AskDefine | Define falsetto

Dictionary Definition

falsetto adj : artificially high; above the normal voice range; "a falsetto voice" n : a male singing voice with artificially high tones in an upper register

User Contributed Dictionary



From falso.


  • IPA: /fal.ˈsɛ.to/
    • (informal US: /faɫ.ˈsɛ.ɾo/)
  • Schoolbook Phonetics: (fälsĕˊtō)
  • Last Resort Phonetics: fall-SE(T)-toe


  1. (countable or uncountable) The "false" (singing) voice in any human, usually airy and lacking a purity of vowels; created by utilizing the next highest vocal folds above those used for speech and normal range singing. It is commonly confused with the Head Voice register.


Extensive Definition

The term falsetto (Italian diminutive of falso, false) refers to the vocal register occupying the frequency range just above the modal voice register and overlapping with it by approximately one octave. It is produced by the vibration of the ligamentous edges of the vocal cords, in whole or in part. Though frequently used in reference to a particular type of vocal production in singing, falsetto vocal production also occurs within speech and is one of the four main vocal registers identified within speech pathology. The characteristic sound of falsetto is inherently breathy and flute-like, with few overtones present. The falsetto voice is more limited in dynamic variation and tone quality than the modal voice in both speaking and singing. Both men and women can phonate in the falsetto register. The term falsetto is most often used in the context of singing to refer to a vocal technique that enables the singer to sing notes beyond the vocal range of the normal or modal voice.

Physiological process of the falsetto register

The essential difference between the modal register or normal voice and falsetto register lies in the amount and type of vocal cord involvement: in falsetto, only the ligamentous edges of the vocal folds enter into vibration-the main body of each fold is more or less relaxed; in modal voice, the wavelike motion involves the whole vocal cord, with the glottis opening at the bottom first and then at the top. When the transition from modal voice to falsetto takes place, the main body of each vocal cord or the vocalis muscle relaxes its resistance to the pull of the cricothyroid muscles enough for the vocal ligaments to be stretched still further.
In the modal register, the vocal folds (when viewed with a stroboscope) are seen to contact with each other completely during each vibration, closing the gap between them fully, if just for a very short time. This closure cuts off the escaping air. When the air pressure in the trachea rises as a result of this closure, the folds are blown apart, while the vocal processes of the arytenoid cartilages remain in apposition. This creates an oval shaped gap between the folds and some air escapes, lowering the pressure inside the trachea. Rhythmic repetition of this movement, a certain number of times a second, creates a pitched note. It is an established fact that women have a falsetto register and that many young female singers substitute falsetto for the upper portion of the modal voice. Some vocal pedagogists believe that this failure to recognize the female falsetto voice has led to the misidentification of young contraltos and mezzo-sopranos as sopranos, as it is easier for these lower voice types to sing in the soprano tessitura using their falsetto register. The head voice of a man is, according to David A. Clippinger most likely equivalent to the middle voice of a woman. This may mean the head voice of a woman is a man's falsetto equivalent. Although, in contemporary teaching, some teachers no longer talk of the middle voice, choosing to call it the head voice as with men. Falsetto is not generally counted by classical purists as a part of the vocal range of anyone except countertenors. There are exceptions, however, such as the Bariton-Martin which uses falsetto (see baritone article).
In Hawai'i, many Hawaiian songs feature falsetto, called "leo ki'eki'e", a term coined in Hawaiian in 1973. Falsetto singing, most often used by men, extends the singer's range to notes above their ordinary vocal range. The voice makes a characteristic break during the transition from the ordinary vocal register to the falsetto register. In Western falsetto singing, the singer tries to make the transition between registers as smooth as possible. In Hawaiian-style falsetto, the singer emphasizes the break between registers. Sometimes the singer exaggerates the break through repetition, as a yodel. As with other aspects of Hawaiian music, falsetto developed from a combination of sources, including pre-European Hawaiian chanting, early Christian hymn singing and the songs and yodeling of immigrant cowboys during the Kamehameha Reign in the 1800s when cowboys were brought from Mexico to teach Hawaiians how to care for cattle. Falsetto may have been a natural and comfortable vocal technique for early Hawaiians, since a similar break between registers called "ha'iha'i", is used as an ornament in some traditional chanting styles.
There is a difference between the modern usage of the "head voice" term and its previous meaning in the renaissance as a type of falsetto, according to many singing professionals. The falsetto can be coloured or changed to sound different. It can be given classical styling to sound as male classical countertenors make it sound, or more contemporary as is the case in modern R&B music(Ronald Isley for example). It can be made in different tonalities as is often the case of its use in progressive rock (for example, Roger Taylor of Queen and Matt Bellamy of the band Muse), heavy metal (for example, King Diamond of Mercyful Fate), and especially power metal (for example, Michael Kiske of Helloween). Raine Maida of the post-grunge band Our Lady Peace, also uses falsetto.

The falsetto voice in singing

Falsetto is more limited in dynamic variation and tone quality than the modal voice. Most trained singers have at least an octave of range that they can sing in either modal voice or falsetto. In this overlapping area a given pitch in modal voice will always be louder than the same pitch sung in falsetto. The type of vocal cord vibration that produces the falsetto voice precludes loud singing except in the highest tones of that register; it also limits the available tone colors because of the simplicity of its waveform. Modal voice is capable of producing much more complex waveforms and infinite varieties of tone color. Falsetto, however, does involve less physical effort by the singer than the modal voice and, when properly used, can make possible some lovely tonal effects., as in the Saturday Night Live sketch "Barry Gibb Talk Show". One notable exception, however, concerns those cultures in which falsetto is consciously or unconsciously maintained as a form of social distinction amongst women, notably in the bourgeois French speech patterns of the beaux-quartiers of Paris and provincial cities of central France. Some people, however, speak frequently or entirely in the falsetto register. This behavior is identified by speech pathologists as a type of functional dysphonia. The term is also used to describe a slightly artificially-raised sounding pitch that often occurs momentarily, if repeatedly, in boys during puberty as their voice changes.


Further reading

External links

falsetto in Czech: Falzet
falsetto in Danish: Falset
falsetto in German: Falsett
falsetto in Estonian: Falsett
falsetto in Spanish: Falsete
falsetto in Esperanto: Falseto
falsetto in French: Fausset
falsetto in Galician: Falsete
falsetto in Korean: 가성
falsetto in Italian: Falsetto
falsetto in Dutch: Kopstem
falsetto in Japanese: ファルセット
falsetto in Norwegian: Falsett
falsetto in Polish: Falset
falsetto in Portuguese: Falsete
falsetto in Russian: Фальцет
falsetto in Simple English: Falsetto
falsetto in Finnish: Falsetti
falsetto in Swedish: Falsett
falsetto in Contenese: 假音
falsetto in Chinese: 假聲

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

alto, aphonia, artificial voice, baritone, bass, bourdon, bravura, broken speech, broken tones, broken voice, burden, chest voice, childish treble, choked voice, choral, choric, coloratura, countertenor, cracked voice, croak, crow, dramatic, drone, drone bass, dysarthria, dyslalia, dyslogia, dysphasia, dysphonia, dysphrasia, harshness, hawking voice, head register, head tone, head voice, heroic, high, high-pitched, high-sounding, high-toned, hiss, hoarseness, hymnal, idioglossia, idiolalia, impairment of speech, lisp, lisping, liturgical, loss of voice, lyric, male alto, mezzo-soprano, muzzy speech, nasal tone, nasalization, operatic, psalmic, psalmodial, psalmodic, quaver, sacred, shake, sibilation, singing, soprano, speech defect, speech impediment, tenor, treble, tremor, twang, vocal, voce, voce di petto, voce di testa, voice
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