Can I develop high notes from falsetto?
© Michael Gordon 1997
[Re: A tenor's high notes (4)]
*** CAN I DEVELOP HIGH NOTES FROM FALSETTO? ***
The answer depends on your point of view. Certainly a well developed falsetto can continue to sound like a well developed falsetto and not the full-voice tenor sound many aspire to. But let me restate the question somewhat: is exercising the falsetto voice useful? I would say yes. I feel that some use of the falsetto voice is useful, especially for developing male voices. I practiced falsetto alot and used to hoot away as a barbershop tenor and probably benefited from it. Our resident Heldentenor Graham Sanders stated that "the falsetto voice is not very useful to a tenor" yet Graham sung extensively as a countertenor before developing his tenor voice, and I believe he once attributed his becoming a (helden) tenor at least in part to this prior falsetto vocal development. I particularly like doing a few descending slides starting say at about tenor high C (C5) on "ooh" and getting the feel of an easy light high sound and then repeating this kind of exercise with my full/coordinated/continuous voice. In my opinion a more advanced singer will have little need to practice the falsetto voice (falsettist countertenors excepted of course).
The premise behind the falsetto advocates certainly has merit, but there is a chicken and egg problem here which I would like to discuss. Here is my simplification of the theory: suppose we assume that males have trouble singing high notes because the muscles required to sing high notes are weak. That is: if we imagine that there are two mechanisms (heavy and light) for singing, the heavy mechanism is presumed to use different muscles than the light mechanism, and the heavy mechanism is presumed to be exercised just by speech so it is naturally developed for most males. So the theory goes that the obvious solution is to exercise the weak mechanism by itself until the muscles are stronger, and then the weak mechanism can work together with the heavy mechanism. So if falsetto uses the muscles of the light mechanism, than exercising the falsetto makes the light mechanism stronger. Tah dah - practice falsetto and soon you will be Pavarotti.
Not quite. There are two basic problems with the theory: 1) very important point number one: a well developed falsetto sounds like a well developed falsetto, not Pavarotti. 2) the coordination of the light mechanism with the heavy mechanism does not get solved merely by having strong muscles, and the coordination problem can be described as the cause of the weak muscles, not necessarily the other way around.
Said another way: which comes first: muscle strength or intention and coordination? "Head voice" or light mechanism muscles are weak because of how the voice is used - and the voice is used according to the kinds of sounds we try to produce not just in high pitch ranges, but also in medium pitch ranges. So to turn the problem around, the answer lies not merely in developing muscles so that they can be coordinated differently, but in wanting to produce a kind of sound which coordinates muscles differently. And the wanting to produce the right kinds of sounds leads to an approach discussed in my next post: the idea of getting "headiness" into the tone is not something that happens say starting at f4 (just above middle c) for tenors: the quality of the lighter "voice" must be made part of the vocal sound at much lower pitches.
So the intention must come first I think: you cannot expect to feel the same richness of sound in your high notes that you feel in your lower notes. If the intention is to hold onto that richness, no amount of "head voice muscle development" will solve the problem. The muscles that produce "head voice" can be exercised even without singing high, and learning to produce a sound in the middle of the voice with a "heady" quality does not require a perfect vocal technique - the difficulty is learning what it should sound and feel like when you sing correctly.
I repeat because this is so very important: to learn to sing higher, we must "let go" of the sensation and the richness that we experience in lower pitch ranges - that is hard to learn. One reason that many males have trouble singing with a nice quality much above their lower middle range is that they tense and raise the position of the larynx - and with good reason - raising the larynx allows us to fool ourselves by singing higher before "letting go" of certain resonances - by changing the dimensions of the voice box (raising the larynx) we raise the pitch of certain resonance frequencies so that they continue to be excited even as we sing higher.