Many students come to lessons asking how to improve their vocal range, and specifically, how to sing higher. I believe your vocal range is largely predetermined by individual anatomy, but that it’s up to you to learn to access the extremes of that range. If you’re having a hard time singing higher, you’re almost certainly facing one of two problems, both of which you can remedy with a healthy dose of vocal exercises.
Problem 1: Your Voice Sounds More Choked The Higher It Gets
If you sound more like you’re barely eking out your high notes, chances are you’re pulling your larynx. I explained in a previous post that habitually tensing your larynx can lead to a host of problems. In addition to keeping you from singing loudly and potentially hurting your voice, tensing your larynx can keep you from accessing those beautiful high notes.
Lots of bad habits lead to a raised larynx, and you should address each one systematically.
- Relax. Stand up straight, take a deep breath, and shake out any strain. This sounds like it would be a given, but it goes a long way.
- Make sure you flip all the way into your head voice, and you don’t keep pulling your chest voice higher and higher.
- You can get a feeling for being in your head voice by sighing, starting at the highest pitch you can. You’ll find it’s a lot easier to hit a high pitch when you’re starting high and sighing downwards instead of pulling up from a low note. If it feels a little like you’re yawning, you’re doing it right.
Problem 2: Your Voice Cuts Out or Sounds Excessively Airy as it Gets Higher
If your voice is overly airy in your high range or your note doesn’t come out at all,
your vocal cords aren’t closing tightly enough. When you sing, your vocal chords rapidly slap together. If they don’t make full contact, your voice will sound airy. If they don’t make contact at all, you won’t make a sound at all. The higher you sing, the harder it becomes to keep your chords making contact with each other, while staying relaxed enough to keep your larynx from tensing.
- Arpeggiate up and down while buzzing your lips. This isn’t buzzing like a bee would buzz. It’s the kind of buzz that happens when you push air through “duck lips.” It should sound like a noise a baby would make.
- Do the same thing while rolling your ‘r’s.
These exercises are foolproof, because you can’t buzz your lips or roll your r’s without managing your airflow. Too much air or too little air, and you’re not making the sounds at all anymore. In fact, your vibrating lips in the first of these exercises emulates the vibrating of your vocal chords.
- Arpeggiate on “Nay.” Make it Sound Bratty
Certain vowels lend themselves to air escape when you sing. To get a feel for tighter vocal chord closure, sing the syllable “nay,” as much like a brat as you can.