Why Can’t I Sing High Notes Anymore?
I regularly have new students come to me who’ve been singing since the 70’s or 80’s when they were 20 years old and hitting the highs of Robert Plant or Chris Cornell with ease – then slowly over time they mysteriously lose that high range, “why can’t I sing high notes anymore?” is a common question I get from untrained singers who’ve been singing “DIY” for some time and have picked up some bad habits along the way. Well, I’m here to tell you that you really CAN regain your high notes, and better still, I’ll SHOW you how it’s done!
Losing your high notes and struggling with a diminished range can be stressful and disheartening, so lets get your voice back up to scratch and singing higher than ever before!
Why can’t I sing high notes anymore?
There’s quite a few reasons you might find your high range has diminished, and providing you haven’t done any physical damage to your voice along the way – it’s likely that your voice has simply changed over time, but your approach has not adjusted to these changes in any way. It’s probable that over a period of time, your vocal chords have thickened somewhat, so they resonate differently and you now require some adjustment of your placement – but if you keep just going for those notes like you did when you were 20 years old, you’ll never hit them because that is no longer the way your voice resonates. A great way to adjust to minute changes in your voice over time is to treat each day with a clean slate – sure, you might have been able to sing high notes easily a few days ago, but without warming up properly on a different day you might not yet have the same blood flow to your chords, or the same coordination, or you’re simply having an ‘off’ day – yet if you push to hit those highs the same way that they’ve worked in the past without, not only will you miss the mark, you run the risk of damaging your voice.
How do you sing high notes without straining? Providing you’ve built a strong foundation for your voice like I’ve shown you in the complimentary foundations course here at Bohemian Vocal Studio, then you need to start developing your register control and learn to tune your vowels correctly. I like to think of “Chest Voice” as full-length vocal chords, and “Head Voice” as fully-shortened (zipped) vocal chords – then everything in between (your singing voice) is your “Mix” or your “Middle” register. If you’re simply trying to sing higher chest voice notes by pushing and straining, then your high range will almost certainly falter over time – if you learn how to sing in mix voice instead, and achieve the same power and depth of resonance as your chest, then your voice will actually GROW in range and strength over time.
How do you sing high notes easily? One of the most guarded singing secrets out there by most vocal coaches and great singers is how to sing high notes with ease – the answer is simple, coordinating your middle register with a properly tuned vowel. It really IS that easy to sing high, you just haven’t learned how to control your voice in the right manner yet.
The first thing you need to do is learn how to RELEASE your vocal registers – a fantastic way to release your registers is by using either a lip trill, or even a simple hum. The purpose behind register release is simply to connect the two sets of musculature that currently separate your chest voice vs head voice – so don’t try to go for a ‘useable’ or ‘rock’ tone or a full sound, the ONLY intention behind the exercise is to release, release, release.
Then you need to build PLACEMENT as a healthy standard for your frequencies, just like I showed you in the video tutorial above. Now, singers often confuse placement with ‘masque’ – when you place your voice, you’re actually LIMITING the excess frequencies (which is what we want), and when you sing in masque, you CONCENTRATE your frequencies (which is unrelated to placement), so make sure you fully understand the concept and have a proper approach to placement rather than trying to push your frequencies to the front or to your nose, this is NOT placement.
After you’ve learned to control your register release, you can start developing your vowels by creating the right vowel shapes. Now, when I say ‘vowel’ I don’t mean your pronounced accent – I actually mean the shape of your tongue EQing your resonance, like so:
Now that you understand how to create vowel sounds – don’t worry, it does take some time and practice to make your vowel changes fluid and natural, it’s time to tune your resonance by either VOWEL MODIFICATION, or physically tuning them in the manner that I often illustrate on my YouTube channel by learning proper control over the root of your tongue, proper use of your registers and of course controlling your soft palate.
- AH vowel – tongue low and concave
- AA vowel – similar, but with the centre of your tongue forward
- EE vowel – tongue “up” at the back, down at the front
- AY/EH – similar, but with the centre of your tongue forward/mouth ajar
- OO – There’s actually two different ways you can create an OO
A really simple way to illustrate the concept of vowel tuning is to start with an AH vowel, so, tongue low and concave, and then sing up towards your first vocal break. Out of interest, my first ‘break’ occurs around a B3 or so – but yours may differ to me, so that’s not really important. Now, as you sing up the octave towards your first break, without changing the shape of your tongue or mouth, let your vowel become a slight shade closer to “OH” instead of AH. Can you feel how your vowel now ‘slips’ into place and your resonance stays strong and connected with very little effort? Congratulations – you just tuned your vowel.
Now, the secret to vowel tuning is learning to modify your vowel in this fashion without changing your vowel sounds in such a cumbersome way. Try it a few times and really focus on the feeling at the base of your tongue, and also the feeling of your soft palate ‘stretching’ up (keep in mind, it should stay CLOSED on a vowel at all times) – once you can control these muscles, you will be able to tune your vowel in a very precise and effective way without the need for actually modifying your vowel – it will stay as an AH, but you will be controlling the WIDTH of your vowel by altering the proximity of the tongue-root to the pharynx, and altering the space allowed by your soft palate.
Lets keep it simple for now
Now that you understand the concept behind vowel tuning, it’s important that you start a touch narrow and learn how to subtly manage the changes that occur throughout your range – I would suggest starting with an EE vowel because it’s actually the most narrow vowel by nature (ie: the root of your tongue is ‘back’), and then comparing your other vowel sounds. If you’ve been shouting and pushing for quite some time, then it’s likely that you’re creating your vowels too widely, or even that they’ve widened over time without you realising. It’s time to reign them back in and tune them properly!
Are you ready to power up your singing voice and learn the RIGHT way to modify your vowels and tune them efficiently for more resonance and power? You can book a session with me today and I’ll show you how it’s done!
How do I connect head and chest voice?
Now, this right here is one of my FAVOURITE questions – how do I connect head and chest voice? The secret is actually to develop your middle register, the often elusive and mysterious “mix”. In the direct centre between your two main registers, Chest voice and Head Voice, sits an alternate chord coordination where both registers are equally in use/equally in control and ‘mixing’ together. To connect head and chest voice, you first need to achieve a MIX, or, discover your MIDDLE voice. Here’s a super practical tutorial I’ve put together to help you access your middle voice:
When you’re ready to connect chest and head voice by building your MIDDLE voice and learning how to sing in mix voice, you can book a singing lesson on line with me and I’ll SHOW you how it’s done!
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.