No matter what your vocal range is, singing high notes comes with challenges. Read on as New York, NY music teacher Nadia B. shares her tips to keep in mind from a physical approach…
Approaching a high note or passage while singing can be a stressful experience: you know it’s coming, you may have struggled with this particular passage before, and you may feel your body tensing up in anticipation of the challenge of singing in a higher register. Read on to discover several tips that will help you approach high notes with greater ease, support, and confidence.
1. Stay Grounded
One habit that singers frequently use when going toward a high note is to reach upward with their body. Pulling upward seems helpful as a type of preparation for singing high notes, but it is actually detrimental to everything you want and need in your body. When you reach upward, you might throw your head back, pushing down on the spine, jut your ribs forward, compromising the integrity of your back, or pull your legs away from the ground, losing your sense of support underneath you.
For these reasons, when you’re singing high notes, a good strategy is to release your weight into the ground. You will naturally lengthen away from the ground without losing your sense of support underneath you. This will also stop you from doing anything extra in your body, allowing your body to naturally respond to gravity as you release your weight into the ground and simultaneously rebound upward away from the ground.
2. Release Tension
Another thing that often happens as a high note gets closer is for a singer to anticipate it. Similar to reaching, anticipation might involve a startled response in the body and/or stressful thoughts or feelings about singing the high note. When we are anticipating something challenging, we often tighten our muscles and hold our breath, like the video below says.
If we can instead convince ourselves not to anticipate the high note, we can stay at ease in our bodies, calm in our breathing and open to interacting with the sound we are producing and the environment we are in. In this way, the higher notes can be supported by an open, expansive body with the appropriate (not excessive) muscular tone and engagement, which makes them far easier to produce than from a body that is tight, tense, and weak from an imbalance of tension and tone.
To work with this idea, notice your thoughts and bodily sensations as you approach a high note. If you notice excessive tension or that you’re holding or closing off your breath, pause and give yourself time to release whatever you don’t need. Then, begin singing again, staying aware of yourself.
3. Don’t Force It
In tandem to the above tips, another thing to keep in mind is not to push your voice to force out a high note. Forcing your voice only leads to more effort, which ultimately leads to fatigue and/or damage to your vocal cords. The best way to give your high notes sustaining power is to rely on the support down below the breath. Because the breathing mechanism is engaging to move the air out of the body, the movement of the air becomes a source of support for your voice. The air coming up and out of the torso is a source of support in motion.
Instead of pushing, notice the connection of the front and back of your torso, and the ribs gently ‘releasing’ together. In addition to the ribs coming together, the diaphragm also naturally releases upward to push the air out, and the vocal folds come together to control the flow of air. Noticing how your body naturally moves the air out of your body as a source of support can allow you to let go of additional effort you are using to force the air and sound out.
The key to finding a good balance in singing high notes is to use your awareness of your body and breath. It holds the key to releasing unnecessary tension, making use of your natural support, and letting go of unhelpful mental and bodily cues that are interfering with your production of high notes. As always, ask your voice teacher if you need additional help!
For extra tips, check out this article about singing high notes from CoreSinging.org.
Nadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!
Photo by sarah