Not pushing harder to get hard notes out feels counterintuitive when you first start working at it. If you don’t push harder, how are you going to work toward belting a higher note, or worse yet, how are you going to sustain a belted note that feels just out of reach? If you don’t push, how are you going to make your head voice less breathy and get that full soprano sound you’ve heard other singers make? Let’s get one thing out of the way. Singing hard notes, whether they’re belted or high up in your head voice, takes work. When you hear voice teachers tell you that every note should be “effortless,” either that teacher isn’t expressing himself very well (and what he’s trying to say is that you shouldn’t feel constriction in your throat) or that teacher is moving you toward producing a sound you’re less interested in (sustaining that note in head-mix or head voice instead of a belt, for example). Hitting a hard note takes effort. It’s just a matter of where that effort goes. Here’s how to sing a hard note without pushing.
How Not to Hit Hard Notes
We covered this a little in the intro, but simply pushing harder and harder or yelling louder and louder is not the way to go. Not only will you not produce a pleasant sound (unless a constricted-sounding yell is what you’re after–I’m not actually judging that), but you’ll probably injure your voice over time and learn unsustainable vocal habits.
But it’s not just that you shouldn’t yell louder and louder. Voice teachers will often tell you that you shouldn’t push from your throat but that pushing hard from your stomach and pelvis is what you should be doing. But even this isn’t exactly correct. Forcing your stomach to suddenly and violently contract will still result in throat constriction and will limit your range and agility.
How to Sing Hard Notes
Okay, so if you can’t yell, and you can’t push from your stomach, what’s left?
The Effort Should Feel Isometric
If you’re not sure what isometric exercise is, put your hands together in prayer position and push as hard as you can. The resistance from each hand will keep the other hand from moving, no matter how much effort you use. If you were to use that much effort with your right hand but take away your left one, your right arm would go flying, and there’s a good shot you’d injure yourself.
The same goes for singing. Instead of suddenly contracting your stomach and forcing air out to hit a hard note, visualize slowly working against some resistance. Start with good posture. Stand up straight, with your feet at least hips-distance apart and your knees soft. Point your tailbone toward the floor as your quads move back, while your head, neck, and torso stay energized and lifted. Before going for the hard note, anchor your torso in such a way that if someone were to push you they wouldn’t be able to knock you over. The amount you need to anchor depends on the difficulty of the note for you. As you prepare to hit the note, instead of violently crunching into the note, think of having your feet glued to the floor as your knees and torso attempt to move downward through water.
You Should Counterbalance the Motion With a Lift
Even with the water visualization, any type of effort in your torso and pelvis can cause your throat to lock up. It’s hard to separate effort in one area of our body from effort in others. To counterbalance this tendency, you should feel lifted. Visualize the top of your head attached to a string that’s pulling you upward, as your shoulders relax downward. Keep your face energized, with your cheekbones lifted, like you’re about to laugh. In technical terms, this will cause your false vocal folds to retract so that your throat feels open and comfortable.