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Falsetto

“Falsetto”

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 23, 2004):
< The term possibly could refer to falsetto voice which being falsetto can never be as full sounding as the natural voice. >
Isn't it true that half the people on this planet (i.e. women) sing in "falsetto" or "head voice" most of the time? That's where all the high notes come from, and it's no less "natural" than chest voice is; we're all born with it. Yes?

Professional and amateur singers here can and probably should say more about this (as I hope I haven't grossly oversimplified things), but that's at least what I was taught in voice lessons, choir, while accompanying other people's voice lessons (listening to all levels of students). The teacher works with the student to improve the blending of chest voice and head voice, minimizing the natural break between them such that either part of the voice can make a pleasing tone across the break, and be "full sounding".

The word "falsetto" is a misnomer, as there's nothing really false about it at all; it's something given to all human beings who can utter sounds. It only seems abnormal, maybe, because people tend to speak in chest voice most of the time instead of in head voice; but women regularly sing in head voice most of the time.

The ability to produce such a full sound in both head and chest voice, either separately or blended, is a matter of vocal technique; and has little to do one way or another with musical interpretation which is the artistic deployment of whatever sounds the musician is able to produce, according to taste and the style of the music.

The fact that, say, Mandy Patinkin, Ruth Holton, Sylvia McNair, and the late Alfred Deller all spend most of their singing time in head voice (an artistic choice agreeing with the music of their repertoire) doesn't make them any less of anything, or any "half" of anything; it just means they're sensitive musicians using their voices in service of the music they've chosen to sing. The fact that bass singers spend almost all their time in chest voice, ditto: again deploying their voices sensitively in service of the music they've chosen to sing. My voice teacher was (still is) a professional baritone and an excellent choir director; there's nothing "half" about the man even though in his own performances he uses chest voice most of the time.

I'm certainly no great singer of any solo caliber, but my chest voice has low E (bottom of bass staff) to G# above middle C; and my head voice from F below middle C to F at the top of the treble staff. Three octaves in total, basically, with the option of using either head or chest voice (or a blend) anywhere in the middle, from training. Notes are deployed according to the music to be performed, with sensitive musical phrasing and according to the meaning of the words. I don't see anything unnatural or "false" about this. Again, I'd like to hear further comment by better singers here who have studied this more extensively, in practice.

Anna Vriend wrote (June 23, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman]
MY COMMENTS:

As an amateur singer who has had singing lessons, and sung in various choirs in various countries for which mostly auditions were required, I agree with this. Generally, perfection of vocal technique goes hand in hand with extension of the range.

I myself started as a shy 2nd alto, and am now (years later) comfortably singing 1st soprano in choirs and also in solo parts. Blending of the registers of head voice and chest voice in a way has restricted my voice in the lower range, but extended my voice in the higher range. When I was singing alto I could reach an F (or so) under middle C with chest voice; now with blending of registers, I find a middle C low, and I certainly could not sing any lower. While I suppose I still have those low notes in chest voice, I am not using them (and I don't want to either, it upsets my voice). In my choir in Italy, we were really learning to sing looking for this mixture of both registers as described by Tosi. I cannot remember ever having had to use only head voice.

For those interested who can read (old) Italian, here is what Tosi says: It is beautiful!

Anna Vriend

===========
Fra le maggiori diligenze del Maestro una ne richiede la voce dello Scolaro, la quale, ò sia di petto, ò di testa deve uscir limpida, e chiara senza che passi per naso, nè in gola [-14-] si affoghi, che sono due difetti i più orribili d' un Cantore, e senza rimedio, quando han preso possesso.

La poca pratica di taluno, che insegna di solfeggiare obbliga chi studia a sostener le semibrevi con voce sforzata di petto su le corde più acute, e finalmente ne siegue, che di giorno in giorno le fauci sempre più s' infiammano, e se lo Scolaro non perde la salute perde il Soprano.

Molti Maestri fanno cantare il Contralto a' loro Discepoli per non sapere in essi trovar il falsetto, o per isfuggire la fatica di cercarlo.

Un diligente Istruttore sapendo, che un Soprano senza falsetto bisogna, che canti fra l' angustie di poche corde non solamente proccura d' acquistarglielo, ma non lascia modo intentato acciò lo unisca alla voce di petto in forma, che non si distingua l' uno dall' altra, che se l' unione non è perfetta, la voce sarà di più registri, e conseguentemente perderà la sua bellezza. La giurisdizione della voce naturale, o di petto termina ordinariamente sul quarto spazio, o sulla quinta riga, ed ivi principia il dominio del falsetto si nello ascendere alle note alte, che nel ritornare alla voce naturale ove consiste la difficoltà dell' unione; Consideri dunque il [-15-] Maestro di qual peso sia la correzione di quel difetto, che porta seco la rovina dello Scolaro se la trascura. Nelle Femmine, che cantano il Soprano sentesi qualche volta una voce tutta di petto, nè Maschj però sarebbe rarità se la conservassero passata, che abbiano l' età puerile. Chi fosse curioso di scoprire il falsetto in chi lo sa nascondere badi, che chiunque se ne serve esprime su gli acuti la vocale i con più vigore, e meno fatica dell' a.

La voce di testa è facile al moto, possiede le corde superiori più che le inferiori, ha il trillo pronto, ma è soggetta a perdersi per non aver forza, che la regga.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 24, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < Isn't it true that half the people on this planet (i.e. women) sing in "falsetto" or "head voice" most of the time? That's where all the high notes come from, and it's no less "natural" than chest voice is; we're all born with it. Yes? >
Not quite. There is supposed to be resonance in the sinuses while singing in any register, as far as I know, but 'head voice' refers only to the high register in women, that is, theoretically, from F at the top of the treble staff upwards for sopranos, from F# for lower voices (and some of us can even shift our 'breaks' from E-F to F-F#, depending on whether we are singing soprano or alto at a given time). I would not say that even a very high soprano spends most of her time in the range above that break! (Though one might question that if one heard the sopranos working on their voices in the practice rooms at a conservatory ;-) ).

The middle register (i.e. something between head and chest) in women extends from somewhere at the top of the treble staff down to, say, 'middle C#' or D. Voice teachers often encourage sopranos to stay out of the chest register entirely, even for notes lower than that, say, down to A or A-flat.

My last voice teacher, for example, forbade me to sing below middle C while I was studying with him, ostensibly to avoid stretching out my vocal cords, but also I think to 'turn off' my chest register. It seems, from experience, that the possession (and use) of an extensive chest register does add an oddly 'dark' tone quality to the whole voice, even when one is singing 'lightly' or 'brightly' - the result being that the voice is both light and dark simultaneously.

Personally, I think this is more interesting, so I now allow myself to sing up to high C and down to E below middle C (sometimes even lower) while warming up - indeed, I even really use all of that in the stuff I sing (not all of it in every piece, although now that think of it, in the aria 'Cosi ognor' from 'Cosi fan tutte', there is a place where one can add a couple of cadenzas, and I do, and then yes, I really DO use all of that and more! Won't probably be doing that in public (in case anyone is worried ;-) ), since I in general choose not to sing opera for personal reasons - but there are a few arias I sometimes use to work on my voice).

All that having been said, I am told that not only basses, but even tenors normally spend all their time in the chest register, even on their very highest notes, which is unnatural physiologically speaking – singing anything much above middle C in the chest is 'unnatural' - which is why it takes twice as long to train a tenor as to train a soprano. There are also a very few women for whom it is more natural to sing everything in the chest register. And there are some who can purposely stay in the chest register when they wouldn't otherwise (e.g. yours truly when singing tenor arias in their proper octave).

I guess this ought to give you an idea of what can be done with a female voice, and (physiologically speaking) where.

 

FALSETTO

Piet Van Allen [SFOpera chorus, Opera San Jose, etc] wrote (November 26, 2005):
Head voice is distinct from falsetto, in two ways.

Women are not believed to have a falsetto, although Cleo Lane, et al, may give lie to that. Men singing falsetto sound like children or women.

Women and men BOTH have a head voice, which is their highest natural adult-sounding register. It is so named because the sympathetic vibrations in the head seem to predominate, and the chest vibrations seem to disappear. Intermediate nates seem to combine varying percentages.

Women (and men) don't always sing in head voice. Many pop or untrained voices erroneously restrict themselves to chest voice, thinking the other doesn't exist, or has an odd quality greatly divergent from the chest voice. This is due to the highly subjective impression a person gets of their own voice, since it is made in their own body, and heard mainly by bone conduction, or enough to make objectivity impossible.

 

falsetto

Eberhard Storz [A professional singer for more than 45 years of career] wrote (March 16, 2006):
Hello, just one remark about the quality of falsetto: the first "do di petto" has been sung in 1831. Before that all strong high notes ( acuti) were sung in "falsettone" which means strong falsetto. Its rather funny that everybody is using "original" barock instrument now, but nobody takes care of this fact of "vocal idendity"

 

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Last update: ýMarch 20, 2006 ý23:32:21