Whether you’re a beginning vocalist or an experienced performer, you can always work on improving your vocal range. Hitting those higher notes can make or break a performance, but the most important thing is not to injure yourself in the process. We’ve put together 10 tips to help you improve and expand your vocal range while still protecting those precious vocal cords!
1. Know Your Current Vocal Range
Before you can start expanding your range, you need to be familiar with your current range. It’s important to know that your vocal range is not the highest and lowest notes you can possibly squeak out.
Your vocal range consists of the range between the lowest highest notes you can sing comfortably and consistently.
If you’re not sure how to find your vocal range, you can easily do so by hopping over to a piano or downloading a keyboard app. You can pinpoint your range by using the piano numbering system. Talking about notes as “the second A above middle C” can start to get confusing, so a widely used technique is to accompany note names with their given octave number on a keyboard. Middle “C” is called C4 because it is the 4th C (starting from the Bass) up on the keyboard.
The “C” an octave above C4 is C5, the “C” an octave below C4 is C3, and so on. Use the image below to familiarize yourself with the numbering system.
Once you’ve determined your range, G4 – C5 for example, you can then begin to work on improving it!
2. Prioritize Your Vocal Health
Let’s face it; singers are notorious for not taking good care of their vocal cords. But we don’t blame you! It’s incredibly easy to talk a little too loud at a party, oversing in a riveting night of karaoke, and practice too much when the next performance date creeps up.
While it’s not entirely possible to be in perfect health 100% of the time, there are a few things you can do to prioritize your vocal health.
- Get a good nights sleep. Do your best to get 7 – 9 hours per night!
- Hydrate. Aim for at least 64oz (or a half gallon) of water throughout the day.
- Sanitize. Protect yourself from viruses by consistently washing your hands or using hand sanitizer.
Another important way you can prioritize your vocal health is by avoiding certain foods and drinks before you sing. This goes for performances as well as practices! You should avoid
- Drying foods and drinks: citrus fruits or juices, coffee, and alcohol. Also, note that certain allergy medicines can severely dry out your throat.
- Foods and drinks that add mucus to your throat: milk, ice cream, and other dairy products.
- Throat irritants: overly spicy or sour foods.
- Ice cold foods or drinks–including water!
We’re not telling you to avoid these things all the time, but you should avoid them before you sing, as singing through dryness, heavy mucus, or constriction will cause significant strain on your vocal cords.
3. Treat Sore Throats Immediately
As we said, you can’t be healthy all the time, and at some point or another, you’re bound to get sick or experience a sore throat. It’s important not to ignore the symptoms of a sore throat, even if it isn’t being caused by a bacterial infection. Trying to sing through strain is going to cause significantly more damage than you initially had, and it can even lead to some serious long-term issues.
Some great things to always have on hand as a vocalist are:
- Non-caffeinated tea. We recommend Throat Coat Tea.
- A Humidifier.
- Cold Prevention Medicine, such as Zicam or Airborne.
- Vitamin C.
- Salt. Warm salt water gargles are an excellent treatment for a sore throat.
- A Neti Pot to clear your sinuses.
- Cough Drops. Avoid cough drops with menthol as they tend to dry out the throat.
- Read more about these vocal remedies here.
And of course, if you find that none of your regular remedies are working, see a doctor immediately and get some antibiotics!
4. Use Proper Technique
You’ll find it’s nearly impossible, not to mention dangerous, to attempt extending your vocal range without employing proper singing techniques. Here’s a quick overview of the basics:
- Keep your larynx 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.
- Breath from your diaphragm, rather than your neck and shoulders
- Rest your tongue at the top of your bottom teeth and relax your jaw.
When singing outside of their normal vocal range, some beginning vocalists tend to either force more air through the throat, which can jam up the vocal cords, or restrict air flow, which can lead to a breathy sound. Maintaining proper 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 prevent your voice from getting too heavy. It will also help you keep your larynx low and break the cycle of always having to move from your chest voice to head voice (higher register).
5. Set Small Goals
It’s important to know that you aren’t going to magically add an entire octave to your range at a time. Just like it’s a major feat to for an Olympic runner shave off a second off of their mile, increasing your vocal range by even just a half-step is huge!
When you’re setting goals for yourself, it’s important to be realistic and patient. Start small, for example, aiming to expand your voice by one half-step both at the bottom and top of your range. If you try to increase your range by a large interval, you’ll risk damaging your vocal cords in the attempt at stretching them too much too quickly. And it’s important that you don’t set a new goal until you’ve reached your previous one.
It may take you a month to reach your goal, or it may take you a year. Just like any other muscle in your body, your vocal cords can’t be retrained overnight, and the key to truly expanding your range is very gradual and consistent exercise.
6.Warm Up Gradually
Just like you would warm up your muscles before exercise, you should always warm-up your vocal cords before singing. However, it’s important that you warm up your vocal chord gradually. To use the exercise analogy again, you wouldn’t go straight into a high-kick warm-up without stretching your hamstrings first!
One of the gentlest ways to start warming your voice up is with a hum. We recommend starting with some major pentascales and going up by a half step as high as you comfortably can.
Repeat the process, this time going down by a half step as low as comfortably possible.
You can also hum minor pentascales, arpeggios, octaves, or any other pattern. Just hum until your vocal cords start to feel warm and ready.
Once you feel ready, start opening to easy vowel sounds and slowly work your way into more involved exercises.
7. Do Regular Exercises
Doing regular vocal exercises is the fastest way to increase your vocal range. Your vocal cords need to be strengthened over a long period of time, and if you have no routine in place, you’re won’t have much flexibility and it will likely take much longer to develop a greater range.
We recommend doing exercises for around 30 minutes every day. You can even do shorter sessions a few times in one day, but daily practice is essential. If you start skipping days here and there, you’ll lose a lot of the work you’ve already put in.
The type of exercises vocal exercises you decide to do are entirely up to you! Some exercises you can try are
- Sirens. Sirens, or “octave slides,” sound exactly like what their name suggests: sirens. To break it down, a siren means sliding on an “oh” or “oo” from your lowest comfortable note all the way up to your highest comfortable note, and back down again. You can see a demonstration of sirens here.
- Singing through vowels. Start on any note and move up or down by a half step as you go. Sing through the vowels “ae-ee-ah-oh-oo” and do your best to connect each vowel, not breathing until you move up to the next note.
- Arpeggios. The quicker you sing arpeggios, the more difficult it gets to hit the center of each pitch. As you sing, really focus on moving from one pitch to another with precision. You can sing arpeggios on a vowel or phrase of your choice.
- HA-HA-HA. The perfect exercise for your chest voice, this drill consists of singing “ha” on each note of a descending pentascale with strength behind each note.
- Alternating major or minor triads. Start by arpeggiating a major triad, go up a half step, and then arpeggiate a minor triad, go up a half step, and repeat the process. You can do this on any vowel sound, solfège, or phrase.
- Solfège ladders. Start at do; then sing do-re-do, then do-re-mi-re-do, and so on, until you get to the next octave.
As you sing through your exercises, concentrate on the areas of your range that you’re trying to expand. For example, if you’re trying to increase your range one step higher, spend a fair amount of time singing through scales or pentascales in your upper register. If you have a certain note you’re specifically trying to hit, work your way up to the desired note, and then try to work to one note even higher. The notes might not come out crystal clear, but it’s important to exercise the space around the note you’re trying to hit, rather than just reaching for the note itself.
Another tip for expanding your range in warm-ups is to try to hit your desired note for a very short amount of time, and gradually work up to holding it out longer. This is where scales come in handy because you can simply touch the pitch and come back down, rather than trying to hold it out of thin air.
8. 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 is 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 for example singing one of the higher notes in your range on an “oo” or “ee” sound. Sing the note a few times on these vowels and then slowly open the vowel to an “oh” or “uh.” You may not realize it, but you’re actually expanding your vocal range when you do this because you are taking a closed vowel and making it open, which gives the note more space and sound. You can apply this technique to tricky notes or phrases in your music. When you come across a problem area, experiment with changing how you articulate the vowel to help make it more comfortable to sing. Start with the closed vowels “oo” and “ee” and gradually open up to “oh” or “uh.”
Another way to troubleshoot a challenging note is to try substituting the lyrical text with vowels. Pair the vowel with a syllable to differentiate each word–“noo” for example. Replace each word of the challenging passage with “noo” as you concentrate fully on producing a clear and focused vowel. Once you can sing the notes comfortably, add your text back in.
You can also use vowel modification within words. Certain vowels and words are just going to be harder to sing in different registers. For example, you might come across the word “that” on a high note in your song. Try replacing the “ah” vowel with an “eh” vowel, therefore changing “that” to “thet.” Though it might seem silly, you’ll be surprised to hear that word doesn’t really sound that different, and it’s much more comfortable to sing!
9. Be Patient and Consistent
As we’ve mentioned a few times now, the process of expanding your vocal range is a slow one. Probably the hardest thing you’ll have to do is wait.
With consistent exercise, you’re doing much more than just trying to add a few notes to your range. Though you may not be able to hit that stubborn E-flat as soon as you’d like, you will quickly begin to notice your voice becoming stronger and lasting longer than when you started training. You’ll also notice that the notes you can typically only hit on a “good day” will start coming out much clearer and confidently. So if you begin to feel discouraged from time to time, focus on all the good things you are doing for your voice in the process of expanding your range.
10. Don’t Overdo It
Our last and most important tip for expanding your range is to always be safe! Don’t overdo it in your warming up, practicing, or performing. If your voice beings to feel tired, try simpler “low impact” warm-ups like humming to avoid irritation. However, “if it hurts, stop,” are words to live by when it comes to protecting your voice.
Pushing through strain or not allowing yourself rest when needed can end up damaging your vocal cords and setting you back much further than if you had just decided to take a break. You should never sing through pain, so don’t feel guilty about needing to skip a day or two in your practice. Protect yourself and your vocal cords first and foremost.
We hope these tips have been helpful and you’re now ready to start improving your vocal range. Remember: consistency is key. Stick to it, and you’ll be glad you did!