One of the most frequent questions we’re asked by both aspiring and experienced vocalists is how to improve vocal range. Hitting those higher notes can make or break a performance, that’s for sure, but the most important thing is not to injure yourself in the process. We’ve consulted with a few of our vocal coach friends to present some simple tips to help you safely and comfortably improve vocal range over time.
As with any new exercise program (you’re conditioning your vocal muscles to be comfortable at higher pitches), it’s ideal to consult with an expert first. In this case, a professional vocal coach will be able to help ensure you progress in a healthy way. “If it hurts, stop,” are words to live by when it comes to protecting your voice. It’s also absolutely essential that you take care of your cords!
Know Your Voice
Before you can start to train your voice to sing higher, you must determine your natural range. All the singing you’ll ever do is within your natural range, the interval from your lowest to highest note. The goal in improving your vocal range is to ‘unlock’ the outermost notes of your natural range and be able to sing them comfortably, clearly and beautifully.
To find your vocal range, start at middle C on the keyboard. Middle C is represented as C4 on your sheet music, 4 signifying the 4th octave. Sing each semitone down until you cannot comfortably and clearly hit the notes, this is your lowest note. Then work your way up the keyboard from middle C, singing along with each semitone to find your uppermost note.
Practice singing your natural range daily via “friendly exercises.” A friendly exercise is repeating a sound that is easy for you to sing, such as ‘mum’ or ‘la.’ As your range gradually expands (one note at a time), add these higher notes to your friendly exercises. Don’t worry about holding the new note at first, rather concentrate on hitting it reliably multiple times (8-10) within a practice session. Work until you can comfortably sustain the note clearly for a longer duration of time. Trying to extend your vocal range will do you no good if it breaks or lacks control.
Use Proper Technique
You’ll find it ‘s nearly impossible, not to mention dangerous, to extend your range without employing proper singing techniques. Here’s a quick overview of the basics:
Your larynx should be low, at rest position. “Sing with an open throat,” is a common mantra to remember. Here is a great tutorial for practicing your open throat singing! Stand straight and make full use of your breath support. Your tongue should rest at the top of your bottom teeth and your jaw should be relaxed. Finally maintain consistent airflow.
When singing outside their regular vocal range, some beginning vocalists tend to either force more air through the throat, which can jam up the vocal chords, or restrict air flow, which can lead to a breathy sound. Maintaining your technique will help you avoid either of these situations.
You may also find it helpful to start at the top note of your vocal exercises from time to time. Starting from the top will keep your voice from getting too heavy, help you keep your larynx low and break the cycle of always having to move from your chest voice to head voice (higher register).
Modify Vowels and Substitute Words
Let’s discuss for a second that pivotal moment when you move from your chest voice to your higher register. It’s often around this point in your range that you may experience “the break.” This is when your voice tends to crack or strain, and our natural response if often to add tension to avoid the problem. A great technique for circumventing this problem is vowel modification. By using rounded, closed vowel sounds, we’re able to more easily transition from chest voice to higher register. Try it out! Use “oo” or “ee” when first singing higher notes. Once you can reach your desired register, slowly open the vowels to “oh” and “uh.” Change how you articulate a vowel to help make it more comfortable to sing, then gradually practice opening it up.
Similarly, when working on a new piece with a challenging note, try substituting the lyrical text with a vocal exercise. Use the word “noo,” for example, on the high notes. Once you can sing the notes comfortably, add your text back in. You can also use vowel modification within words. The word “that” might be replaced with “thet” in the upper register. Here’s a very detailed article focusing on vowel pronunciation and the acoustics behind it (skip to page 3 for vowel modification).
Now that you have some tips to try out, check out our Singer Pro sheet music store for the best selection of officially licensed, professionally arranged vocal sheet music. Our Singer Pro sheet music is created specifically for vocalists, with a vocal line separate from the accompaniment, so that you’re better able to replicate the original artist’s rendition or put your very own spin on the song.
Do you have any additional tips or suggestions for your fellow vocalists? Is there an exercise you’ve found especially helpful in improving your vocal range? Share your insights in the comments below!