The Pedagogical Value of Falsetto
Le falsetto et sa valeur pédagogique

© John Moody 1998

[Re: The Pedagogical Value of Falsetto]

Robert Petillo wrote:

« I propose that we begin a new thread on the falsetto sound and its pedagogical value. We should examine such things as :
# The physiological basis of the falsetto sound, as contrasted with the normal voice, and its acoustical signature. »

I view the falsetto as the lightest form of the upper register. I don't know what you mean by the "normal" voice. I think that well-produced voices have elements of both the upper and lower registers in every tone. A falsetto tone seems very light and not capable of much projection. In a well-produced voice the lower register contributes a sense of power and ring to the tone while the falsetto element maintains the fluid sense of "singing" in the tone. Another option is a voice using solely the lower register. This sound is often "thick" and forced sounding. However, some people associate the "natural" voice as the same as that using only the lower register.

« # The differences between falsetto sound in male vs. female voices. »

It is much easier for females to get a blended tone since their lower register is not as low and thick as a male's lower register. Also, they have essentially the same mechanism to deal with from childhood to adulthood, whereas the male voice's lower register drops drastically during puberty. I think it is possible for females to get a falsetto, but they should focus on very soft pitches on an "u" vowel and above the note E4 [mi3 en français] to get this sound.

« # The perceived pedagogical value, if any, of falsetto in teaching. »

In my opinion it is essential. Any healthy forte should have the capability of diminuendoing down to a soft falsetto sound. The falsetto should be "streched" down in the range until it totally overlaps the notes of the lower register. The lower register should be "added" to the tone by crescendoing. In my opinion almost every world-class male singer exhibits the falsetto in their tone when they sing soft notes, or when they perform decrescendos. I hear a falsetto-dominated tone OFTEN with Pavarotti. Of course some people say that it is not really falsetto. Well, of course not! He has totally blended his registers. Even his softest notes have a little bit of the lower register in them, and his loudest notes have a little bit of the upper register in them. However, listening to many of his soft notes with the idea that maybe that sound is more related to falsetto than chest voice could be beneficial for a student trying to figure out how to blend the registers.

« It has been my experience that the male falsetto is such a marked contrast to normal male vocal production that it prompts a lot of questions from female pedagogy students and teachers-to-be, and sometimes from experienced female teachers as well. »

I agree. A guy singing in falsetto sounds very different from a trained male voice, but so does an untrained female sound different from a trained female voice. Often untrained girl's voices are very light, breathy and seemingly unuseable. Girls are told to continue working on this light sound, however, and eventually they find ways to add more power. By all means they are told never to switch to their talking voice - which really isn't singing. Males are told just the opposite. They are usually told never to use this light sound - and sure enough - without use it stays light and incapable of blending. We are often encouraged to keep on singing higher in the scale using our lower registers to notes way higher than E4 [mi3 en français], while girls are told to stay in their head voices down low in their range and that singing higher than an E4 in their chest voice would be damaging. Upon reflection this seems incomprehensible, yet it is done all the time.

I was a boy soprano. My soprano voice turned into my falsetto. I was told not to use it and as a result many problems surfaced. The problem is that the female range is mainly in the realm of the upper register so it is easy to hear the upper register quality in most well-managed voices. The male range however is mainly in the realm of the lower register so it is easiest to hear the lower register quality in most notes. The well trained male voice blends both registers, however, just like a female singer. I think female singers hear that a male voice sounds like it is dominated by the lower register, so when they train male singers they go after that sound. Some males seem to have naturally blended registers, so the training is not a problem - but others go after the sound of their unblended lower register. They naturally have a lot of problems from an F4 [fa3 en français] on up, but they think that maybe their voice will "stretch" with age. Working on bringing the falsetto down is usually not an option because it doesn't even sound like a male singer. Would a female teacher ever let a female student use their chest voice from an F4 on up? Of course not. Why is this often accepted with male students?

John Moody

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