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Discovering the Power of Head Voice: A Healthier Alternative to Falsetto

Today, we embark on a journey to unveil the distinctions between falsetto and head voice, emphasizing the numerous benefits of embracing head voice for both dynamic expression and long-term vocal health. (Click here to Jump to the full Video-Explanation)

A) Unmasking Falsetto

A laryngoscopy picture of the vocal cords with two arrows pointing at the middle of the vocal cords where a pressure point is shortening the vocal cords.
The red arrows point to a pressure point where the vocal cords punctually press against one another, immobilising the front part of the vocal cords (lower end of the screen), so that only the back part of the vocal cords vibrates. This functionality creates a higher pitch, because less material can vibrate faster. Sadly this also comes with quite a few disadvantages for the singer's vocal health.

Understanding Falsetto

Before we delve into the superior qualities of head voice, let's briefly demystify falsetto.

In simple terms, falsetto involves the clipping off of the vocal cords, immobilizing a portion to hit higher notes. This action is also called "vocal cord shortening", because it literally shortens the vocal cords. This functions a bit like pressing on a guitar string to shorten it, thereby making it resonate faster. While this functionality may seem accessible, its drawbacks can gravely impact vocal health.

The Pitfalls of Falsetto

Falsetto, though easy to achieve, poses potential risks to your vocal cords. The act of clipping off a portion of the muscle can lead to complications like nodules, hindering your vocal capabilities and limiting the range of emotions you can express through your voice.

Two pictures of vocal cords. The picture on the right shows vocal cords that actively shorten the vocal cords in the middle, immobilising the front part. The picture on the left shows other vocal cords that have developed nodules on each vocal cord symmetrically at the same spot where the vocal cord shortening happens in the picture on the right.
The pressure point in falsetto where the two vocal cords press on each other puts a singer at elevated risk of vocal damage due to the muscle imbalance that this pressure point brings to each side of the vocal cords. A result of continued pressure like this on vocal cords is often that both vocal cords develop vocal nodules at such a pressure point. Vocal nodules are hardened tissue that - in this case - is a reaction to an increased demand on a specific pressure-point on the tissue.

The larungoscopy pictures above are from two different people. What you can observe is that the vocal nodules in the left picture where the glottis is open are situated roughly at the same spot that the vocal cord shortening in the right picture with the closed vocal cords happens. This is not by chance. A continued imbalance of pressure on a specific point of the vocal cord can lead to the tissue reacting to this elevated demand on it's strength with hardening the tissue at that particular spot, thereby creating vocal nodules.

B) Embracing the Superiority of Head Voice

A laryngoscopy picture of the vocal cords of a soprano singer, producing an A flat 5 with the full pull of the vocal cords.)
This is the same note (Ab5) but produced with head-voice, instead of falsetto. You can see that the vocal cords open equally from front to back (black slit), without any pressure point in the middle restricting their vibration.

Head Voice Dynamics

Now, let's shift our focus to the star of the show – head voice. This is what it looks like when a singer effortlessly produces the same high notes without resorting to falsetto.

Head voice allows for dynamic expression without compromising the health of your vocal cords.

In head voice the dynamic range of a singer is anything between double or tripple as big as when using Falsetto. That is because the full vocal cords vibrating is obviously much louder than just two thirds, or even less.

My personal Falsetto to Head Voice Transition & Volume-Increase

On the left you can see my vocal range using falsetto before I started serious vocal training. The chart represents pitch height and decibel. You will see that none of the tones reach a volume above 100dB.

The picture in the middle is my teacher's explanation of the 4 vocal cord shortenings that I used to reach the notes. The green line represents the air-pressure. That line going up symbolises an increase in air-pressure in order to reach a note. The upper drawing is a depiction of my current muscle ability in May 2010. My crico-thyroid muscle could only pull the vocal cords long till a D' (D4). After that I had to start using vocal cord shortenings in order to reach higher notes. (Read this article for a more detailed explanation of vocal cord shortening, aka aliquote division.) The lower drawing is my teacher's prediction of what my range will look like when my crico-thyroid (pars oublique) muscle will be well trained and I can reach the same heights with head-voice, rather than through vocal cord shortening.

The third picture (on the right) shows my vocal range in May 2014. In this graph you see that I also reach a G5, but this time I have up to 115dB as the top volume. That is because I had stopped using falsetto and only used head-voice for my entire range by then.

As an orientation: A 6dB increase in volume represents a felt doubling of the volume to the listeners ear.

The Beauty of Unrestricted Vibration

What makes head voice truly exceptional is the unrestricted vibration of the vocal cords. Unlike falsetto - which clips off a portion - head voice allows the entire vocal cord to vibrate freely, resulting in a richer and more resonant tone.

Two laryngoscopy pictures. Left is an opera singer singing a high head voice tone. You can see the throat opening to all sides. The vocal cords are visible. Right: The side-walls of the throat are caving in so much that the vocal cords are not visible anymore.
Left: when singing head-voice, the walls of the throat have a tendency to pull away from the middle towards the front and back, as well as towards the right and left. Right: When producing falsetto, the muscles of the throat might still pull towards the front and back, but the sides of the neck must cave in to facilitate a tighter throat so that the vocal cords get close enough to push against one another to do the vocal cord shortening.

Left: In head voice the walls of the throat pull towards the sides - away from the middle of the throat. That gives the vocal cords space and they can vibrate freely, because the surrounding walls of the throat are widened.

Right: In falsetto the walls of the throat need to cave in to allow the vocal cords to press against each other and create the aliquote division (which is not visible in this picture, since the walls of the throat cover the view on the vocal cords).

C) Nurturing Your Voice for the Long Haul

Prioritizing Vocal Health

Your voice is a precious instrument, and its health should be a top priority. By choosing head voice over falsetto, you safeguard your vocal cords from unnecessary strain, ensuring a sustainable and enduring musical journey.

Unlocking the Full Potential

Head voice unlocks the full potential of your vocal range while maintaining a healthy, robust sound. With proper training and technique, you can achieve impressive highs and lows, allowing your voice to flourish in its entirety.

Head voice also helps the vocal cords grow through continuously stretching them. Find more information about how head voice naturally makes your voice grow over time in this article.

D) Conclusion:

As we wrap up this exploration, I encourage you to embrace the power and versatility of head voice. By understanding the drawbacks of falsetto and witnessing the dynamic capabilities of head voice, you empower yourself to make informed choices for the well-being of your vocal instrument. Let your voice soar, explore new heights with head voice, and revel in the richness and expressiveness that comes with this superior technique. Your musical journey awaits, vibrant and harmonious!

Listen to sound examples of the difference between head voice and falsetto in the YouTube video that corresponds to this article:

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