These are words from a talented singer and music teacher who was asked to warm up our choir's high notes. I cut out of an exercise like that because my big voice not want to change to that "flute-like" or "falsetto" register. Not only does the voice not want to sing in just that way, but it also cannot do that flute voice thing very well. This puts me in a dilemma at choir, however. If I do use my full voice, or "modal voice" for the exercise, it will sound like I am showing off and ignoring the instructions. If I don't sing at all, it looks like I can't do what she's asking. Well, actually, that's right. I can't do what she's asking. I do not participate in this exercise and everyone has to think I don't have high notes at all. But it so totally does not matter what everyone thinks. So, I warm up my high voice at home. An alto doesn't do high singing, but warming up the high voice is important all the same because I believe that the entire voice is contained in each pitch in some way, and that the work done in the high voice benefits the low.
But it bothers me that I couldn't sing along with the others, and I begin to wonder once again why my voice cannot do the flutey staccato exercise the choir teacher is requesting. This wondering prompts me to dig out a book I read a few years ago, a classic one, The Diagnosis & Correction of Vocal Faults: a manual for teachers of singing & for choir directors by James C. McKinney. I wonder what he says about this.
I find his chapter on "Registration," and within that chapter, just after the section where he talks about "modal voice register," there is a section on "falsetto." I read this book 4-5 years ago, and refer to it from time to time. I see that the chapter has my underlinings in it. At the time I was reading those pages, I probably barely understood what my eyes were seeing. Now, five years of voice lesson later, and thousands of articles and discussions on vocal science and technique later, I understand these passages only a little better. That's why it is so good to go back and read what you thought you already learned again. And again. And again.
I read what is written here in the text:
Most trained singers have at least an octave of range which 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.
So, the singer warming up the choir is asking us to sing in the falsetto voice, and not the modal voice when we do her light staccato exercises. It seems like I should be able to sing in this "falsetto" voice, if "most trained singers" have an octave where they can sing in this voice, but I can't. I"ve always had trouble with it. Why? Is it because my voice is "heavier?" "bigger?" "dramatic?"
Mr. McKinney writes:
Many teachers advocate the use of falsetto exercises to aid n the development of the upper portion of the modal voice. Here falsetto is not a substitute for the modal voice, rather, it is a means to an end. The ultimate goal is to free up the modal voice and strengthen it ...
Should I be using falsetto exercises in my training then?
While composing this blog post, and all my blog posts, I always have another tab open where I can google. A quick google of "dramatic singers and falsetto" brought up one of my favorite blogs about vocal science, one written by one of the most knowledgeable people out there on these subjects, Jean-Ronald Lafond.
I am sure I read this post when it was written a year ago last July, but like the words in McKinney's book, I did not fully understand the significance.
JRL writes, in his piece, "Why falsetto (flute voice) is important in vocal pedagogy: an issue of muscular balance.":
As previously said, not every singer can produce a falsetto and this is a sign of malfunction, at very least weakness in Crico-Thyroid and lateral Thyro-arytenoid muscles. These muscles mainly are responsible for the lengthening of the vocal folds. It could also mean that the vocalis is relatively muscle-bound, so rigid as to resist Crico-thyroid activity at a given pitch range. The ideal at any pitch level should be a possibility of variable interaction between the two muscle groups in question; that one is not limited to a single state on any given pitch. If the vocalis is so inflexible as not to allow falsetto, this must be seen as a relative dysfunction. This lack of falsetto ability is observable in many tenors referred to as possessing "robust" voices, and often in baritones who train as basses, and natural sopranos who train as mezzos. There is indeed a relationship between "pushed" down voices and inflexibility of the vocalis. [emphasis mine]So then, is my inability to do the flutey choir exercises a sign of malfunction and imbalance? Do I need to explore this voice in order to free up my instrument? Is there yet still more imbalance after all this concentrating on trying to get the vocal instrument balanced?
Developing and maintaining a healthy falsetto range is one of the necessary characteristics of healthy vocal production.Although my crico-thyroid muscles are much more activated than they had been, they still are underdeveloped, I'm sure, compared to the thyro-arytenoids. I often called my voice the tyrannosaurus rex with the TA muscles being like the legs and thighs of the tyrannosaurus rex, and the CT muscles being like the puny helpless arms. My tyrannosaurus rex voice has been doing pushups, and the arms have developed some functionality, and this has been exciting, but they need to do a lot more. Isn't it funny, this analogy, because in my real life I have always been very strong from my waist down, but a little weak in upper body strength. I remember it was hard for me to do chinups on the bar my dad hung across the doorway for that purpose when I was a kid.
You know, when I started this post, I had originally planned to argue for doing the choral exercises in modal voice. In order to make my argument, however, I had to start doing some research. In the course of doing the research, I learned that doing the exercises the way suggested by the choral teacher might be just something I need in my vocal development right now. It is really important for me not to cling so hard to something that I think I may know. I must always remain open to learning more and more deeply. My singing teacher often says to me that my writing this blog is good because the ability to put what you know into words helps you really grasp the concepts. I am experiencing an example of this now. In order to put into words what I had planned to say, I had to begin a search to understand it more deeply, and in the process, my understanding changed. This is a wonderful thing!
No doubt you will be hearing Frescamari try out some flutelike exercises in her practice room in the near future. Maybe I'll start with the ones from choir. It defnitely won't be pretty. But I'm not here to show off I'm here to do the work I need to do to have a little something later. I must believe I can do this!
Check out Frescamari's Practice Room: "The Flutey Hoo Hoo Hoo Exercises from Choir (that I can't doo doo doo)"