Alfred Tomatis’s remarks on falsetto

“When you use falsetto to negotiate the passaggio it regains the pride of place it had in bel canto singing. This vital part of singing technique was nearly eclipsed by the pushed, gutsy sound that emerged with verismo. Taste dictated for a long time that this supposedly strong, courageous vocal utterance wore an air of almost moral superiority.  The falsetto was considered for a time to be old fashioned and decadent. Those singers who continued to use it had to disguise it well.  People had forgotten that the falsetto accommodato is the foundation of every sound we make.  It is the only way to shift properly between registers.  If you don’t know how to make the necessary adjustments, you have a difficult approach to the high notes. The larynx does not move down freely and the voice becomes hard, straight, white, acid and lifeless. This is not bel canto, it is can belto!

This mechanism must be found in every voice from soprano to bass.  Register changes always cause a modification of the laryngeal-pharyngeal-respiratory structure.  You do not have to be able to recite the anatomy of all the ligaments and muscles involved, but you do have to know their location as precisely as possible.  The feeling of relaxation is so clear that once you get it, it is easy to make a habit, so that you can go in and out of chest and head at will. You will have to be patient and persistent to learn to do this gradually and elegantly that the shifts become imperceptible to the listener.

Negotiating the passaggio is the acid test of a good vocal technique.  If you don’t get the hang of it, your vocal cords have to withstand inordinate punishment, and you will never be able to make the necessary shifts. There is nothing artificial about falsetto; it is a mark of good technique. You have never really sung at all until you have experienced the beautiful mezzavoce sounds that become available to you with falsetto.

The kind of color you get from using a mix of falsetto is absolutely gorgeous. When you do your preparation for singing, you use falsetto. It is the basis for every sound you make, so use it for study and gradually mix in more intensity and volume where you need it, while always conserving your connection to this underlying quality.  Every attack starts gently, with the kernel of the pitch. This is the way the voice works. Always go from soft to full voice, rather than starting with singing full out then trying to tone it down. It doesn’t work.”

Tomatis, Alfred A. The ear and the voice. Scarecrow Press, 2005.

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