One of the hardest things about learning a new skill is the emotional aspect of feeling discouraged. Learning anything new is challenging, but singing is a skill that you can’t learn through seeing or touching it. And that can be very discouraging.
In voice lessons, discouragement could come from feeling that you didn’t practice as well as you could, or that your singing in the studio is different from your singing at home. It could mean that you’re having an off week and that note at the top of your voice that was so easy before isn’t anymore. And for beginning singers, there is a lot of feeling discouraged when talking about new concepts in the voice.
But the tricky thing about feeling discouraged is that it’s the essential ingredient to your success.
While discouragement may hurt in the short term, it pays off big time in the long run. Let’s talk about why discouragement is so important to your development and discuss 5 different tricks to handle the emotions of learning a new skill.
For centuries, there has been confusion about the terms head voice and falsetto. And it’s for good reason: these words are very confusing and lead singers to believe things are happening outside of their voice.
With the help of modern science, we know that in head voice, the voice is not really coming from the top of the head. And falsetto is not actually false; it’s actually a very real and useful sound.
So let’s talk about the difference between the falsetto and head voice and more importantly, learn how to use them in singing.
Head Voice vs Falsetto: What’s the Difference?
I’m fond of saying that for every voice teacher, there is a different vocal technique. And when we’re talking about how to sing using falsetto, different vocal techniques label things differently.
This creates confusion in the student and they begin to mislabel what’s really happening in the voice.
Such differences in definitions of the falsetto voice and head voice are bound to become a stumbling block for a beginning singer. So here’s the clearest explanation of the difference between head voice and falsetto that I have found.
Falsetto Voice Definition
Falsetto is a mode of singing that’s characterized by a breathy, flutey and hollow sounding tone. It’s usually found in the upper registers of male and female singers.
We’ve all heard someone sing in falsetto voice at some point in our lives. Some of the time, the breathy quality of falsetto is used for effect to sound otherworldly and beautiful or young.
Some of my favorite singers have used falsetto for effect.
Other times, falsetto is the result of the voice breaking that is completely undesired.
We’ve all heard this too. The voice cracks as it is rising and a breathy, flutey quality is all we hear, usually with a drop in volume.
But in order to completely understand how the voice disconnects falsetto, we need to talk about what’s happening in falsetto voice in the vocal mechanism.
The Mechanics of Falsetto Voice
When we sing, the vocal folds (or cords) are coming together to vibrate. This vibration is caused by resistance to the air coming from your lungs. This vibration is rich in harmonic frequencies and creates the raw material of singing.
There are 3 modes in which the vocal folds can resist air from the lungs and they result in 3 different sounds.
Pressed Phonation – Pressed phonation is when there is an excessive amount of resistance to air at the vocal fold level. Since the cords are pushing hard against the air from your lungs, the resulting sound is “pressed” with a bright metallic tone.
Breathy Phonation – Breathy phonation is a mode where there is a lack of resistance to air flow at the vocal folds. Since the vocal cords aren’t pushing to resist the air, breath escapes and the sound is “breathy” with a flute-like tone.
Flow Phonation – Flow phonation is the perfect balance of air and muscle at the vocal folds. The vocal cords are neither pushing nor giving too much so the sound is neither too pressed or breathy. But it’s still strong and resonant.
Which Vocal Mode is Falsetto?
If you’re still awake, you may be able to take a good guess which of these modes falsetto voice falls under.
Falsetto voice is nothing more than a breathy phonation in the higher register of your voice. It’s caused by a lack of resistance to air by the vocal folds and it causes a flutey, breathy tone.
So how does this happen?
Often when a singer is straining and too pressed in their singing, the muscles in the vocal folds can simply “give up” and disconnect. So rather than having an even, balanced tone at the top, the voice goes from pressed to too breathy.
Alternatively, a voice that starts breathy isn’t resisting the air from your lungs well to begin with so they will lose even more resistance in the higher register. This can also result in falsetto.
Head Voice in Singing
So, if Falsetto is a breathy mode of singing at the top part of the voice, what is head voice in singing?
Head voice is simply a balanced or “flow phonation” at the top part of the voice, or head voice range.
This means that Falsetto and Head Voice are simply two different ways of approaching the same note. One breathy (falsetto) and one with a balanced tone (head voice).
You can hear the difference. Check out these examples of head voice for men:
In these examples, you can tell that the singer has chosen a more balanced tone for the top of their voice than the breathy falsetto. There’s a lot more power and there’s no breathiness in the tone!
Sounds great, right?!
So let’s talk about how to get that sound.
How to Sing in Head Voice
As we discussed earlier, falsetto is simply a lack of resistance at the vocal folds to air from the lungs. Sometimes, it can be caused by a breathy voice on the bottom. It can also be caused by too much strain and pressure at the cords that results in the vocal folds simply “giving up”. In either case falsetto is the result.
No matter which situation you find yourself in, the name of the game is finding a balanced resistance at the vocal folds. And that means finding anything thicker than falsetto on those top notes.
In the case of the breathy voice coming from the bottom, the first thing we would need to learn to do is help them find a bit more resistance to the air from the lungs. Then we could take this sound upwards.
I like to use a bratty “Nae” (as in “Nasty”) on a shorter scale to accomplish this. Then we can start to bring the scale up to the falsetto register. This can result in finding a balanced head voice at the top.
In the case of the heavy voice that breaks, the first thing we need to do is help them get rid of the excess weight and resistance in the vocal folds. Then we could begin to take this sound upwards.
I like to use a bratty “Nay” (as in “Neighbor”) on a long scale to accomplish this. This will naturally reduce the weight that was causing the falsetto. Reducing the weight and resistance even a little can result in finding a balanced head voice at the top.
A Few things to Note About Falsetto
I think it’s important to remember that falsetto is a perfectly legitimate sound. Just because it is associated with voice “breaks” or “cracks” does not mean that it is bad or must be avoided completely.
As we’ve seen, there are many successful artists that use it for effect. However, in the end, we want to ensure that we are capable of both a “balanced” head voice and “breathy” falsetto at the top part of our voice. It’s important that we are not just defaulting to falsetto because we can’t find head voice.
If you feel that you’ve been doing the exercises in this article correctly and are still struggling to find your head voice technique, consider booking a trial free lesson. We will make sure to do some great head voice warm ups so that you can find balance.
One of the most common problems beginning singers face is learning to sing on pitch. But learning how to sing in tune is not always easy, even when if you have an amazing musical ear.
But why is that? “I know I have a good ear”, you may say, “but why can’t I sing in tune?”
If you have a hard time hitting the right notes, know that singing off key doesn’t necessarily mean you’re tone deaf.
There are lots of reasons you may not sing on pitch. For many people, the reason you’re singing flat is totally physiological.
Before we talk more about learning to sing in tune, keep in mind this article is talking mostly about adult learners that are having a hard time singing on pitch. If you’re interested in teaching children to sing on pitch, check out this blog on the best ways to learn to sing.
Why Am I Singing Flat?
The most common reason a vocalist is singing flat has to do with what the vocal folds (cords) are doing, rather than the ear.
Singing on key is actually a very complex task for the vocal cords. As a matter of fact, just to sing the note A4, the vocal folds must be opening and closing 440 times per second to hit the correct pitch!
That’s because the vocal folds sing a pitch by stretching or shortening to increase or decrease the vibrating length of the instrument. Increasing or decreasing the length raises or lowers the resulting pitch. Confused yet? Read on.
Try this at home:
I like to use a rubber band to demonstrate this. Hold a rubber band loosely between your thumbs and pluck it. The band is so slack that there is no audible noise. Next, stretch the rubber band taut between your thumbs and pluck it. There should be an audible “thoink”.
If you stretch the rubber band even further, the sound produced by the rubber bands is even higher in pitch.
The pitch of the rubber bands rises because as I increase the vibrating length of the instrument, it vibrates faster, resulting in a higher pitch. Cool huh?!
Some kids even stretch rubber bands over an empty tissue box to make an improvised guitar.
The Vocal Folds and Pitch
The vocal folds work in the same way as the rubber band. A vocalist sings a given pitch by unconsciously stretching or shortening the vocal folds to the point that the speed of the vibrations produces the pitch they want to sing.
Now, if all this scientific stuff is happening and I’m not even thinking about it, how do I learn to sing on pitch?
Simply put, most pitch problems are the result of the vocal cords being the wrong length or depth for the desired pitch.
If I’m trying to sing an A3 in my chest voice and my vocal cords are too thin and stretched for the thickness required to hit it, will my pitch be higher or lower than the A3? Since the vibrating length of the instrument is too long, my pitch will be higher and I will sing sharp.
As a voice teacher, we have a name for when the cords are too thin and stretched in the chest voice range. We call this light chest and it’s a huge barrier to singing low notes on pitch.
If I’m trying to sing a high C4 and my vocal folds are thicker than the stretch required to hit it, will my pitch be higher or lower than the sound I want? Since the vibrating length of the instrument is too short and thick, my pitch will be lower and I will sing flat.
As voice teachers, we call this abundance of thickness in the cords vocal weight.
How to Stop Singing Flat
As we’ve seen, singing flat is the result of the vocal folds being uncoordinated for the particular note that you want to sing.
So here are some tips on how to sing on pitch.
One of my favorite tools for working with singers is vowels. Vowels are the speech sounds produced by the open vocal tract between consonants. “Ah” is an example of a vowel.
But in addition to being a huge part of language and singing, vowels have a strong effect on the pitch making process. There are vowels that tend to produce more chest voice and thickness in the vocal folds. There are also headier vowels that stretch and thin the vocal folds.
Since these vowels tend to direct more towards the chest voice, the resulting vocal folds will be thicker and shorter resulting in a lower pitch.
If you’ve been having a hard time singing a song at the bottom of your voice, try singing a “Nae” (as in “Nasty”) or “Guh” (as in gutter) instead of the melody on the difficult passage.
When you feel that the exercise is giving you a bit more security on the low notes in the song, try switching back to the melody and lyrics while trying to retain the feeling those chesty vowels gave you.
I’m always amazed at how this simple exercise helps singers (often females with light chest) sing these lower notes perfectly on pitch.
If for some reason you’re not singing the correct pitch, go back to the “Nae” or “Guh” until you find the right pitch again and repeat.
A Few Things to Note
Most people learn to sing on pitch in their youth, but not everyone is exposed to music and singing early on. Usually this means they haven’t developed their ear enough to hear and produce the correct pitch.
So even though these exercises can be incredibly helpful for anyone, it may not help those that still need to develop their musical ear. Only ear training will do that.
But remember, even for those with a great musical ear, we ALL sing off pitch from time to time. This is completely natural but we want to do everything in our power to honor the music we’re singing by finding the correct pitch. One of the best ways of doing that is by using vowel exercises to get the vocal folds to stretch or shorten the desired amount and then revert to the original lyrics.
If you believe that you’re not executing these exercises correctly or you just want a trained ear, consider booking a trial free lesson so I can hear exactly what you’re doing.
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