IS USING FALSETTO BAD FOR YOU?
Over the years I’ve heard multiple singers and coaches share the belief that falsetto bad for the voice. From my experience, all I can say is that falsetto has been a wonderful tool for my personal vocal development.
Still, some will argue that falsetto adds little value to building a strong voice. To those who believe this fallacy, it is time to shed some light on this subject. The only way I can convince you is to share my story. Let’s jump back 40+ years…
I’ve sang since I can remember, falling in love with Elvis Presley’s voice at the tender age of three. My grandmother used to spin his records for me as a child and I knew before I could spell my first word that I wanted to be a singer.
From the first day I heard Jailhouse Rock, I became a singer and I would sing any chance I was provided, from acapella renditions of Elvis songs while dancing on my aunt’s coffee table to entertain my family to singing in grade school plays to singing choir in middle school; nothing could stop me…except puberty.
I always sang the high male parts in school until eight grade. Something had started to change in my voice and it was most noticeable during choir tryouts where my teacher, Miss Bausinger had us each sing a small part to know where to place us.
This year, my unstable lower-pitched voice cost me my general title as “tenor”’and I was forced to sing the “baritone” parts. I wasn’t happy and knew she was mistaken, so I belted out the theme song to Greatest American Hero, which was an easy song for me—-back in seventh grade…
Suddenly, that song felt “out of my range”.
It was the first time in my “singing career” that I’d ever felt vocal strain; I struggled to sing the chorus. It didn’t make sense to me. So I shut my mouth, and swallowed hard to remove the painful lump that got stuck in my throat as I’d screamed, “believe it or not, I’m walking on air”.
I went home that day, put Def Leppard’s Pyromania on our record player to sing along to test out my voice. Maybe I was just having a weird day. I knew I could wail on Rock of Ages; or so I thought.
Long story short, my high range was completely gone. I could no longer sing those theme songs or rock songs and I was devastated. How could this have happened to me? How did I lose my voice over one summer?!?
I was destroyed. My “career” was over. I dwelled on it for days. But one day as my mom was playing some Prince, I stopped to listen. This guy was singing high, but it didn’t sound like Joe Elliot or Joe Scarbury. No, it had a more feminine quality.
I recalled Miss Bausinger talking about something called “falsetto” and knew what it was, but never thought to try it for myself. The next day when my mom wasn’t home, I skipped to “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” off the album, 1999. If she were home, I’d have been beaten to death. What can I say; puberty was kicking in, in more ways than one…my golden high notes may have gone, but my curiosity about girls was at an all-time high.
So, I tried to sing along to “excuse me but I need a mouth like yours” in that superb falsetto that Prince had developed, but I sounded my like Peter Brady singing, “Time to Change.”
I quickly gave up the idea because falsetto was simply out of my grasp. I did however stick it out in chorus the entire year, stuck singing the lower parts, (though I felt small vocally). Still, I loved my teacher and my two friends, Kim Bentley and Alton Porter, but in my heart I knew that my chorus days were over. I decided not to try out for chorus in high school. In my mind, “what’s the use?!?
Fast forward to my sophomore year. I remember my friend, Mark Conley used to walk around making this falsetto sound on a “weeeeeeee” just to make us all laugh. I remember during one particular winter concert when the concert band was performing Mark was on “weeeee” fire. We all laughed and giggled and then our friend Jay Willis tried it too. He was able to do it!
I thought, “maybe I should try too.” Well, my “weeeee” wasn’t near as cool as Jay’s and definitely nowhere close to Mark’s, but it gave me hope. I had finally found my falsetto.
I’d already found my love for singing again, albeit many steps down from my desired range. But artists like Melvin Riley of Ready for the World inspired me as much as Elvis had. I’d started singing more R&B and pop from groups like New Edition, Wham, Ready for the World, but now that I’d discovered I DID have a falsetto, I started working on Prince tunes again.
It took several months before I felt comfortable singing in falsetto but it did indeed happen and I continued to sing along to all my favorite radio hits.
Then, in the winter of 1986 I believe, I joined my first real band…You see, I also loved to play keyboard and my mom had gotten me a Yamaha DX21 the previous Christmas. So, I auditioned to play keys for a band called FLINT and gotten the gig.
However, as far as singing went, I kept my mouth shut. I wasn’t very familiar with singing rock. But then one fateful rehearsal, the lead guitarist/lead singer Donnie Eubank brought up adding the song Mony Mony. I loved the song and had already learned the keyboard parts, but I had a burning desire to also sing it. So I asked if I could try.
We went through the song once with me playing keys and singing and at the end the rhythm guitarist Billy Massie stopped, looked at me, smiled, and said, “James, you’ve been holding out on us.”
That was all it took to break me out of my shell and make me want to consume rock music again. I began singing songs by Poison, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Guns N’ Roses, you name it.
However, I did have a lot of trouble with many of the songs. I could hit the notes, but it took a lot of effort and strain.
I continued this path of strain for several years before I moved to LA to study voice. I also worked my way back to falsetto singing and noticed that I could sing some of those old rock songs from my FLINT days in falsetto and still sound decently okay WITHOUT all the strain I had from years ago.
I joined other bands where I sang most of the material in falsetto, which sounded fine (in my mind) when singing along to bands like Slaughter.
But then I noticed something peculiar. From those countless hours of falsetto singing, I could tell my real voice was becoming more fluid and pliable. It didn’t take much effort for me to morph from falsetto to full voice and maintain it without strain. If strain did appear, I started a habit of practicing those “strain” songs in the tiniest volume falsetto I could sustain. Once I could sing a song in tiny falsetto, I added the “meat” and “power” of full voice and discovered the strain was gone.
That happened so long ago that I don’t even remember how I came up with tiny singing; but it worked. Since I knew it worked, I incorporated tiny singing, and even tiny falsetto exercises into the vocal routines I’d begun creating for local singers who sought me out as a vocal coach.
Those singers who practiced tiny singing and incorporated my Falsetto Slide exercises noticed the same results as I had. In fact, the amazing results I was seeing in other singers who were incorporating falsetto into their vocal regimen is why I still use falsetto to train singers to this day.
It works, period!!!
I love falsetto, I love weaving in and out of my own songs, which is why you hear my falsetto in different parts of my songs, (which you can hear at JaimeVendera.com/about) whether as a lead vocal line here and there or woven into the background as a harmony matched by my full voice tone doubling the same notes for a gigantic choir effect.
Bottom line, falsetto is an amazing tool for developing your full voice and there is no sin in using falsetto in your songs as well. The more you fine-tune your falsetto, the more control and power you’ll discover in your full voice.
If you’re new to falsetto, or simply want to improve your falsetto, I cover it extensively in my book, Raise Your Voice, and I’ve recently released an mp3 vocal lesson called Metal Falsetto, (from my Extreme Scream line) available at JaimeVendera.com/store.
I am so positive about the benefits if falsetto work than many of the video lessons in Vendera Vocal Academy focus on falsetto development too!
In ending this mini-book blog, ha-ha, I hope that I’ve convinced you of the power of falsetto and have inspired you to incorporate falsetto into your daily vocal workout routine as well as adding falsetto as needed to your vocal repertoire. Coloring your songs with falsetto can breathe life and character into each word you sing.
So, don’t discard the power of falsetto; embrace it, strengthen it, apply it, and your overall vocal abilities will increase!