Falsettophobia

fearThere are singers and teachers who say “Men sing in chest voice throughout their whole range. They do not use falsetto in performance”. Oh boy. I look up performance clips of the person making that claim, and see how their statement relates to the recordings. These singers usually sing with considerable strain and lack of dynamic skill in their upper ranges.

In my experience, the whole voice benefits from a variety of exercise, and there is much value in giving the TA team* a rest while exercising the CT team*. You can label the isolated use of the CTs falsetto, head, heady-head, loft, whoop, or summoning the fairies. Whatever you call it or don’t call it, being able to go forte to piano throughout most of your range means you must exercise something besides manly hollering. If I have a student who hates the word “falsetto” (rare), then I don’t use the word out loud. Then I proceed to use the The Thing Which Shan’t Be Named with all the low voices (bass, baritone, tenor) in every lesson – uncoordinated, broken, “useless” falsetto, followed by various more coordinated versions. This kind of work gives more options to the chest-dominated sounds that are the norm for low voices. If you leave (what I call) falsetto out of training, you leave so much functional possibility on the table.

Regardless of feelings about the TWSBN, we also work on messa di voce exercises, which they need to figure out in their own throats. The laws of physics are pretty clear here. You won’t sing high, dynamically, and free without doing something other than “lock and load”. So we do the exercises, things get better, and the singer may label it however they want.

When we sing exercises to explore the stretch of the folds, I may start with something like 8-5-3-1 on the syllable /wi/ (“wee”) starting on B4. Then we might repeat it down lower and lower. The singer often asks “Should that be in falsetto?” somewhere in this exercise. My answer has come to be “let it go wherever it wants to go”. And we just work with it, often without a label. The end goal is always integration, transition, and usability of the whole voice, but the training steps to get there require the exploration of many different ways of vocalizing. No need to scare anyone with such a terrifying concept as “falsetto” if falsettophobia is part of their diagnosis.

*TA team = thyroarytenoid muscles and their neighbors (the closers and thickeners) and CT team = cricothyroid muscles and their neighbors (the stretchers and thinners)

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