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High-pitched falsetto singing can show off a singer’s physical ability, because singing this way takes a lot of effort and some careful physics!

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When you think of beloved singers like Prince, Sam Smith, or Ariana Grande, you probably think of their impressive high notes. They’re often in sung in what’s called falsetto a type of high-pitched singing these artists are famous for being good at.

Falsetto adds complexity to songs, but it also shows off physical ability, because singing this way takes a whole lot of effort. Not to mention some careful physics. You speak and sing by pushing air past your vocal folds, or what people sometimes call vocal cords: they’re two thick membranes that sit horizontally in your neck, just above the trachea.

As you speak, they change shape, stiffness, and length, which helps give your voice different qualities. This is all done using two groups of muscles: the TA muscles that shorten the vocal folds, and the CT muscles that lengthen them. When it comes to singing, these muscles interact to create four distinct types of sound, called vocal mechanisms.

The lowest is the gravelly-sounding vocal fry, while the highest is whistle voice, made famous by singers like Mariah Carey. But if you want to become a falsetto pro, you’ll have to master the two modes in the middle. First, there’s M1, also called the chest voice.

It’s a low frequency range that's amplified, or resonates, in the chest, and is mostly controlled by the TA muscles. When you listen to divas like Aretha belt out songs, that’s usually chest voice. Then there’s M2.

It’s a higher frequency range that resonates in the head, and is mostly controlled by the CT muscles. Falsetto is one type of M2, but getting that perfect sound takes more than just getting into that vocal mode. See, there are also different ways of producing those sounds, called phonations, that depend on exactly how your vocal folds behave.

They’re kind of like subcategories within each mechanism. For example, if you create more air resistance by keeping the vocal folds tense, you’ll actually get pressed M2, which has a clear quality like something called head voice. It’s still high-pitched, but it sounds stronger.

More Freddie Mercury than Charlie Puth. To get breathy M2, which sounds more like that famous, flute-like falsetto, you have to create less air resistance with less tension in your vocal folds. Contrary to what many vocal instructors say, research over the last few decades suggests people of any sex are capable of both head voice and falsetto.

What’s most important is vocal anatomy and training. Singing in falsetto requires you to have a vocal range that includes high notes, which not everyone has. And even if you do, you still have to produce enough air, and have enough control to get your vocal folds to vibrate the right way.

That takes strength and lots of training. On top of all that, you still have to switch into falsetto smoothly for it to be impressive, something called passaggio. That means you have to switch between muscle groups controlling your vocal folds, which is notoriously difficult.

It’s hard to learn to control those muscles in your throat. All together, this makes singing in falsetto one impressive feat. There’s definitely a lot of art that goes into making music, but the science is pretty cool, too.

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