Welcome to the third installment of ‘ASK MTR’. In this series, readers can ask MTR founder Kevin Michael Jones any pressing questions they have about voice training, vocal styles, repertoire, and more. Use this contact form to ask a question.
Q: “Are there any benefits to working on falsetto with men?”
A: In a word, yes! I am a huge proponent of falsetto development with male singers. The simple reason is because male and female voices largely function the same way and should be treated as such. Regardless of a singer’s sex, the vocal folds are driven by two sets of laryngeal muscles: the thyroarytenoids (TA) and the cricothyroids (CT). Utilizing these muscles, A performer can choose to sing in one of two distinct vocal production ‘modes’ at any time: TA muscle-dominant mode (AKA ‘chest voice’) or CT muscle-dominant mode (AKA ‘head voice’ or ‘falsetto’ for men). In conjunction with various vocal tract configurations, these laryngeal muscle modes produce distinct acoustic sounds to listeners. Additionally, a primary passaggio/break area exists around the E/F region above middle C for both men and women. This area can be a bit higher or lower in one’s range– depending on the individual.
In practice, both ‘chest voice’ and ‘falsetto’ actually utilize the TA and CT muscles to varying degrees. Thus, even when a male performer sings with TA-dominant production, the CT muscles still stretch and activate somewhat. Balance is therefore key. A voice with too much TA-muscle involvement will sound pressed and ‘shouty’ to listeners. When this occurs, the constrictor muscles in the throat often engage to make up for weak CT-muscle strength, flexibility, and co-ordination (an undesirable behavior). On the other side of the spectrum, a voice with too much CT-muscle involvement will usually sound weak, breathy, and/or ‘dull’ in general (especially low and mid-range notes).
The first issue noted in the above paragraph is very common with young male singers. They often feel as if they have to shout out high notes around the passaggio and above– causing the constrictor muscles to engage and the vocal folds to slam together. Working falsetto with these singers can be hugely beneficial because it strengthens those weak CT muscles that are necessary for free, high range notes of all kinds. An added benefit is that the vocal folds cannot forcibly adduct/close during CT-dominant production. This means the constrictor muscles will often cease to engage– leading to an overall freer and healthier sound. The singer should then learn to apply this same feeling of freedom to TA-dominant singing. Again, it’s about achieving balance.
Finally, because this is a musical theatre blog, I feel inclined to mention that contemporary pop and rock sounds are commonplace in musical theatre scores today. Falsetto usage is a big part of those styles and is becoming a near-necessity for male singer-actors who want to remain competitive in the professional musical theatre world. I strongly advise not skimping out on this important part of voice training with men. If we expect women to be able to sing with both CT and TA dominant production– and we often do in musical theatre— we should hold men to those same standards. This isn’t so much about sex as it is balancing the voice and giving performers options that will make them more marketable in the competitive theatre world today. Thank you for this question.