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Head voice, Falsetto, and Whistle Register - Explained!

July 23, 2020

By Camille van Niekerk

Head voice, falsetto, and whistle are the three highest-pitched registers of the voice.

The term 'falsetto' refers to a type of vocal phonation that enables you to sing higher notes than the chest voice vocal range.

This range is the highest vocal range before entering your whistle register.


What is head voice? 

Head voice is the primary register you use to sing high pitches. To raise pitch, your vocal folds elongate. 

In order to observe how longer, thinner cords produce higher pitches, you can do an experiment with a rubber band.

Pluck the rubber band and continue plucking it as you stretch it out. The pitch produced by the rubber band will become gradually higher!

In head voice, the CT (cricothyroid) muscle pair is dominant. This is the set of muscles that stretch your vocal folds longer.


You can learn all about falsetto in the video lesson below. Be sure to subscribe so you never miss a new weekly video.



What is the difference between falsetto and head voice?

They are very similar! The current understanding of falsetto is that it is a more loosely connected form of head voice.

In both head voice and falsetto, the vocal folds are stretched long and thin. But in falsetto, the folds remain slightly more open than in head voice.

The resulting sound is light, thin, breathy and airy.


Bonus Tip

Falsetto, head voice and whistle register are a different thing than your vocal range or vocal type.

These registers, including chest voice and mixed voice, are all singing techniques you can use within your vocal range.


Do only males have falsetto?

Some singers hold that females have “head voice”, while males have “falsetto” as their main upper register.

As explained above, they’re really the same vocal fold function, but with different levels of compression (cord closure).

If someone asks you to use “falsetto”, they probably mean head voice! But you can always clarify what kind of sound they’re asking for. 


How can I exercise my falsetto/head voice?


• Decompress the vocal folds with an initial “H” sound

• Keep the sound small and narrow


Head voice

• Encourage head resonance with exercises using MM, NN, and NG

• Use narrow vowels like OO and EE to get into head voice, especially if you tend to pull chest voice

• Be careful to not push extra air at your vocal folds, maintaining a steady, smooth flow of air 

• Because higher pitches often require more space to resonate, consider dropping your jaw and employing some vowel modification in tricky areas of your range (like very high notes or notes around your passaggio)


What is whistle voice?

Whistle voice is the highest vocal register. It has a very bright, thin, edgy sound: like a whistle!

Because the vocal folds are difficult to visualize in whistle voice, there are a few different theories on how whistle is produced.

Some teachers say that only a small front portion of the vocal folds vibrate to produce whistle (rather than the full fold, as in chest, mix, and head voice).

Others say that the folds are not vibrating at all: instead, the folds remain still while air “whistles” through the space between them. 


Can everyone “whistle”? 

It’s possible that most singers can “squeak” above their head voice range; but a relatively small number of singers can consistently access their whistle register with clarity, control, and good intonation.

Granted, whistle voice certainly makes an impact on listeners, as fans of Mariah Carey and Ariana Grande will tell you.

But whistle voice is a fun extra - not an essential component.

Even if you can “whistle”, the vast majority of your practice time should be spent exercising your chest, mix, and head registers. 


How can I learn to sing in whistle register?

Try the following steps, adapted from voice teacher Justin Stoney of New York Vocal Coaching:

1. Practice inhale phonation by speaking as you inhale (instead of exhaling) 

2. Add vocal fry to the beginning of your inhale phonation 

3. Take it up into your head voice/falsetto register

4. Work on matching pitch within this register

5. Use the above steps, now on an exhale (instead of using inhale phonation)

6. Exercise your whistle register with vocal warmups


Final Thoughts

Exercising your upper register increases your flexibility and dynamic range in all registers. If you are looking to increase your vocal range, practice these falsetto and head voice techniques regularly. Eventually it will become second nature to you.

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