What’s the difference between falcetto and head voice?

As a singer, we all seem to want to know what is the difference between head voice and falcetto. Do we really need to know exactly when it switches from one to the other?  I have had numerous singers ask me this question, so this is how I try to explain it.

The difference between head voice and falcetto can be recognized by the singer as a feeling or sensation, and a difference in effort level.

If you are in head voice, it will feel like you have good control over the volume and vibrato of your high notes. This is because the cords have the ability to hold back your breath, increasing and decreasing the amount of breath that you send through your cords as you desire. I classify this as head voice being “connected” or “mixed” with the rest of the singer’s voice. In other words, the singer would be able to descend in pitch and be able to keep the same “feeling” of vocal cord connection.

Falcetto, on the other hand, is the inability of the vocal cords to hold back enough air, that would otherwise be called head voice! Falcetto has a breathier quality by default, and feels totally different from the rest of your voice. It is hard to control the volume, and you run out of breath quickly. It usually follows a sensation of singing with control while ascending in pitch, and then being unable to maintain the same degree of control. The vocal cords suddenly feel like they “blow apart” or “let go.”

The reason it is hard to differeniate between head voice and falcetto at times, is because a singer can have a light head voice. Is light head voice the same as falcetto? IMHO, no. Falcetto will always feel like a loss of control of the higher register, and disconnected from the rest of the voice. Whereas, a light (mixed) head voice will be able to siren down and back up again, and feel the same throughout.

What is interesting is that singers like the Bee Gees, Aaron Neville and Leanne Rimes use their head voice and falcetto qualities to varying degrees in their singing all the time. Do we really need to label who is doing what?

Here’s my analysis anyway, ha ha, because I enjoy trying to “figure it out” and also hope some you readers will send me your thoughts and feedback.

The Bee Gees are using head voice (but not a mixed quality). They have a clear (although twangy), non-breathy, well established vocal musculature that they have total control of. It is disconnected from their chest register. Could this be considered falcetto? I’m sure many readers might consider their singing falcetto. In order to prove any such status, we would need to see their vocal cords in action, as well as have a pre-determined “picture” of what falcetto always looks like in the vocal cords. The entire professional vocal community would need to agree on these parameters. This hasn’t happened yet, so until the singing teachers and coaches of the world come together and agree on terminology and function, we will need to rely on other parameters. For me, it’s my ears!

Leanne Rimes, in the song “Blue,” has a yodel that some would classify as falcetto. However, she has the same quality in the low notes as the high notes. Sure, there is a defined flip, but her ability to engage her vocal cords in her head register the way she does, tells me this is definitely head voice quality, but not in a mix. It is disconnected from the chest register. In fact, that is what yodelling is. The ability to go back and forth from chest register to head register, with a flip, but with the same vocal quality in each register. One register is not breathier than the other.

Aaron Neville’s voice, is an interesting analysis. He has a beautiful mix of mostly head voice in his singing. When he flips to only head voice, he is simply releasing his chest register in the mix. Even though it has a breath-like quality, you will notice it is the same breath-like quality as his lower notes. Therefore, this is not falcetto. This is a defined flip between a mixed voice (mostly head voice) and his true head voice.

Do you have any questions about your head voice or falcetto voice? Can you tell the difference in your voice? Let me know!

I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I did writing it!


2 thoughts on “What’s the difference between falcetto and head voice?

  1. This is so not true….Opera singers use falcetto…I feel like there is a common misconception that falcetto means loss of control, loss of breath and loss of sound quality. But this is just not true, it only means that you’re doing it wrong. In order to achieve a falcetto that is controlled and stabile it is imperative that you fully engage your core and stabilize your diaphragm above your pelvic floor. It is true that vocal chords ascend in pitch until you reach your falcetto, where it seems as if your head voice “breaks” into a purer opera sounding high pitch voice, which is indeed breathier. It is also true that it is easier to damage your vocal chords if you do not engage your core and stabilize your diaphragm properly while singing falcetto. But this does not at all mean that falcetto is undesirable and that you should avoid it. It also does not mean that you have to limit yourself to only the range of your head voice. It is much more fun to utilize the full extent of your vocal chords which includes your falcetto range. The only practical difference between falcetto and head voice is that falcetto requires much more practice to achieve a pure falcetto. It’s like stretching, it will take a long time to get there and you’ll have to take it slow, focussing on engaging the core at all times, but in time you will get there and then you will stand apart from your peers who try produce a loud, unpleasant screamy sound when trying to belt high notes whereas you, at this point, will have the ability to sing high notes with a pure quality in your falcetto. Being able to control your vocal chords as well as your pitch, in my opinion, is the difference between an average singer and an excellent singer with a unique sound.

    • Thank you for your comment. Very interesting and useful information. You are either a vocal coach, or an established singer? Opera?

      I would love to hear a female demonstrate a C6 in both her high voice and then falcetto, at variable volumes, so I could compare.

      I assume the main difference is going to be where the sound is resonating?

      What you are referring to as “pure” falcetto, I think I would interpret in my own voice as “head voice” or “high voice”. This is because I am engaged and supported in my core to make as pure a sound as possible.

      I interpret my falcetto as less engaged and lighter….so therefore, breathier.

      Again, I really appreciate your comment and dialog. Susie

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