Can't Sing High Notes? Neither Could I
[Until This Happened]
Learning to sing is a bitch, right? You've bought a course or two, you've been to your local teacher - it all sounds good and well, but it just doesn't work in your voice. I hear you loud and clear, because I was in this exact same position around 2008, after I had been singing for many years already. Basically, I felt like I was wasting my time turning up to the proverbial woodshed every day to practice singing scales, when in fact I really felt my singing voice was getting worse and worse, and high notes were becoming even harder the more I worked at it. Until this one thing changed absolutely everything for me.
Okay - so you want to improve your singing voice, right? You've trawled through YouTube videos, you've studied Wikipedia (what a nightmare!), you've been on forums, reddit, google and quora and no-one really seems to be able to give you the answer why you just can't sing high notes. What's the REAL secret to great singing? Let me share it with you.
There Is NO Secret To Great Singing
That's right, the cat on YouTube telling you that he has 'the only singing course that works' or that they 'have the secret noone else has' is flat out pulling your leg, pulling at your heart strings - all the while reaching for your purse strings. Now, as a professional voice coach myself, you'd think that it would be in my best interest to package up some secret technique, or use some marketing wizardry (or lame reaction videos!) to get as many subscribers as I can and watch the dollars roll in. The truth is, I've probably spent more money on developing my own voice over the 19+ years I've been singing than is really feasible to make in return as a singing teacher - and I'm okay with that, but I'd like to save you the same headaches, setbacks and heartache I went through trying to learn how to sing.
Let me put a few things in perspective for you. The people that wrote all the technical and anatomical jargon on Wikipedia that people quote so freely on platforms like Reddit and Youtube - aren't singers themselves. The people that trawl forums saying things like "my range is A1 to B9" - aren't actually singers themselves. And scarily enough, even many singing teachers out there - aren't actually singers themselves. Many of the people who are commenting on YouTube singing videos - aren't singers themselves. Basically, you're barking up the wrong tree when it comes to learning how to sing, and this was part of the HUGE realisation that I came to in the early 2000's when things finally started to turn around for me as a singer, and I finally "got it" and started seeing serious gains in my singing ability.
Everything On The Internet Is True*
* This is not true
You see, when I first started learning how to sing as a highschool student in the 90's as a side to my obsessive passion for guitar at the time, it was incredibly uncommon to hear your singing teacher singing songs for you. Seriously, they weren't standing on a street corner screaming Audioslave songs begging for students, and they certainly weren't wasting their time arguing with the singing teacher two suburbs over about what the real secret to singing is, and who was teaching the better method - they simply taught you how to sing. Now, what I had started doing around the time that YouTube first started, was looking for people who sang the way that I wanted to sing - with tons of grit, power, a crazy range etcetera. Now, the thing about many of the singers that sang this way contradicts what I just shared with you - they weren't actually teachers themselves. That's right, they've got a badass voice, but this doesn't mean they have any ability whatsoever to teach YOU how to have a badass voice - and thus was my conundrum, do I seek the help of a great singer, or from a great teacher? And this is where I started to question absolutely EVERYTHING that I was being taught. "But WHY am I singing an NG or NYAH sound?" and "WHY am I changing the vowel here?" and most importantly, "WHY I can't sing high notes" - and the most baffling thing started to happen, I realised that many of my singing teachers didn't actually know HOW they were able to sing, they could just DO it, and this means - they weren't actually teachers themselves. That's right, they were great singers, but really lacked any ability to relate to the issues I was experiencing because they were just 'natural' singers, and lacked the ability to teach me to sing better without saying "look, just do it better - like me".
So, I stopped wasting time on vocal methods and singing teachers that were all "wow factor" in their singing with "no substance" in their ability to teach, and I also stopped wasting time and money on singing teachers that were "all technique" but no "wow factor" in their own voice and I started to realise that the gene-pool of excellent singing teachers really was very, very small - and I was extremely lucky at this time to discover a coach who not only had one of the most incredible baritone singing voices I've ever heard, but was also likely the greatest teacher of any kind I had ever met. He challenged me. He pulled me up when I wasn't committed. He told me when I was bad at something. He told me WHY my voice was breaking, and WHY I couldn't sing high notes. At the end of the day, he actually taught me how to sing better with my own true voice.
From this incredible experience, I also experienced the height of vocal coaching - and it was very different to the tuition I had received from my previous singing teachers, and it was lightyears away from some of the singing courses I had purchased in the past. In short, it worked, and it had DEPTH. Not only could I now sing high notes with ease and power, I also understood WHY and HOW I was singing these high notes - and could then go on to show others exactly why their voices weren't working the way they wanted. I believe I truly met one of the greatest singing teachers of all time - no pomp, no ego, no bullshit, he didn't TAKE any bullshit, and he was SERIOUS about the art of teaching. He wasn't there by accident, or because his singing career didn't take of - THIS is what he wanted to do with his life, to help others learn how to sing better, and this is what I'd like to share with you now.
Learning How To Sing Is Easy
It's true. While my own experience learning how to sing was a right pain in the ass, and no doubt yours has been so far too - there absolutely IS an easier way to learn how to sing, and that my friends, is doing away with all the shiny trinkets and secret magic BS that is out there - and simply learning the fundamental elements of singing;
Seriously, if you're struggling with high notes - for now, put the vowel modifications away, put the cry mode away, put glottal compression away - and learn the foundation elements of singing in this exact order. My very first singing lesson with my incredible last vocal coach focused solely on these three elements, and I was given just THREE basic exercises to practice - and was told not to come back to his studio until I had mastered them. I'm serious, the onus was on me to take responsibility for my own singing voice and PROVE to my coach that I was worthy of his incredible wisdom and skill.
Diaphragmatic breathing is easy once you set up your posture correctly and learn to engage the diaphragm the right way - a quick and 'surprised' breath that is focused at the lower back muscles and lateral expansion of the ribs is all you need to get started with support, which in essence really refers to a balance between air pressure and air flow, so you're not aspirating air when you sing, but you're also not choking off at the folds at the same time - perfect balance in flow and pressure will make your voice an impressive support machine.
Resonant space is pretty easy too. With the beginning of a yawn, or even better - inhaling on a silent "K" consonant sound (so - start with the back of your tongue touching in the roof of your mouth and instead of making the "K" sound, just inhale quickly) while focusing on the soft palate. This 'lift' sensation creates your resonant space and will absolutely change your life as a singer when you get this right. Each vowel lifts into the pharynx via the soft palate while the placement stays bright and forward, which brings me to the next point;
Placement is key to a powerful singing voice. Placement is a figurative term that really refers to efficient use of your vocal resonators - the pharynx, nasal and oral resonators. That's right, chest doesn't actually resonate, nor does the head - chest and head voice simply refer to the tonal centre of each vibratory mechanism in the vocal folds - in essence, they don't really exist as with time, you'll have one long, fluid, connected note from your lowest pitch to your highest. Many singing teachers instruct their students to sing forward, which is wise, but first, you must achieve resonance in these three main resonators by focusing the main bulk of your resonance 'above the teeth' as though you're holding a pen horizontally in your teeth and everything is "above the pen" so to speak. With time, you can direct this high placement more and more forward until you reach an almighty buzz which is powerful, pleasant and effortless to boot.
The truth is, the real secret to singing is YOU. That's right, YOU. You already possess everything you'll ever need to be a great singer - and noone out there but YOU holds the keys to your vocal progress. Dedicate yourself to the fundamental concepts of singing and you voice will flourish and grow like crazy - search for secrets and magic, and you'll get stuck in a rut. I chose the former - which one would you choose?
You can get started right now with the foundation elements of singing in the Vocal Fundamentals singing course right here, which will show you how to connect chest and head voice, form your vowels, create resonant space, increase your power, place your voice, warm up effectively and SO much more. You can also check out this free mixed voice singing lesson which will show you how to apply the concept of mixed resonance in your singing today.