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Falsetto (from Italian synonymous with falsetto for a "higher pitch achieved by compressing the cartilage ") is the name for a vocal register and thus for a special form of using the human voice .


"Falset voice, falsetto [ital.] Means: (1. what a good master can bring about and enforce above or below every blowing instrument, natural and ordinary high or low. (2. With adult singers, if they instead of their proper bass or tenor voice, by forcing the neck together and forcing the alto or discant singing. That is why it is called an unnatural voice. "

- Johann Gottfried Walther: Musicalisches Lexikon , 1732

In a broader sense, the term is understood as what is commonly referred to as the head voice or sometimes (incorrectly) “ fistulous voice ”, i.e. the male speaking or singing voice raised by an octave , in which the vocal cords do not vibrate completely, but only at their edges which creates a soft and fundamental sound. In the narrower (musical) sense, the term falsetto includes the amplification of this peripheral vibration voice in the depth through the tonal admixture of the chest and head voices. This technique enables counter tenors to dynamically balance the transition to lower layers. When yodelling , the constant change between normal voice and falsetto is characteristic.


The high voices were already appreciated in late antiquity . In order to prevent boys from breaking their voices , they were castrated before puberty .

Up until the Baroque era , the falsetto voice, whose vocal technique is said to have been introduced to Andalusian music in Córdoba by the Persian musician Ziryab (Abu Hassan Ali ben Nafi) in the 9th century and spread from there via trobadors in Europe, was one of several possibilities, singing of men in soprano and alto registers. Spanish falsettists ("Spagnioletti") sang in the Vatican. With the emergence of the opera from the end of the 16th century, boys and castrati increasingly sang the high male roles.

Classical music

In the baroque opera, this type of singing was only required now and then as a comic effect. It was not until the 20th century - when, in the course of the rediscovery of baroque opera, there were more and more countertenors who sang the castrati roles - composers such as Benjamin Britten ( Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream , Aldeburgh Festival 1960), Hans Werner Henze ( L'Upupa or Der Triumph der Sohnesliebe, Salzburg 2003), Georg Friedrich Haas ( Die Schöne Wunde, Bregenz 2003), Gavin Bryars ( Gutenberg, Mainz 2002) or Klaus Huber ( Schwarzerde, Basel 2001) again to write for falsettists. The roles are often "intermediate beings".

Rock and pop

From the days of the early blues on, falsetto has been used as a stylistic device by a large number of singers in all styles of popular music .

In the field of doo-wop music , falset singers are used in the sense of close harmony in order to complete the harmonies. Based on this, it is used extensively in vocal surf music , the best known example being Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys .

Some singers only use the technique in individual songs, for example Bruce Springsteen sang Lift Me Up , the closing song for the movie Limbo , in 1999 , completely in falsetto. Individual songs or parts of songs, for example, were performed in falsetto by Neil Young and Axl Rose , Mick Jagger also sang the piece Emotional Rescue and Prince the song Kiss , mostly in falsetto .

In the 1960s and 1970s, American artist Tiny Tim became known for his falsetto singing. The combination of his looks, the singing and the accompaniment of the ukulele made him and his extreme falsetto famous. The Bee Gees achieved great commercial success with their three-part falsetto singing in the disco wave at the end of the 1970s.

Freddie Mercury's vocal range

In order to be able to sing songs from extreme depths to extreme heights, Fish , singer of the group Marillion , and Freddie Mercury also use falsetto. The latter also sang complete songs in falsetto. Mercury was actually a baritone by nature , but was able to shade the various registers of his 3½ octave voice in a variety of ways. Not only was he able to intonate the low F correctly, he was also able to give his voice the matching characteristic timbre of a bass baritone. Accordingly, it sounds absolutely convincing with the b ″ in the extremely high falsetto register.

Martyn Jacques, singer and head of the British "punk cabaret trio" The Tiger Lillies, sings almost exclusively in falsetto .

Metal and Heavy Metal

In the course of the heavy metal wave that started in Great Britain around 1980, numerous bands with falsetto singers emerged in Europe and the USA. The most famous of them is Rob Halford , who recorded a variety of falsetto chants with the band Judas Priest between 1976 and 1990 (for example the song Painkiller ). Other well-known falset singers from heavy metal include Bruce Dickinson , Ian Gillan , Tobias Sammet , Michael Kiske , Harry Conklin , Tim Owens , King Diamond and Eric Adams . Also with the German band Knorkator , the classically trained singer Stumpen (Gero Ivers) sang very high falsetto in various songs, but in a clear execution that is untypically for metal , which some listeners initially consider a female voice. Especially in Power Metal , falsetto singing is crucial, especially with the bands Hammerfall and Iced Earth .

Sufi music

In Sufi religious music , male singers reciting poetic songs by revered Sufi saints in falsetto imitate the high voices of women as a form of devotion to God. Singing in falsetto occurs in Qawwali in Pakistan , for example in the songs of the most famous qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan . In southern Pakistan, the religious verse form called Sur is sung predominantly in falsetto , with the singers accompanying each other on the long-necked tanburo .

Spoken falsetto

Falsetto is also used when men want to use their speaking voice to imitate a woman's voice. Examples of well-known dubbed films in which men disguise themselves as women in women's clothes and falsetto voices include Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot , Terry Jones as Brian's mother in The Life of Brian , Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie , Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire - The Prickly Nanny and Martin Lawrence in Big Mama's house . Actress and singer Megan Mullally used falsetto to portray Karen Walker on the television series Will & Grace .

Falsetto on brass instruments

Even in the German Foreign Dictionary , which was first published in 1913, the "wrong notes" of brass instruments were listed first under the keyword falsetto . Today lexicons no longer know this phenomenon. Anthony Baines' definition is:

"FALSET. The wind player has room to control the pitch of a natural note . While it is just sufficient to correct the intonation in the middle and high register , it becomes very broad in the lower register with regard to the lowering of the note; in fact, without this phenomenon, the conventional three- valve system would have limited future prospects because the valve combinations required for the depth produce too high tones. With the 2nd natural tone you can let the tone drop to a fourth or more by relaxing the lips ( loose-lipping ) and creating artificial tones through a kind of shuffling approach that the theory of overtones does not know at all. "

Arthur H. Benade explains the artificial low tones between the first and second natural tones in such a way that you can make a pipe sound with other “preferred resonances ” than natural tones. While the frequencies of the natural tones are always integer multiples of the basic frequency, there are also resonances in the integer fractions of these natural tones. This is of little practical importance at altitude because the natural tones are close together there. In terms of depth, however, the gap between the first and second natural tone can be filled, albeit with tones of inferior quality.


  • Anthony Baines: Brass Instruments, Their History and Development. 3rd edition, London 1980, Reprint: New York 1993, ISBN 0-486-27574-4 .
  • Arthur H. Benade: Music and Harmony. Munich 1960 (Original: Horns, Strings & Harmony. Westport 1960)
  • Christian von Deuster: How did the castrati sing? Historical considerations. In: Würzburg medical history reports. Volume 25, 2006, pp. 133-152, here: pp. 146-150.
  • Hans Schulz: German foreign dictionary. Volume 1, 1st edition, Mannheim 1913, new edition: Volume 5, Mannheim 2004, ISBN 3-11-018021-9 .
  • Philip Norman: Sir Elton: The definitive biography of Elton John. Pan Books, London [and others] 2001, ISBN 0-330-37734-5 .
  • Hubert Ortkemper: A whim of nature. Androgynous voices. In: New magazine for music. Volume 160, 1999, pp. 14-17.

Web links

Wiktionary: Falsetto  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Friedrich Kluge , Alfred Götze : Etymological dictionary of the German language . 20th ed., Ed. by Walther Mitzka , De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1967; Reprint (“21st unchanged edition”) ibid 1975, ISBN 3-11-005709-3 , p. 183.
  2. Christian von Deuster: How did the castrati sing? Historical considerations. 2006, p. 146 f.
  3. press report srf.ch
  4. Hans Schulz (Ed.): German Foreign Dictionary . Volume 1, 1st edition, Mannheim 1913.