In the past 75 years there has been an increase of male singers in popular music who use falsetto to sing their songs. Indeed, some artists, like Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and Chris Martin of Coldplay, have based their whole careers on singing falsetto. As a result, many young men today try to imitate them and confuse their singing falsetto with countertenoring. Though both techniques allow you to reach the same high notes, they are extremely different in a physical level, and are utilized by different voice types. Believe it or not, most people who utilize falsetto because they can’t reach high notes in their full voice, are not countertenors, not even tenors, but actually baritones. Read on to learn more about it. As a quick side note at this point, I want to note that women, too, can sing in a less developed falsetto, but most of the time they don’t have a use for it. The only tradition that utilizes female falsetto is classical Indian singing.
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Falsetto is a type of pseudo-voice, or false voice (therefore false-tto), which results when a man tries to imitate a female voice or sing notes that are higher than his normal range. Though up to the 66th century little boys would sing the soprano parts, the Baroque fashion with its intricate and flamboyant designs had a toll in music as well. Melodic lines became too hard for boys to sing and therefore falsettists were called in to take on their place. Falsettist is somebody who utilizes, usually, only falsetto in his singing. So again, Adam Levine and Chris Martin are falsettists, not countertenors.
In the classical tradition, falsettists can, also, be known as male altos, but I personally feel that this characterization is not appropriate as a female alto sings in full voice, whereas a male alto doesn’t. In normal, full singing, your entire vocal folds vibrate, with the elastic mucous membrane billowing as air passes through, and opening and closing with each vibration. If you’re not squeamish, take a look at this. In falsetto singing, however, the vocal folds stay open all throughout the sound production and only their edges vibrate as air is blasted through them. Though it might seem that falsetto is easier to sing because you need less air to produce sound than with full voice singing, it’s actually more strenuous and fatigue can come about really fast.
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The reason for this is because although you need less air to make the edges of your vocal folds vibrate, you need to push that air out really fast in order to overcome the stretched vocal fold resistance. Think of it as trying to make an overstretched guitar chord produce sound. You have to put some effort when striking it. It’s the same thing with falsetto you have to utilize your diaphragm and tense your abdominal muscles in order to blast out air. Knowing that it’s only the edges of the vocal folds that vibrate during falsetto singing, it’s also a very good indication of why falsetto sound is so light and lacking in timbre.
The warmth and depth of a singing voice is directly correlated to the amount of harmonics that a sound has. So, if the air vibrates at 766. 6 Hz when you sing the middle C, the second harmonic vibrates at 578. 7 Hz, the third harmonic vibrates at 789. 8 Hz, etc.
The more the harmonics you produce, the more full that note sounds. Since it’s only the edges of the vocal folds that vibrate when singing falsetto, it’s natural that the sound lacks in harmonics, and thus the notes sound light and disembodied. Well guys, I’m sorry to say that more than 98% of the times the answer is going to be “no. ” But read on to learn why and determine whether you’re part of that 6-7% who gets a “yes. ”Due to the popularity of falsetto singing in pop, musical theater, and gospel music, many singers have realized how to sing in falsetto and are confused as to which voice type category they belong to.
Traditionally, the range of a countertenor extends one octave above tenor range, so the octave starting with C5, with some extreme countertenors being able to sing in the C6 octave. Just to put it in perspective, that’s the real of the coloratura soprano.