On a singers board recently, my advice to a tenor with squeezing and pushing problems that he needs to work with falsetto exercises has met with a lot of resistance. What I heard from a couple of other tenors (I am also a tenor) was that they found no use for falsetto exercises and that they developed their head voice without them. One called falsetto a “dead end”. Apparently he was making falsetto sounds without any idea of their purpose in the big picture. After several more anti-falsetto posts, I realized that in these cases, there had been no explanation of what training purpose falsetto vocalizing can serve.
To give a little bit of context, I’d say that my work with falsetto exercises comprises about 2 minutes of a typical male’s voice lesson, and is followed up by coordinative (full-voice) exercises.
“What does falsetto contribute if we don’t actually perform with it?” is the question. The cricothyroid group of muscles (CTs) which stretch the folds to create pitch are easily overpowered by the thyroarytenoid group (TAs) which bring the folds together to make the “full voice” sound, especially in men. A separated, uncoordinated, operatically-useless falsetto allows pitch-making to happen without stress. With the TAs out of the way, the CTs are able to contract and release without interference. We thus send signals to the body that pitch-making is a function of the voice that CAN happen without force.
Look at sprinters getting ready to start a race. So many rituals of stretching, loosening, setting their feet and arms just so – they don’t run with stretching and loosening movements, but they feel that those help them with “the real deal”. Falsetto and lip trills are like that – two of many possible types of vocal activities that are used for training, and not used for performance.
I was in a dressing room once with another tenor who was making awful sounds. I asked him what he was doing and he said “It’s a falsetto warmup from Cornelius Reid”. It was nothing like the falsetto exercises I learned from a Reid teacher, and he had no idea what to do with it. There are a lot of flavors of falsetto. The ones that help open the throat and lead to easier pitch-making in real, full-voiced singing have to be demonstrated, and the student and teacher have to understand why they’re doing it, or they shouldn’t do it.