It’s such a controversial topic that if you google it, almost everyone will disagree with my answer. Common vocal folk wisdom will tell you that keeping your chin level is a key tenet of correct posture and that raising your chin up to hit high notes is a cardinal vocal sin. You’ve heard it from your voice teacher growing up, you’ve heard it in school, and you’ll hear it all over the internet. But then when you watch great singers, even great classical ones, you’ll notice that a lot of them raise their chins when they sing high notes! Look at these three examples.
Lifting Your Chin on a Belt
Lifting your chin is most commonly associated with belting but is often still frowned upon as bad belt technique. Here’s an example of Beyonce, the Queen Bee herself, lifting her chin on some of the higher belt parts. Keep an eye on her, in particular, at around 1.50 and beyond.
Lifting Your Chin on a Faux Belt
Here’s the amazing Jennifer Hudson lifting her chin on the high twang parts. There probably isn’t enough chest resonance for me to classify it as a belt, but it’s twangy enough to blend perfectly with the lower belt notes. In particular, watch her at 2.53.
Lifting Your Chin in Classical Voice
Watch the gorgeous Anna Netrebko sing in what’s unarguably classical head voice. Note, in particular, how she raises her chin at 1.27.
If All These Great Singers Lift Their Chins, Why Does Everyone Say You Shouldn’t?
While the idea that you shouldn’t ever lift your chin on high notes is a myth, it does have valid reasoning behind it. Often, beginning singers will have the tendency to jut their chins out, and with a great deal of throat tension, raise their chins higher and higher in a frail attempt to hit the high notes. This type of chin lifting is not a good idea. The throat tension is unhealthy, usually results in a shrill, unappealing sound, and tends to actually make hitting higher pitches less accessible. Lifting your chin may also cause your larynx to rise up (although this is not yet confirmed in scientific studies), so a classical singer in particular needs to have great laryngeal control to make effective use of the technique.
So What’s the Deal? Should You Lift Your Chin When You Sing High Notes?
The short answer is, yes, often. If you know what you’re doing. The latest in vocal research suggests that lifting your chin (let’s start calling it by the more scientific name, head extension) can have a variety of benefits in getting those high notes out.
It Widens the Pharynx
MRI studies have shown that head extension can help widen the pharynx, a well-known ingredient for resonant classical singing.
It Raises the First Formant
Experienced singers often tune formants to correspond to the fundamental frequency being sung. Higher pitches have higher fundamental frequencies, so if head extension raises the first formant, it makes sense that you might want to do it on higher pitches.
It Helps Tilt The Larynx
Laryngeal tilt occurs as the vocal cords lengthen and produce higher pitches. Head extension has been shown to promote this. It’s also important in creating that slight cry, or squillo.
It May Raise the Larynx Vertically
While this is something to be wary of in classical music, it can sometimes be useful when belting, as long as it’s only a gentle lift.
It Shortens the Vocal Tract
Whether you’re a belter or a classical singer, a shorter vocal tract makes high notes more accessible.
So I Should Lift My Chin to Hit the High Notes Then?
Yes, but with caution. First of all, head extension should not be an excuse to not learn to shift registers. If you find yourself raising your chin higher and higher, trying to force notes out, it’s unlikely that you’re using the tool correctly. You shouldn’t feel your chin jut forward or your neck tense up. Head extension should be used around your second passagio (where your voice shifts into head voice unless you’re an extreme belter), so make sure you aren’t using it to hit notes too far below this point in your range. If you know you have a tendency to sing with too high a larynx, you also may want to wait.
Everyone is built differently. What works for some people won’t work for others. While one female might be able to use head extension to produce a gorgeous ringing soprano note on F#5, another singer might do better using it on G#5, and another might do better not using it at all. The ultimate goal is to produce a sound that expresses what you want it to in a healthy way, and there are often many ways to get there.