What is Falsetto?
Falsetto is a type of singing technique which is generally used above the range of the normal voice. Without getting too technical, it involves only the edges of the vocal chords vibrating, whereas in ‘normal’ singing, the whole vocal chord vibrates. There are no overtones, leading to a kind of pure, flute-like sound. Check out the Wikipedia article out for a really scientific, in-depth description that you won’t understand unless you have a degree in biology.
What’s the big deal about Falsetto?
Falsetto is cool. Why? It comes down to the uniqueness of falsetto. It is high pitched, and generally less forté (volume) than full voice. Falsetto brings an incredible color the palette of your vocal expression. It’s a way of adding variety to a phrase in a song. Falsetto can also be a great way to end a song softly. It’s an alternative to ending on a high note in full voice.
As a vocal tool, it can be used when you need a break from full voice if you are struggling with stamina. For a male singer, falsetto is super useful. Female singers also can use it, though it is a matter of debate if this truly is classified as falsetto. Either way, the difference in color and tone is arguably way more pronounced in a male singer.
For some singers, like Justin Timberlake or Chris Martin, falsetto has become part of their signature style. Almost every note above a certain pitch is falsetto. For these singers, falsetto is not just a color, but a core part of their singing. No one is saying you need to embrace it to that extent, but learning how to use if effectively is important for a complete vocalist.
How to experience Falsetto
1. Pick a song. Any song that has chorus/high part.
2. Sing the song through once
3. Sing it again, but when you reach for support for the highest notes, let your support give way so that less air passes through your vocal folds.
4. If done right and you still phonate (make sound), you should hear a soft, thin sound. This is falsetto.
5. Listen to this example:
Happy Birthday in full/regular voice:
Happy Birthday with the falsetto Switch, as described in point 3 above:
The difference between Head Voice & Falsetto
Head Voice is often confused with Falsetto. Newsflash: There is no such separate category of voice called Head Voice. Head Voice just refers to normal voice that has an abundance of resonance in the cavities of the head. Further reading: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_voice. Falsetto is achieved using a totally different part of the vocal folds. It is independent of the amount of resonance.
The difference between ‘Mixed Voice’ & Falsetto
Mixed Voice is a term that is used by those who assume that the normal voice is divided into 2 distinct types: Chest Voice and Head Voice. The reality is that there is no such distinction! There is always an amount of resonance that can be felt both in the chest and head, at whatever pitch. Arguably, there is some variance in the proportions of head and chest resonance, which leads to this misconception.
What do I mean? Basically, above certain notes, it is considered mixed voice. Below certain notes, it is considered chest voice. This is simply not true! Try singing any low note and touching the cavities under your cheek bones. If you stop and start singing, you will feel the vibrations stop and start! Same thing with the higher pitches. Sing a G4. Keep your hand on your chest area. Sing. Stop singing. Guess What? The vibrations start and stop.
So, to summarize, your voice is always a ‘mixed voice’ – at whatever pitch. We must not compartmentalize the voice into different ‘rooms’ that require different techniques or approaches. The best singers make it sound like they have one voice, all the way up and down the registers.
Myth 1: Falsetto is only high-pitched:
Fact: The magic word is generally. It can also be sung much in a much lower register, for a certain type of effect.
Myth 2: Falsetto is only a soft and thin sound.
Fact: Not true, it can vary in volume and quality – there is a dynamic element to a trained falsetto voice.
Alright, here we go:
Falsetto can certainly be high – the highest note here is G#5:
But…It can also go pretty low -this scale goes from F#4 -> F#3:
Falsetto can certainly be soft, the last recording got really soft. But it can also be insanely loud/forté when needed. Check out this falsetto version of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ which has a lot of dynamic elements in volume, tone and expression.
Final Words (For now…)
This post is a brief intro into the possibilities of falsetto and it’s unique offerings. We’ll cover some more techniques and exercises in a future post and in particular how you can develop it as a vocal tool.
Did falsetto come naturally to you or did you have to work on it? Do you use it a lot in your songs or performances? Whatever your experiences or opinions, we’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below!Follow Me!
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