An african-american man wearing a black top hat sings into his phone in front of a blue background. Music

Falsetto: How It Works

By Katie Sanakai for 30 Day Singer and Guitar Tricks

You may think of your voice as one seamless, unified structure, but your voice has several different sections that singing teachers have categorized and named. 

Have you ever wondered how singers effortlessly hit those high notes, creating a unique and captivating sound? That’s the magic of falsetto, a vocal technique that has gained popularity across various music genres. In this journey, we’ll explore the world of falsetto, its science, techniques, and the inspiring stories of famous falsetto singers.

Short Summary

  • Falsetto is a vocal technique for reaching high notes, requiring mastering three modes of resistance.
  • Head voice and falsetto are distinct but can be used together to create dynamic range in performances.
  • Famous singers like Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams and Prince offer inspiration on how to master this captivating style while maintaining proper vocal care.

Understanding Falsetto: Definition and Characteristics

Falsetto is a vocal technique that allows singers to hit notes higher than their normal voice can reach, enabling them to sing falsetto and create a distinctive high-pitched, airy sound.

While falsetto is widely believed to be associated with male singers, both male and female singers can produce this unique vocal register. The term “falsetto” comes from the Italian word “falso,” meaning “false,” as it refers to the false voice that differs from the normal or modal voice register.

The key characteristic of falsetto is the breathy quality it produces, as a result of the vocal folds being blown apart, allowing singers to reach notes beyond their normal vocal range. This is in contrast to the modal register, where the true vocal folds come together completely during each vibration, closing the gap between them.

The Science Behind Falsetto

The science behind falsetto lies in the larynx, also known as the “voice box,” which houses our vocal cords. When singing in falsetto, the vocal cords come together and vibrate in a lighter and thinner way than when singing normally, creating a different sound from the chest and head voice.

Vocal mechanics play a crucial role in falsetto singing. The vocal cords come together to vibrate due to resistance to the air coming from the lungs. There are three modes of resistance – pressed, breathy, and flow, which a vocal coach can help singers understand and master. Balancing these modes and coordinating with the larynx is essential for achieving a skillful falsetto.

Head Voice vs. Falsetto: Key Differences and Similarities

Head voice and falsetto are often confused, but they are distinct vocal registers. Head voice singing is characterized by a richer and steadier vibrato that resonates at a higher range than our normal speaking voice, while falsetto has a lighter, breathier sound.

When it comes to richness, falsetto gives a breathy quality to higher notes, whereas head voice provides a fuller and more even sound on the higher pitches of a singer’s voice. The balance between these vocal registers is also significant, as falsetto offers a lighter sound on the high notes, while head voice delivers a fuller, more balanced tone on the high pitches.

Mastering the transition between head voice and falsetto, and using them in harmony, can help singers achieve a versatile and dynamic vocal performance.

Let’s start with the definition of these voices: 

Chest Voice (or Full Voice)

The chest voice for men and women is the voice that resonates most in the chest. Place a hand on your chest and speak in a loud speaking voice or sing a low note. You will feel the vibrations of your voice within your chest cavity. Just like an acoustic guitar needs a hollow body to resonate, a singing voice needs resonators as well. 

Head Voice

The head voice for men and women is the voice that resonates most in your head, mainly your sinuses, nose and mouth. If you depress your sinuses, you can usually feel the vibration, or you can sense the absence of vibration in your chest, as you jump from a low note to a high note. 


This register is typically only used to describe male voices. In men, it is the part of their singing voice that is lighter, more gentle, and a little more breathy or airy at the very top of their singing voice. 

If you are a male singer, you have your chest or full voice and above the break, you have a head voice. At the very top of your register is your falsetto voice. The term comes from Italian and means ‘false voice’. Despite the somewhat negative-sounding name, falsetto voice is still very useful and is used by lots of pop singers in the upper register.

The mechanism for singing falsetto versus in your head voice is different, and a voice teacher can help you navigate the difference. Singing in falsetto doesn’t require the same amount of breath support that a lower register does. The notes are a little easier to sustain, but sometimes hard to get started. Try an “h” sound at the beginning of a vowel to help you start a note in your falsetto. 

The Role of Falsetto in Various Music Genres

Falsetto has found its place in numerous music genres, such as:

  • Soul: adds an emotional and soulful touch to the song
  • Motown: injects energy and excitement
  • Indie rock, rock, blues, and hip-hop: contributes texture and depth to the song

This makes the falsetto register a versatile and powerful vocal tool across various styles.

The adaptability of falsetto in different genres demonstrates its potential to create a unique sound and captivate audiences. Whether you’re an aspiring singer or a seasoned performer, incorporating falsetto into your repertoire can enhance your musical expression and set you apart from other artists.

Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver are a few singers who use falsetto in their singing. No song would be entirely sung in falsetto, it’s the higher, lighter sections that women can easily sing along with. Picture the chorus to ‘Happy’ or ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ or the opening verse of ‘Skinny Love’. 

What Does this Mean for My Singing?

A balanced mixed voice combines elements of head voice, chest voice, and falsetto, providing a versatile and dynamic vocal range. Developing a mixed voice is essential for singers, as it allows them to hit high notes with ease and maintain a consistent tone throughout their vocal range.

To achieve a balanced mixed voice, it’s important to work on vocal exercises that focus on blending different vocal registers, such as the Lip Trill exercise. This exercise helps singers transition through each part of their voice, providing a strong and even tone throughout their range.

Exercises for Building a Mixed Voice

If you want to practice or strengthen your falsetto singing, you have to use it! Singing is like weight-lifting, you build your endurance and skill by working out regularly. 

To access your falsetto, try this vocal exercises: A 5-note descending major scale (5-4-3-2-1 or Sol-Fa-Mi-Re-Do) starting on a “hoo” sound like an owl. The “h” helps get the pitch going. You will want to pick a very high note toward the top of your register, for example: A above middle C. As you work down, make an effort to not flip back into your full voice. 

Eventually, you will run out of accessible notes and will have to switch to full voice. 

Now try blending. Do the same exercise, but now somewhere in the middle of the 5-note scale, switch between your falsetto and head voice, trying to blend the notes so the change doesn’t sound too abrupt. This is a labor that singers perfect over many years, so don’t expect to become an overnight sensation at this. 

To further develop a mixed voice, singers can practice various exercises designed to strengthen and balance their vocal registers. Some of these exercises include:

  • Yawning
  • Holding your nose while singing
  • Saying “nyah” with a scrunched nose
  • Using consonants in front of vowel sounds while doing scales

Another way to get some falsetto practice is to pick a song by a female artist and try to sing it in their register (not down an octave). Pick something light and gentle to start! 

In addition to practicing these exercises, seeking guidance from a voice teacher or vocal coach can provide personalized feedback and tailored exercises to help you achieve a strong, balanced mixed voice. Consistent practice and dedication are essential in mastering the art of mixed voice singing.

What is My Break?

We refer to the spot where you need to switch between chest and head voice as their break.

Since many of our musical terms come from Italian (and many singing terms come from opera), let’s use a more helpful term than break. In Italian, we call the few notes that can be sung in either chest or head your passagio or passageway. This is a more helpful way of thinking of the transition area, because depending on the song, you can vary where and when you switch (it’s part of the art of being a singer, and is very individual). If you want to get a rough idea of where your break or passagio is, try a siren sound. 

Starting in the lowest part of your voice, sing a (very loud) sound like a siren rising up. Eventually you will hear your voice flip between head and chest (it will sound like your voice cracking). That is the passageway where you will need to work on blending the two registers and making artistic decisions about how to do so.

Fun fact: Yodeling is actually a form of singing that just takes advantage of the built in ‘crack’ or flip in your voice.

What is Belting?

Belt voice is its own technique. Basically, it takes the sound of your chest voice (the loud, supported, full sound) and carries it up into the high register. Many of the female pop stars of today have perfected the art of belting. 

The Benefits and Risks of Falsetto Singing

Falsetto singing offers numerous benefits, such as expanding your vocal range and adding texture to your voice. However, it’s essential to be aware of the potential risks associated with overusing falsetto, which can cause vocal strain and damage in the long run.

To mitigate these risks and maintain good vocal health, singers who frequently use falsetto should take proper care of their vocal cords by staying hydrated, avoiding excessive throat clearing or shouting, and adhering to good vocal practice. Giving your voice a break when needed and not pushing your falsetto range beyond its limits will help ensure your voice remains healthy and resilient.

Female Falsetto: Fact or Fiction?

The debate surrounding the existence of falsetto in female singers has led to misconceptions that only men can produce a true falsetto voice. However, female falsetto is indeed real, and women can produce falsetto sounds, although it’s not as widely discussed as male falsetto.

Female falsetto can be used to create a distinctive sound and experiment with various vocal approaches, just like male falsetto. Embracing and mastering falsetto techniques can benefit both male and female singers, helping them to expand their vocal range and versatility.

The Impact of Vocal Health on Falsetto Singing

Maintaining good vocal health is crucial for singers who frequently use falsetto in their performances. Proper vocal technique plays a vital role in preserving vocal health when singing in falsetto, helping to prevent fatigue and maintain the voice in good condition.

Singers who use falsetto should prioritize their vocal health by staying hydrated, avoiding excessive throat clearing or shouting, and adhering to good vocal practice. Taking care of your voice and using falsetto techniques responsibly will help ensure a sustainable and successful singing career.

Inspiration and Lessons Learned

They have captivated audiences with their unique vocal styles. These artists have demonstrated the power of falsetto in creating emotional, soulful, and energetic performances, showcasing the versatility of this vocal technique.

Falsetto is Just One Vocal Technique

Famous falsetto singers employ various techniques, such as vibrato, breath control, and vocal range, to create their signature sound. Learning from their experiences and incorporating these techniques into your own singing can help you develop a unique falsetto style and enhance your musical expression.

Aspiring singers can draw inspiration from these famous falsetto artists, recognizing the importance of breath control, vibrato, and vocal range in mastering this captivating vocal style. Embracing falsetto singing not only expands your vocal abilities, but also allows you to connect with listeners on a deeper emotional level.

Final Notes

Throughout this journey, we’ve explored the fascinating world of falsetto, from its definition and characteristics to the science behind it, and the techniques and tips for mastering this unique vocal style. We’ve delved into the differences and similarities between head voice and falsetto, the role of falsetto in various music genres, and the importance of vocal health and a balanced mixed voice.

By learning from the inspirational stories of famous falsetto singers, we can appreciate the power and versatility of this captivating vocal technique.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do females have falsetto?

Yes, females do have falsetto and there was a myth that they couldn’t due to their higher vocal ranges. However, many singers of all genders are capable of producing a falsetto sound.

Can anyone sing falsetto?

Yes, everyone can sing falsetto – studies have shown that everyone’s vocal cords work in the same way.

Is falsetto actually singing?

Falsetto is a vocal technique used by singers to hit higher notes, usually by loosening the vocal cord closure. Its Latin name may imply a false sound, but in reality it has been proven to be a very useful and real sound.

Falsetto is widely used modern music, by both male and female singers alike to achieve their desired sound.

Why is falsetto not allowed?

Falsetto is certainly allowed, but it’s only part of a singer’s vocal palette. To properly sing high notes, learning how to use the head voice is more important.

What is the difference between head voice and falsetto?

Head voice has a fuller, smoother sound compared to falsetto’s airy, lighter tone.

How do I use these techniques?

Start with the song you’d like to sing. As you sing it, keep a hand on your chest to feel what sections of the song is in your chest versus your head voice. If there is section that feels hard to transition, try singing it in each way and find the best spot to transition between registers. 

If there is a very high section that can be sung lightly, you can practice it in your falsetto as well. The art of singing is making the decisions that make the song carry emotional impact, and sometimes the change in your vocal register can do just that! 

Related articles

What Is the Best Voice Recording Software in 2023?

When searching for voice recording software, should you pay or use a free program? Here's a roundup of the top 8 audio editing software.

A woman with dark hair holds her headphones and is singing, while looking away from her microphone.
What’s the Average Length of a Jingle?

What's the average length of a jingle? Let's dig into some of the best and learn what makes these jingles into earworms for listeners.

An African American women wearing a yellow top listens to music while she works.
What Is the Most Popular Work from Home Music?

In this blog post, we’ll break down our latest survey detailing the best work from home music and what makes an ideal work from home song.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *