Matthew Edwards

Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: The benefits of using falsetto when teaching men

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Adduction 2.gifWhen I began studying voice, I spent years of lessons focusing primarily on bringing my mix into the upper range. I had good results with this approach and over the course of several years my high notes got better and my upper range increased from a D4 to F4. However, topping out at F4 limited me from many roles and I knew I needed to find at least a G4 in my voice to be marketable. Eventually I worked with a teacher who insisted that I spend a lot of time in my falsetto to lighten my approach to high notes and relax my throat. It seemed weird, but he insisted that it would produce results where taking the mix up had failed. I embraced the new approach and quickly noticed a change. My high notes became less effortful and my range expanded. Within a few months I finally had a G4 and eventually I had a Bb4 and sometimes even a C5 (as a low baritone)! I was also able to bring the same sensations of freedom that I felt in falsetto into the rest of my voice. As I began to study vocal function, the reasons for this success became clear.

Vocal ligament.jpgThere is a ligament that runs through the thyroarytenoid muscle. Just like the rest of the muscles and ligaments in our body, the vocalis muscle and vocal ligament can become tight if not stretched frequently. If they become tight, it becomes difficult for the vocal folds to stretch and for the singer to reach their high notes with ease. When singing in falsetto, the vocal folds are lengthened and the muscle fibers and ligament are stretched. These leads to improvements in the upper range of the voice.

In regard to releasing throat constriction, when singing in mix the body engages multiple muscles to firmly close the vocal folds. Many developing singers will engage their constrictor muscles to help improve adduction. While it will indeed produce results, it will also create constriction that can lead to fatigue, loss of high notes, and in some cases vocal pathology. When singing in falsetto, the vocal folds cannot be adducted firmly. Therefore the constrictor muscles release and the vocal folds will usually vibrate more freely than in chest or mix.

ConstrictorsIn order for a stretch to be effective, it needs to be held for at least fifteen seconds. I apply
this in the voice studio by having my male singers sustain pitches in falsetto beginning at A4 and ascending as high as comfortable. The student should hold the pitch for at least fifteen seconds. If they cannot, I have them stop when necessary, inhale while thinking of the pitch, and then reinitiate. The tone should have a lot of exhale in it (flow phonation) and should be free of constriction. After the series of sustained pitches, I have the student sing a 5-4-3-2-1 pattern on /u/ making sure there is plenty of airflow and the constrictor muscles are not engaging. I descend as low as possible with falsetto and then switch to a piano or mezzo-piano in chest mix and take that up on a 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 pattern. As the student ascends in chest-mix, I ask them to recall the freedom of falsetto and maintain that freedom in their mix. If they get stuck, we go back to falsetto so they can experience a relaxed throat again, and then we switch back to chest-mix and try to find the same freedom. When we are working on a song, I will also return to falsetto from time to time as a way to remind the student that they can make sound without tightening the throat.

Do you have other ways to utilize falsetto in your work with male students? If so, please feel free to leave a comment below. If you are not already following the blog, you can enter your email address on the bottom right of this page to receive a message every time there is a new post. As always, thank you for reading!

Matt

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15 comments on “Mix it up Monday: The benefits of using falsetto when teaching men

  1. Dr Daniel K. Robinson
    May 22, 2017

    Another great post Matt. I think the implication of the vocal fold ligament is often over-looked…but not in this post! Nice.

  2. Shellie DeBruyn
    May 23, 2017

    Great Post! Although I use falsetto exercises with my male students, I hadn’t thought of having them sustain pitches to stretch the muscle, which is embarrassing because I am a yoga instructor. I am now wondering if it would be helpful to hold a stretch longer to affect the fascia tissue. It takes 90 seconds for fascia tissue to be stretched. This connective tissue encapsulates all of our muscles and can sometimes hold the muscle in place even if we stretch them when a particular area of the body is exceptionally tight. A ligament also requires longer periods of stretch than does a muscle. I obviously wouldn’t want students to sustain a pitch for 90 seconds, but maybe pre-phonatory tuning can be utilized while the student “thinks” the pitch for 90 seconds, breathing when needed? So- stretching without phonation for a longer period, then adding the phonation for smaller stints. Maybe this would be useful for people who have particular difficulty/stiffness in the larynx? This is a fascinating subject!

    • Matthew Edwards
      May 30, 2017

      Shellie: Great points! I also wonder how effective thinking the pitch would be. I have seen a strobe where the singer was asked to think the pitch first and the mechanism immediately stretched into position. So I would think in theory it could work. What I often do is have the student breathe when necessary while thinking of the pitch and then reinitiate. Its not perfect, but it is better than getting only 10-15 seconds. I never thought of the yoga connection…now I have more reading to do 🙂 Thanks for chiming in! ~ Matt

  3. Interesting! You could use this with female students too, right? Who has lost some of their upper range, due to belting for longer periods?

    • Matthew Edwards
      May 30, 2017

      Absolutely. It is critical for belters to keep their head voice active. It doesn’t have to be pretty, they just have to use it to keep the vocal folds from getting tight.

  4. Sonia
    May 23, 2017

    I use also that kind of “training falsetto” (as I used to call it) to … strengthen the upper range… also the more aggressive singing the more falsetto warmups … once the singers are warmed-up enough in this way, the power may be added (but not before). My singers are also thankful and call after the concerts just to say: “thank you, in spite of some strange grits I did on the stage my voice is not tired” .. (on a stage we are never 100% correct :), you know that 🙂 ). I really do understand the importance of good warmup … also as ex dancer and yoga teacher… anything we do with our body, including using our larynx muscles is about finding right muscles tone (tonus)… and light, right warmup is a base on it…

    • Sonia Lachowolska
      May 23, 2017

      I forgot to put my FB 🙂

  5. Kate Baker
    May 25, 2017

    Yes matt this is so true. I Also work crescendo and decrescendo on one note in falsetto. I start at 3 different pitches and use a few different vowels. Then also use falsetto and blend the vowels together. Works like a charm. there are a few more details on how I do it but it makes a big difference. I also get them starting in falsetto into real on the same pitch.

    • Kate Baker
      May 25, 2017

      Oh also take as low as you can in falsetto first, then do again bringing in real……the falsetto gives the flexibility….

  6. Cathy Harris
    May 26, 2017

    Thank you for posting this. I am not teaching many males right now, but have in the past and have always felt it is very important to engage the falsetto.

  7. krisanneweiss
    May 27, 2017

    This is really helpful–thanks for posting. I have always worked falsetto with male students just on the intuition that it gives them a different physical perspective on high notes in modal voice and the belief that we should explore our full voices–so I’m glad to have my intuition substantiated by actual science. I have had a number of 13-15 year old boys in my studio the last few years and have worked with them through their voice transitions–I’m thinking specifically of one whose primary interest is heavy metal, one who is into musical theater, and another who grew up in pre-professional boychoirs and likes classical rep. For all of them, I have used exercises that pop in and out of falsetto–e.g., an octave leaping “ya-hoo” that starts in modal voice and flips up. For all three, this kind of work has improved their kinesthetic sense of pitch as their voices continue to shift, and has normalized high singing. This has been especially useful for the heavy metal kid, who has kept a huge falsetto range that he really needs for the type of music he’s into!

    • Matthew Edwards
      May 30, 2017

      The flip is a great idea for the changing voice! Thanks for sharing. ~ Matt

  8. Joanne Abrom
    May 28, 2017

    Thank you!

  9. Pingback: ASK MTR: “I’m a soprano. Will working on ‘chest voice’ hurt my high notes?” – Musical Theatre Resources

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This entry was posted on May 22, 2017 by in Misc. Thoughts.

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