make chest voice fashionable, I hope that more vocalists will be inspired to find and strengthen their voices and improve their singing.
By the way, if you want a complete singing course that will teach you to belt correctly, check out my vocal program Master Your Voice here.