Singing high notes tips and tricks!
Singing high notes can often seem a daunting task that leaves you straining and out of reach, or with a weak ‘flip’ in your voice that doesn’t feel, or sound quite right. Learning to sing high notes takes finesse and practice, but with the approach I’m about to show you, you’ll be soaring into those high passages in no time!
The first thing you need to do is build a healthy foundation. Starting with proper posture, diaphragmatic breathing and building your resonance in the right way with vocal placement – a healthy foundation lays the groundwork for building a high range and gives you something to ‘lean’ on as you learn to sing higher and higher.
Release, release, release
Learning how to release your registers is the first step to building your high range – if you’ve taken lessons before or perhaps purchased a singing course, no doubt you would have been shown you to practice a lip trill for a released, light sound that connects your full range. Another fantastic way to release your registers is by using a gentle “M” or “N” humming sound and lightening your voice as you approach the tricky areas and vocal breaks – the more you work on this, the more your voice will connect and release.
Accessing and utilising all of your vocal registers is a huge aspect of learning how to sing higher, without release, you’ll be choking off and straining before you get anywhere near those Sebastian Bach or Whitney Houston notes.
Placement is key
Learning how to ‘place’ your voice so that your frequencies are consistent from day to day means that your practice routine will always be efficient, and you’ll always be able to ‘find’ your voice instead of those breathy and weak days where everything simply feels wrong. We can use the same “N” or “NG” exercise that we used to release our vocal registers, but this time we need to change the ‘intent’ behind the exercise and focus all of our frequencies and resonance ‘above’ our top teeth. You’ll soon find that this is the key to creating a powerful and strain-free resonance, and when you can transfer this sensation over to your vowel sounds, you voice will truly take off in range and tone.
A great way to build placement further is to imagine that the sound is going ‘in’ as opposed to flowing ‘out’ of your mouth – figurative send your sound into your mouth and up into the soft palate where it can then buzz in the resonance chambers behind your nose. With this approach, you’ll have a released, powerful and super effective way to build resonance and free up your higher range.
Sing the right vowel sounds
Did you know that there are “right” and “wrong” vowel sounds to sing with? The wrong ones would likely encompass your ‘speaking’ accent, depending on your voice type and native tongue – and the ‘right’ vowels are specifically shaped vowels including AH/AA/OO/EE/AY with an open, unpronounced ‘Italian’ sound. If you listen to your favourite singers, then no doubt they are actually ‘replacing’ most of the words that they are singing with these practical vowel sounds, allowing them to sing ANY word without strain and to articulate their sound with minimal effort and a FULL resonance that sounds impressive and creates that killer professional singing tone we all know and love.
Singing the correct vowel sounds, and shaping them correctly by assuming the right tongue position will allow you to sing higher, articulate ANY word without strain and most of all, allow you to resonate freely without pushing. In general, “A” based vowels like AH and AA are created with a ‘low’ tongue that is somewhat concave down into the base of the jaw, and “E” based vowels like EE and AY are created with the back of your tongue somewhat raised towards the roof of your mouth – you can try it yourself by singing light with a slightly ‘classical’ sound and paying attention to where your tongue lands in between vowel changes, like AH to EE and EE to AY. These subtle changes in tongue position will allow you to sing ANY word, no matter what range you are singing in – These subtle vowel changes that I call “practical vowel sounds” bring me to the next, and one of the most important singing high notes tips you’ll ever learn:
TUNE your vowels
Tuning your vowels is a subtle and continuous change in the ‘width’ of your vowel by way of either widening or narrowing the space between the root of your tongue and the pharynx (ie: the back wall of your throat). Learning how to tune your vowels efficiently is one of the final keys to building a powerful high range and accessing those ever elusive ‘money’ notes that your favourite singers hit with ease and prowess. The general rule is that if you’re pushing and straining, your vowel is too wide – and if you’re ‘flipping’ and going light of airy, then your vowel is likely too narrow. Just like anything that helps our voices, most people tend to ‘over-do-it’ and either overly narrow or overly widen their voices through their various breaks and trouble areas – learning how to control your vowel width and tune your vowels properly takes finesse and care.
How do I know if my vowel is tuned correctly? If your vowel resonates freely with power and little effort, then it’s tuned correctly. If it’s pushed, or airy and feels uneasy, then you need to either widen or narrow your vocal tract until your frequencies ping and vibrate in the right manner.
Can’t I just change the vowel sound? Replacing your vowel sound with “OH” will widen your vocal tract in a major way, and replacing your vowel sound with “OO” will overly narrow your tract – it’s a fantastic tool to develop control over the muscles needed for vowel modification, but at the end of the day is way too heavy handed and general to cover the needs of most singers. Sure, you can practice a wide vowel by imparting a subtle “OH” sound into your word, but the most efficient way to do it is to learn how to actually move the tongue-root independently and keep your actual vowel sound as pure as possible. Try it yourself by singing a “LAH” and gently changing the vowel portion into “OH” instead, can you feel how the base of your tongue shifts forward? Now, try it again without actually changing your vowel sound by simply moving the tongue root forward in the same manner – Congratulations, that is a tuned and subtley modified vowel that holds it’s original character and resonates with power and intensity, with VERY little effort.
To help you understand the concept of vowel tuning and learn how to do it in an effective and practical way, I’ve put together a super simple tutorial that will not ony shed light on how EASY it can be, but actually show you HOW to modify your vowel sounds in the correct manner for a powerful voice, extensive range and ease of resonance no matter where in your range you are singing:
I need help tuning my vowels!
Learning how to tune your vowels properly is an ongoing process that requires constant adjustment and a keen ear to sense when things may be going awry – make sure you’re following ALL of the steps above first before trying to tune your vowel sounds. If you need some help building your high range and bridging your registers, you can book a session with me now and I’ll show you exactly how it should be done with your unique voice!
Feel free to leave any feedback or questions below!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.