Looking for the best tips on how to sing high notes? Check out this helpful article by voice teacher Tristan P…
Do you struggle with singing high notes? You’re not alone! It’s something that most singers need to practice, especially if you’re just starting out.
If you’re ready to take your singing beyond karaoke night, you need to truly understand your instrument. Ever sung a note and felt strained? This can happen if you’re not using the right technique — and doing this regularly can lead to permanent damage!
If learning how to sing high notes (or low notes, for that matter) is one of your goals, it’s best to work with a professional vocal coach. This ensures a safe environment to explore and expand your range.
That being said, the following tips can help you prepare for what you’ll work on with your instructor. These 10 tips are what I teach my own students, as a no-frills approach to belting out high notes.
Preparing to Sing High Notes
1. Warm up properly
We all know the importance of warming up your voice. But you may not have heard of this — I’m a big fan of what are known as “semi-occluded straw phonations.” Basically, this means singing into a straw. It’s a tool that is well-known within the voice science and voice rehabilitation community, but more singers should know about it! Here’s how to do this vocal exercise:
2. Warm up with a song
Next, continue your warm-up with a song that’s realistic for your voice (not too high, not too low). Imitate the singer you want to sing like! If there are particular sections of the song that are difficult for you, isolate those sections and work on them by themselves.
Some song ideas:
- Tenor: “There Are Giants in the Sky” – “Into The Woods” by Stephen Sondheim
- Baritone: “That’s Life” – Frank Sinatra
- Soprano: “Blank Space” – Taylor Swift
- Mezzo Soprano/Alto: “Stars and the Moon” – “Songs for a New World” by Jason Robert Brown
3. Eliminate strain objectively!
As you work with your voice coach, he or she will observe you as you run through your warm-ups and exercises, and help you recognize when and where you’re straining. If you’re practicing on your own, however, there are some ways to monitor yourself. One option is to record your voice. Listen back to your high notes: do they sound strained or easy?
If you have a mirror, you can also watch yourself as you sing. Or, better yet, use a video camera! Watch for signs of strain, such as grimacing faces and a tense neck.
If you look or sound like you’re straining, STOP! Take a break. Learning how to sing high takes years of diligent practice. Resist the urge to rush!
How to Belt High Notes
4. Make sure your registration is correct
A big mistake beginners make is singing in the wrong voice. Your larynx can actually produce four distinct voices, and understanding them is important. Here are audio examples of what these voices sound like.
- Vocal Fry Voice
- Modal/Speaking Voice (some call this chest)
- Falsetto/Reinforced Falsetto Voice (some call this head voice)
- Whistle Voice
The most important thing to remember is: Don’t belt in your modal voice when the song is asking you to sing in your falsetto voice! Likewise, don’t sing in falsetto if the song is asking you to belt. Your teacher can help you recognize these voices as you practice.
5. Use singing vowels
(Note: This section is for singing high notes in modal voice only)
As you progress in your singing lessons, you’ll come to know your vowels! A lot of singing exercises focus on these specifically, and practicing them can make a big impact on your projection and enunciation.
As you practice, you’ll notice that different vowel shapes have different effects on your voice. Modifying these vowels can also create a particular sound color. Here are some examples:
- Uh/Eh = Heavy, range-limiting sounds. Has a dark, powerful quality (loud)
Listen to: Adele
- Ooh = Medium, high-range sounds. Has a restrained, speech-like quality (low-medium volume)
Listen to: Sia, Justin Bieber
- Aa = Medium, high-range sound. Has a piercing, brassy quality (loud)
Listen to: Barbra Streisand
I recommend figuring out which vowel sounds works best for each individual phrase in the song you’re working on. For reference, pop uses more “Ooh” type sounds while musical theater uses more “Uh” and “Aa” type sounds. Also, keep in mind you are not limited to these vowels.
6. Consider your larynx position
This is a more advanced concept that your teacher can explain further in your lessons.
The gist is this: your larynx naturally rises with certain vowels and as you increase in pitch. Trying to hold onto a low larynx while attempting a bright, speech-like belty high note is going to cause issues! Likewise, trying to sing a lower-larynx sound with a high larynx will also cause problems.
For reference, opera is a genre that encourages a lower-placed larynx. Contemporary musical theater is a style that generally encourages a higher larynx. Depending on the song you’re singing, you’ll want to work with your teacher to place your larynx correctly and practice the right technique.
Here are some examples to listen to:
- Relatively low larynx – Dark, rich sound.
Character example: Yogi Bear
- Relatively high larynx – Bright, speech-like sound.
Character example: Nerd
7. Use twang
Twang refers to the amount of “er” present in your sound. The higher you sing, the more twang is necessary.
Trying to sing a high note without enough twang may result in strain. But be careful: trying to sing a high note with too much twang might sound nasal.
There are also shadings between a sound with little twang and a sound with excessive twang. You might think of a Country Western cowboy for an idea of excessive twang. Listen to this example:
8. Check your intensity
How much intensity (volume) is required for the note you’re trying to sing? Is it a low-intensity low note in the verse? Is it a big, HIGH-intensity modal belt in the bridge? What about a high-intensity falsetto high note? Match your intensity appropriately!
Before increasing intensity, make sure your registration, vowels, twang, and larynx positions are appropriate.
9. Adjust your head position
On high-intensity high notes with a high larynx, lift your head! A very common belting technique is the head lift. You can see it in the greatest belting divas of our time, including Beyonce and Whitney Houston!
The head lift (among other key functions) assists in raising the larynx, which is necessary for powerful belting. For operatic tenors, however, a more neutral/low head position is ideal as it promotes a more neutral/lower larynx in line with the classical sound ideal.
- High head position – More belty, shouty sound
- Low head position – Sweeter, more neutral type of a sound
Before altering your head position, make sure your registration, vowels, twang, larynx position, and intensity are functional!
Now, Sing that Perfect High Note!
Once all of the above variables are in place and functioning perfectly, you will have attained mastery over your high notes. As you progress, I recommend altering every piece of the equation (steps 4-9) in every part of your range for great practice!
And remember: if at any point along your journey you come across an obstacle, re-evaluate all of the above variables. (Hint: Often times, your vowel is the root of your problems!)