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As a novice singer one thing I'm trying to do is figure out my voice, in terms of my range and where I break between registers.

I always thought falsetto meant "really high squeaky" i.e. allowed you to reach notes much higher than normal/proper singing but I get the impression this isn't the case?

I struggle to tell when I "go high" if I am falsettoing or not - or if it even matters?

I'm interested in practical ways to tell the difference when singing or listening to other people singing, as well as in any description on their mechanical differences. Note, this is focused on male singers.

3 Answers 3


If you are singing in falsetto, you will notice that you won't need to exhale as forcefully to sing high notes. You should also sense a relaxation in the muscles that control your vocal chords. You will also be able to sing high notes much more quietly when singing in falsetto.

There is a distinct and recognizable physiological shift in the mechanics of the vocalization process when we switch to falsetto. Most people can feel this shift as it takes place. This altered process of vocalization will also create a different tone.

In order to sing higher notes, it is necessary to lengthen and stretch the vocal chords (like tightening a guitar string). The tighter vocal folds will vibrate faster and thereby produce a higher sound frequency. Every singer will reach a point where their vocal chords are at maximum length (stretched to the max).

But alas, there is a way to eke out a few more "false" higher notes by switching to falsetto. Falsetto allows us to sing higher notes because the action of the vocal chords is altered in a way that allows a different part of the vocal anatomy to vibrate at a faster rate than the maxed out main vocal folds.

When we switch to falsetto, the vocalis muscle relaxes allowing the cricothyroid muscles to exert more tension on the vocal ligaments. During the use of falsetto voice, the main vocal membranes are relaxed and a faster vibration is permitted to occur in the vocal ligament which has now been allowed to stretch tighter than it could before it was released by relaxation of the vocalis muscle.

This relaxation of the vocalis muscle also creates a situation where the vocal folds are not drawn together. Therefore air can more easily and freely pass across the vocal chords and vocal ligaments because you don't need the air pressure normally required to push through the vocal folds. Since less air pressure is required, you can sing high notes in falsetto at lower volumes.

For most male singers, falsetto will sound breathier, not as loud, not as present, not as dynamic, and not as rich. Although there are a few exceptional male singers who can deliver quite a rich and robust sound using falsetto, most will sound a little thinner in falsetto.

It is said that with practice, one can blend some falsetto with head voice and learn to transition more smoothly. But for most male singers, there will be a discernable loss in the richness of the tone when singing in falsetto verses head or chest voice.

Here is a short YouTube video that illustrates the shift into falsetto in a male voice. YouTube Video - male falsetto

The Beatles used falsetto often in many of their popular songs. In this video you can hear Paul McCartney switching back and forth between head voice and falsetto between 3:20 and 3:38. Also the background vocals are being sung in male falsetto. Paul McCartney in Let It Be on YouTube


John Mayer Very clear example of switch into falsetto at 3:22

Elton John Tiny Dancer In the chorus he switches in and out of falsetto to hit the highest notes. Watch starting at 2:24 through the chorus.

Elton John Rocket Man Several examples appear in the verses and chorus. Listen at 2:09-2:13 and again at 2:37-2:41 as he switches into falsetto to hit the highest note. Again at the end of the song he uses falsetto on "long long time" to hit the highest note.

Billy Joel Leave A Tender Moment Alone In this song Billy Joel continually goes in and out of falsetto to hit the highest notes. Prime example from 1:29-1:44

Cover of Marvin Gaye Hear great example of switch to falsetto at 5:03 - 5:09

  • Thank you for adding the examples. But in the first example, the guy is too annoying for me to make it through the video. The second example has octave jumps, so the OP's question would be ridiculously easy to answer. Dec 6, 2015 at 2:48
  • My "top voice" certainly is a lot clearer/purer, it's perhaps reminiscent of a choirboy-voice. Which sounds like the description of falsetto but it's not airy to my ear, and I have reasonable dynamics i.e. I can vary the volume quite a lot maybe as much as my chest voice. I wouldn't care but I've seen warnings that you need to know which register is in use to train it effectively.
    – Mr. Boy
    Dec 9, 2015 at 11:06
  • @Mr.Boy When shifting from head voice to falsetto, you might sense a shift in placement towards the front of your face. Dec 9, 2015 at 22:28
  • @aparente001 Okay I added some more examples. Tried to find some from the great R&B Singers like Lionel Richie and Marvin Gaye but they have such a rich high end that it's difficult to tell when or if they switch into falsetto. Dec 12, 2015 at 21:02

Head voice is a transitional voice using both chest voice and falsetto mechanisms. It's usually employed in the character of a lightened chest voice so it still has the "male tinge" to it. It's probably the main upper register tool for the lyric tenor in contrast to the dramatic tenor which uses a stronger bout of chest voice.

"Reinforced falsetto" is a mixed voice type that instead is a falsetto solidified with chest voice components in its lower range. It is a countertenor tool to avoid breaking character when going lower from a pure falsetto (which some but not all countertenors employ). So this form of mixed voice use is sort of the antithesis of head voice: also employing both mechanisms, but from the principal vocal configuration of falsetto rather than chest voice.

Depending on how experienced a singer is, the transition may be entirely smoothly (particularly when singing at moderate volume) and hard to pinpoint.


On some singers it can be hard to tell,,,

The difference especially on bass and baritones I find is very easy to spot,, Falsetto has a totally different tone to it.. More breathy and airy,, You can with practice get a strong loud falsetto but it always sounds different than connected headvoice..

As Rockin Cowboy said,, the difference is in teh mechanics.. Falsetto is disconnected chords,, connected headvoice is as the name implies connected vocal chords.. THe latter is very difficult for an untrained singer,, it takes a lot of practice to get the control and the airpressure right to maintain connected chords when you go through your passaggio into your headvoice.. Too little pressure and the voice flips into falsetto,, TOo much pressure and your start to strain, shout and the larynx will often rise... Do that a lot and you will damage your voice in the long run...

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