Girls, you may be wondering about yourselves, but given that the term ‘falsetto’ is generally applied to men (women are usually thought of as utilizing ‘head voice’), this article will be male-focused. Much of the information, though, is true of both genders.
What is Falsetto?
Falsetto, meaning ‘false voice’ is the higher pitched, often airier and less focused area of a male singing voice. It is sometimes differentiated from ‘head voice’ but this is a somewhat semantic distinction that for the sake of simplicity will be ignored here. The terms ‘head voice’ and ‘falsetto’ will be used interchangeably. Head voice is the male equivalent to the range women usually utilize in classical music, the primary difference being that a woman’s head voice comprises a greater percentage of her vocal range than a man’s.
When we sing, our vocal folds vibrate (hopefully if you’re reading an article on falsetto, you already know this). In head voice/falsetto, the type of vibration is different from ‘chest voice’ (essentially our speech register). It is a lighter mode of vibration that allows phonation with less contact of the vocal folds. Fundamentally, with any contact of the vocal folds, some amount of tissue damage occurs. Usually, it isn’t a great deal of damage, but given that relationship, the goal is to produce the desired sound with the least* amount of contact. Thus, on a very general level, less contact results in less damage.
*This is not exactly true on a deeper technical level. However, it is much more common to have too much contact of the vocal folds than too little, and so for clarity’s sake, we will assume this to generally be the case.
If you have never used falsetto before, it may be a little confusing figuring out how to ‘get there,’ and when you have done so, you may have no idea how to return. In the simplest terms, head voice feels different than chest voice. If you count to ten in your chest voice, regardless how loudly, softly, high pitched or low pitched you do so, it has a vaguely familiar feeling to it. Head voice, on the other hand, feels completely foreign if you have never spent any amount of time up there. Generally, something spoken or sung in head voice will be at a higher pitch than your speaking voice. I associate the feeling of accessing head voice with leaping over a wall. There is some amount of work to get there, but once you’re on the other side, things are easy again. Some familiar examples of male head voice include Mickey Mouse, Mr. Hanky from South Park, and Miss Piggy. As silly as it may feel, doing even reasonably accurate imitations of these characters should lead you in the direction of your falsetto.
Another approach is to slide on a very breathy /u/ vowel (‘oo’) from the bottom of your range to the highest you can go without allowing the sound to get heavier or the breath to decrease as you ascend. This should lead you through your passaggio (break) and into your head voice.
Once you have achieved access to your head voice, practice finding that access. Like any other portion of the voice, accessing and utilizing your falsetto requires practice. It is unreasonable to go to the gym for two months, bench-press a personal record, and expect to do it next year if you stop working out. In the same way, you cannot expect to use your falsetto once and have continued access and control over it forever more.
Upon first exercising your head voice, it will likely be light, airy, and not particularly useful. As with any muscular coordination, with practice and perseverance, it will become stronger, easier, and more concentrated. In order to incorporate your falsetto into songs and performance, work with an experienced teacher. This will help you learn when and how to more effectively apply this tool to your singing. Happy practicing!