Head Voice vs. Falsetto: The Truth Revealed!
What is falsetto? Is head voice falsetto?
The terms “head voice” and “falsetto” have confused singers for a long time.
And for good reason:
The terms head voice and falsetto make people think that singing is happening outside of their voice.
But 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 isn’t false or wrong; it’s actually a very real and useful sound.
What Is the Difference Between Falsetto and Head Voice?
Is head voice the same as falsetto? There’s been some confusion on this question in the past, so let’s clear the air now.
Many singers ask “why is falsetto not allowed?”.
Of course it’s allowed!
Falsetto is just one of the sounds that make up the singer’s palette of tones.
So let’s talk more about the difference between these different vocal registers and more importantly, learn how to sing in head voice on high notes.
By the way, if you want a vocal program that will take you through all these singing techniques, you can check out my complete singing course, Master Your Voice, here.
Also, if you want to watch a great video that will take you through all the exercises to improve your head voice and falsetto, check this out:
Chest Voice, Head Voice, and Falsetto:
Before we start talking about the differences between head voice singing and falsetto singing, we should compare the two main vocal registers in singing: head voice vs chest voice.
So, what is a head voice in singing?
Here’s what you need to know about the meaning of head voice:
The chest voice is the range of notes at the bottom of your voice.
And head voice is the range of notes at the top.
But even though these terms can be confusing, here’s all you need to memorize:
The chest voice is created by thick vocal folds.
And head voice is created by thin vocal folds.
Think of a guitar.
As you start to play higher and higher notes, you have to use thinner strings.
The voice works the exact same way.
So those low notes at the bottom of your voice are created by thick vocal cords, while the high ones are thinner.
Does everyone have a head voice?
Yes! Though some people are definitely better at hitting those high notes than others, everyone has the thinner vocal cords that produce head voice.
People also ask me sometimes: is chest voice better than head voice? Is it bad to sing in head voice?
Not at all! Don’t ever think that head voice is bad or worse than chest voice. Each has its own uses.
If you are a pet-owner, you probably already speak in head voice to your dog or cat (or mice?).
How do you talk in head voice?
Usually, people talk in head voice to reinforce or reward a behavior in their pets.
But I digress…
The trick in singing, is to learn how to switch from chest voice to head voice and use each at the right time.
How do I switch to head voice?
You could start by trying to speak at a very high pitch (a bit like Mickey Mouse) or singing a high “ooh” sound.
Now that you’re familiar with how your voice is split into the two different vocal registers, we can finally tackle that all-important question: what does it mean to sing in falsetto?
Let’s get into the nitty gritty of falsetto vs head voice.
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 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.
The falsetto definition and head voice definition are common stumbling blocks for a beginning singer.
So here’s all you need to know about the difference between head voice and falsetto.
Falsetto Voice Definition
What is falsetto music? What is a falsetto in singing?
Falsetto is a mode of singing that sounds breathy, flutey and hollow. It’s usually found in the upper registers of male and female singers.
Is falsetto a high voice? Yes! It’s typically the highest voice a singer can use before reaching their whistle register (if they have one).
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.
A quick note on Falsetto vs Soprano
Many singers get confused between voice types and vocal modes.
The voice types such as Bass, Baritone, Tenor (for males) and Alto, Mezzo, Soprano (for females) are voice types, not vocal modes or registers.
Falsetto is a vocal mode. It is a WAY in which to sing a note.
So when someone says “Bon Iver is a falsetto singer”, they make it sound as if that falsetto is his voice type rather than Bass.
But actually, a singer like Bon Iver is just using a falsetto mode when he is truly a Bass singer.
(By the way Bon Iver is also a great case study in how to sing low falsetto).
This confusion comes from the “falsetto vs head voice” male debate that says that men who sing high are naturally falsettists.
That’s not the case!
Do Females Have Falsetto?
Singers of all genders are capable of falsetto. However, female singers were thought, for a time, to not be capable of falsetto.
This myth, I think, came from the fact that women tend to have higher vocal ranges. This made their switch to falsetto less noticeable than for men.
But plenty of studies have since shown that everyone’s vocal cords work in basically the same way, and everyone is capable of falsetto singing.
Do Opera Singers Use Falsetto?
When we discussed the definition of falsetto above, you might naturally have wondered: do opera singers use falsetto?
It’s a good question! Opera singers are known for hitting skyscraping notes while singing in a soaring, even heavenly tone of voice.
However, contrary to popular belief, opera singers rarely use falsetto.
Most of them hit the high notes with head voice, which is much more powerful and reduces the risk of vocal fry.
Think about it. Does the breathy, flutey, hollow tone of falsetto seem like the stuff of glass-shattering opera singing? No way!
Falsetto has its uses, as we’ll see below, but opera is (usually) not one of them.
How do you identify falsetto? What is an example of a falsetto singer in modern music?
Well, you can hear falsetto all the time in Pop, Rock and Folk Music.
Here are a few examples of falsetto songs to help you train your ears to hear the falsetto.
Here’s Charlie Puth’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore”.
Listen to that breathy falsetto. You can hear through the whole chorus.
A lot of singers, myself included, have studied Charlie Puth’s singing techniques.
A lot of people wonder: does Charlie Puth use head voice or falsetto? In truth, he’s a master at switching between the two, knowing exactly which notes require falsetto and which sound better in head voice.
For another great falsetto song example, take a look at Maroon 5’s “Sugar”.
Again, pretty much the whole chorus is on a falsetto.
Who has a falsetto voice in Rock? For a superb Rock example, take a listen to the Queens of the Stone Age song “I Sat By the Ocean”.
Front man Josh Homme revels in those breathy falsetto lyrics on the 2nd line of every verse.
But falsetto isn’t always used for effect.
Sometimes, 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, cracky sound is all we hear–usually with a drop in volume.
But in order to completely understand what causes falsetto, we need to take a look at the vocal folds.
The Mechanics of Falsetto Voice
How do you sing in falsetto? What are the vocal mechanics behind the falsetto voice?
Well, if your mission is to learn how to sing better in falsetto, it all begins with the vocal cords.
When we sing, the vocal colrds (or folds) come together to vibrate.
This vibration is caused by resistance to the air coming from your lungs. It 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: pressed, breathy and flow.
Now each of these modes create a very different sound.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Pressed Phonation – Pressed phonation is when there is an excessive amount of resistance to air at the vocal cord level.
Since the cords are pushing hard against the air from your lungs, the resulting sound is “pressed” with a bright metallic tone.
Pressed Phonation is similar to singing with chest voice.
It results in a lot of sound, but can be a strainy if taken too high.
2. 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.
Breathy phonation is similar to singing with falsetto.
The breathy, fluty tone doesn’t have the strength of the chest voice.
3. 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.
Flow Phonation is similar to singing with a mix of the chest voice and head voice.
Want to Nail Those High Notes?
Every singer wants to expand their range. Expand Your Range Fast will show you how to finally hit high notes in your voice without straining. Expand your range by 5 notes or more!
Check out this video explaining the differences between falsetto and singing with head voice.
Which Vocal Mode is Falsetto?
Falsetto voice is nothing more than a breathy phonation in the head voice register.
What does all that mean? How do you tell if you are singing in falsetto?
Basically, singing falsetto is just a breathy version of head voice.
So how does this happen?
Often when a singer is straining and too pressed in their singing, the muscles in the vocal cords can simply “give up” and disconnect.
So rather than having an even, balanced tone at the top, the voice goes from pressed to overly 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.
So, singing too light can also result in singing falsetto.
Head Voice in Singing
So, if falsetto is a breathy head voice, what does singing in full head voice mean?
Another term you’ll see sometime is “singing with a mix.” Is head voice mix voice?
Singing with a full head voice (also called “singing with a mix” or “middle voice) is simply when you sing in your head voice register without going breathy.
Put another way, head voice is just 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 (“mix” or head voice).
Is head voice full voice?
Yes, the fuller closure of the vocal folds creates the fuller sound of head voice.
So what’s the opposite of falsetto?
Head voice is the falsetto opposite.
You can hear the falsetto vs head voice difference.
What is an example of head voice singing? First of all, check out these head voice examples for men:
Take a listen to Sam Smith, one of the greatest male head voice singers. Here’s his song “Money on My Mind”, one of my personal favorite head voice songs:
Those high notes that Sam is hitting are not JUST falsetto.
There’s a good amount of power in there.
That’s head voice!
Or take a listen to Freddie Mercury sing “Somebody to Love”.
All those high notes have so much power! I can’t tell you how often I’ve listened to Queen and wondered: how can I sing high notes like Freddie? He was a legend, no doubt about it.
Even Paul McCartney sings in a full head voice.
Listen to the 2nd “be” in “Let it Be” here:
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.
It’s not belted like with pure chest voice.
But there’s a lot more power than in pure falsetto and no breathiness in the tone!
Sounds great, right?!
The best falsetto singers know how to balance their falsetto and head voice to achieve this level of power and clarity.
So how can a man sing in head voice?
Let’s talk about how to get that sound…
How to Sing in Head Voice Without Using Falsetto
As we discussed earlier, falsetto comes from vocal folds that are too thin to resist the air from your 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”.
Singing too lightly or heavily are two of the Most Common Vocal Mistakes.
In either case, falsetto is the result.
By the way, if you want to learn to sing through your different vocal registers without just going to falsetto, you can check out my complete singing course, Master Your Voice, here.
No matter which situation you find yourself in, we need to find a balanced resistance at the vocal folds.
That means finding anything thicker than falsetto on those top notes.
So let’s talk about how to strengthen head voice and look at the different ways to hit high notes without falsetto.
If you’re singing light and breathy…
We know that if your voice is light and breathy on the bottom, then your high notes will be too.
So how do you hit those high notes without falsetto?
The first thing we need to do is get the vocal folds a little bit thicker so they can resist the air from your lungs.
Here’s a picture of a what a cross section of thick vocal cords would look like:
See how thick they are?
In order to find those thick vocal cords with your voice, we need to find your chest voice.
If you haven’t heard the term chest voice before, check out this article on How to Hit High Notes.
It covers the 3 different modes of hitting high notes and has exercises for each.
But here’s all you need to know:
The chest voice is one of the modes of singing high notes where the vocal folds are thick and stretched.
Singing this way is also known as belting.
Belting is known for that bright, powerful sound.
Before we jump into the exercises, it’s important to know what high notes you can expect from your voice.
I’ve written an article on the different voice types and what high notes to expect from each.
Make sure to check it out.
How Do You Belt Those High Notes?
The best way of belting high notes is to sing with more chest voice.
I like to help students find their chest voice by using the power of their speaking voice on a scale.
Then you can use that power to expand your vocal range.
There are several ways of doing this.
Let’s try the simple Octave Repeat “Nay” exercise.
The Octave Repeat “Nay”
Here’s the exercise:
Say “ay” (as in “Ape”) at a strong volume.
Do you feel that ugly, buzzy sound on the vowel?
That’s chest voice.
Let’s bring that up to some high notes.
Here’s how you do it:
- Take a breath and say the word “Nay” (like “Neighbor”) a few times at a strong volume. Remember to enunciate the ugly “Ay” vowel strongly.
- Find a comfortable starting pitch (try E3 for guys and C#4 for girls), take a breath and sing the word “Nay” on this pitch, keeping the same strength as your speaking voice.
- Take a breath and sing the following scale. As you sing the scale, try to make the high note just as strong as the first note.
Here’s the scale for men:
Here’s the scale for women:
If you don’t have a keyboard or can’t read music, don’t worry.
Here’s a video demonstrating the Octave Repeat “Nay” exercise:
If you’re singing loud and heavy…
We know that you don’t always break into falsetto if you’re singing too lightly.
In fact, you may break into falsetto if you’re singing too loud and strainy as well.
Because of the tension and thickness of the vocal cords, they may “give up” and disconnect.
So our first step is to unpress the vocal folds and let them thin a bit on those high notes.
Here’s what the vocal cords look like when they’re thinner:
In order to get the vocal cords to thin, we need to find more head voice.
There are lots of ways to allow more head voice into your high notes.
But today, let’s use the Octave and a Half “Gee” exercise.
The Octave and a Half “Gee”
The “G” consonant is great at getting the vertical depth of cord needed for chest voice, while the “ee” vowel stretches the cords for head voice.
Here’s how to sing it:
- Begin by saying the word “Gee” as in “Geese” at a comfortable volume.
- While saying the word “Gee”, make sure that you are enunciating the “G” consonant.
- Now find a comfortable starting pitch (try C3 for guys and G3 for girls) and begin to sing the word “Gee”.
- Sing the following scale. As you sing, keep a strong emphasis on the “G” consonant.
Here’s the scale for guys.
Here’s the scale for girls.
Again, don’t worry if you don’t have a piano handy.
Just watch this helpful video to learn how to do the exercise:
A Few things to Note About Falsetto
Some students ask me: is it bad to sing in falsetto? Is falsetto a “false” voice?
Of course not! Falsetto is a perfectly legitimate type of vocal technique.
Just because it is associated with voice “breaks” or “cracks” does not mean falsetto 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 make sure we can sing with a “balanced” head voice and “breathy” falsetto on those high notes.
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 for head voice in this article correctly and are still struggling to find your head voice technique, consider booking your first lesson at Ramsey Voice Studio.
We will make sure to do some great head voice warm ups so that you can find balance.
How Can I Put This to Use With My Own Voice?
So, at the end of the day, is it better to sing in chest or head voice? Should you sing with head or chest voice?
As you can see, both have their uses! The best singers learn to use both and switch effectively between them.
I truly hope this post has cleared up any confusion you may have had about head voice vs chest voice vs falsetto singing.
I created a free video that you can use to apply the most important info from this post in your own singing.
The free video includes 3 Bonus exercises for developing your head and falsetto voice.
That way, you can improve the top of your range today.
Click the big image to get the free video!
Hi, I’m curious, can we belt with the head voice? I mean if it’s complete with a balanced twang, effective vowel modification toward open sounds and strong adductions. I found indeed many rounded belting in the Bb4 D5 range roughly or higher, sometimes to F5 or even G5, sung by men or women with low voices, which resemble very closely the belting of women soul singer with higher voice, or in general the fullness and roundness more typical of women belting. But it’s clear that, rightly so they changed register with respect of what they do with say their E4 and F4 belting zone. They use less vocal mass and that’s good and healthy, but keep the compression. While women with higher voices, of course, likely can get to such notes with their full folded mix. No one is worse or better for that, a higher voice simply sheds mass higher and even for them good results are not granted easily. Also I think that at F5 and above even most female belting is adducted and twanged light mass phonation like men’s (which of course further thins out proportionately).
Bottom line is, can you sing very high belts in head voice, without distortion? Thank you very much.
From a laryngeal and acoustic perspective, belting is “yelling skillfully” which is not technically a head voice registration.
While singers are usually belting in the head voice area, they’re using the larger vocal fold configuration found in chest voice. It’s just that you’re able to thin the folds enough (through twang and vowel) in order to achieve the correct pitch.
I love that you used Somebody to love As an example. But even higheR is Roger taylor. People think hes singing falsetto when its simply the top end of vocal register. He was a choirboy as a kid, obviously one of the higher registers.
Yeah Sav, Roger Taylor is a beast!
Thanks for your message.
Cover photo is not all that great…
Don’t hate on Bey.
She’s awesome, ha!
This was helpful! Thanks
You’re welcome Parker!
All through grade school and high school I was a first soprano…singing in a head tone. much to my surprise and terrible sadness at about 28 years of age it disappeared…one day it was there and the next day I was no longer able to produce it. I have always wondered what could have happened…it has never come back. I never had any trouble singing before that…in the 2 years I took chorus in high school, I made Illinois all-state chorus both years so I was a very accomplished singer…can you offer any reason for this? Ever since that happened I lost my interest in singing I hate the sound of my chest tone and I have range either. I am now 63 years old…I MISS MY VOICE!
Hey Elisabeth, lots of different possibilities here:
1) Did you stop singing after school? Was there any break where you weren’t working with your voice?
Remember the voice is a muscle and needs to be continually worked.
2) It’s possible that you still had those high notes at 28 but due to whatever reason, you weren’t able to find them as easily.
This would have been a good time to find a teacher to help you regain access.
3) As we age, hormonal changes tend to make women’s voices lower.
So it’s possible that at 63 some of this range is indeed gone.
But if you’re still looking to improve your vocal range, I’ve had fantastic success in helping aging singers reclaim their range.
You just need to do vocal exercises to improve it.
is it possible to be a doctor and a singer at the same time?
and do you have any good songs that i could sing to improve my head voice??
iv noticed that as i go higher my voice starts to get thinner, is there a reason behind this??
Hey Oghieghie, thanks for your message. Yes as the vocal cords thin out to get to head voice, the vocal tone usually follows.
However the whole point of this article is to help you learn to sing with a fuller head voice. Check out the exercises.
In regards to your other question, of course it’s possible to do both at the same time.
I have students in lots of different careers who pursue singing.
And finally, yes check out the songs that I listed in the article to help you improve your head voice.
Would you call the high part that brian wilson sings in songs like “Surfer girl” falsetto? Surely that can’t be his natural range, but it doesn’t sound breathy. I’m thinking of attempting a cover of that song but normally i’m a baritone. Do i’m not sure if it’s a realistic goal. When I tried singing the high notes my voice was strained, but that could be partly lack of practice. This is really the first time i’ve made a concerted effort to sing with a head voice since I sang in a choir as a child. I know everyone’s voice is slightly different, but generally speaking, do you think many baritones could hit those high notes even in falsetto?
Hey Chris, great question dude!
You’ve accidentally just dipped your feet into Vocal Acoustics.
The high parts in Beach Boys’ songs are done in a mode 2/head voice/falsetto configuration.
But you’ll notice that above a certain point, the voice becomes very strong and clear again.
That’s because his first formant is actually lining up with the pitch that he sings.
This tends to happen when you make it over the “first bridge” area that SLS talks about.
So for example, E4, F4, F#4 and G4 tend to be quite difficult for a tenor.
But around an A4, his voice opens up again. That’s because of the first formant interaction with the harmonic.
Everything makes sense now. That was super helpful,in a small its kinda changed my life! Thanks a lot!
You’re welcome Nandika! So glad it helped.
I’m interested to see your references for thE vocal studies? No mention of TA muscle or CT muscles that are responsible for the lengthening and shortening of vocal Folds? I feel like the whole time you Refer to head voice YOU’RE Actually REFERRING to mix/middle. Mix usIng both muscle groups but still TA dominant. Super interesting read and theOry But i’m very interested in reading the studies you mentioned that prove this. I disaGree with sam smith, I can hear the change in his voice. Falsetto DOESN’T need to be weak or breathy. It can be strong and clear but I’d love to learn and have my mind changed 🙂 thats what liFes aBout. Cheers, jane 🙂
Hey Jane, great to hear from you. Indeed, when I’m talking about a “full head voice” in this context, I’m referring to a mixed voice.
There’s still a lot of research being done, but the newest studies seem to indicate there is no “mixed voice”.
But rather an even closure of the vocal folds from TA dominant to CT dominant.
Check out Kenneth Bozeman’s book “Practical Vocal Acoustics” and Dr. Scott McCoy’s “Your Voice: An Inside View” for more.