Reaching for the high notes

How To Sing Higher Without Damaging Your Vocal Cords

How to sing higher notes” Most people find it hard to sing high notes primarily because they sing them in the wrong way and as a result, strain their vocal cords unnecessarily.

Let us break down some of the facts: firstly, you aren’t required to put pressure on your singing voice when learning to sing higher notes in the same manner that you don’t subject your speaking voice to it. A voice that sings higher notes must be powered by steady air flow.

 

Air Flow Should Be Steady and Continuous

Air powers your voice and a sufficient amount of it should exit your body as you sing. Given that, forcing excessive air while singing will create a strong resistance underneath your vocal cords that leads to a build up of unnecessary pressure in your throat. This, in turn, will cause discomfort in your throat because of your larynx rising as a result of the pressure.

 

This condition will make your voice crack. On the other hand, insufficient air supply will weaken the sound of your voice. A steady flow, on the other hand, will ensure a continuous supply of air and a connected sound, with the exception of staccato when unconnected or separated notes are sung. Even then, staccato notes function from the same steady supply of air flow.

 

Singing Staccato

To give you an idea of how it works, think of the air flow as a hose that doesn’t stop letting water through despite a few kinks on it. This water flow maintains a steady pace and does not build up in the hose to force out the kinks; it just waits and comes out when it is needed. Your voice should be able to function in similar fashion.

 

Staccato singing will mean that air pressure has to be kept moving forward, ready and available to sing the next phrases or words. You should neither stop this pressure nor allow it to build up in your throat. Continue the steady air flow by feeling the pressure behind your lips (in front of your mouth) so you are able to maintain a connected sound smoothly even when you sing staccato.

 

How Singing High Notes Can Strain Your Vocal Cords

Why do we aim to sing the way we speak? So that we can have a balance in our vocal mechanism meaning, the level of our lowered larynx and cord closure, a process in which the vocal cords come together to create a sound. When these cords aren’t zipped up, there is more air able to “sneak” out. This condition creates an undesirable breathy sound. Cord closure regulates that steady air flow.

When your vocal cords are unable to have closure, it forces the use of other, albeit unnecessary, muscles to work and create that sound. This, in turn, causes tension which becomes an obstacle in singing freely. On the other hand, your larynx, a.k.a. your voice box is where your vocal folds can be found. You’re your larynx is balanced or level, as it is when you speak, it is ready for singing.

When you sing higher notes, your tongue becomes tense and your larynx “hikes up,” another condition which becomes problematic when you sing. That is why keeping a larynx to a low level is necessary. Whatever the reason, including insufficient air flow or excessive air pressure coming from below, a raised larynx upsets the balance of the vocal mechanism and results in a cracked voice.

 

Learning and Practicing a Concept

An important concept you need to learn if you want to know how to sing high notes is that you actually need less air. When your chords come together and sing a note that is higher than what has been sung before, they are already using less air and thinning out to vibrate.

 

Simply put: less vibration translates to less air that is required for use. Try this simple exercise to confirm the concept and keep practicing it:

 

Make a sound similar to “ng” by opening your mouth and going in your vocal range all the way up and then all the way down until you are familiar with the process. Just remember ground rules: no pushing of your voice while sliding up and no straining, just let yourself break if that is what you feel, and cover your ears with plugs to become conscious of what you really sound like.

 

Dealing with “the Break”

Believe it or not, the root of the problem of higher notes is found in an area called “the break” by the majority of singers, the point where voices have the tendency to crack. The fact that tension is often added by the singers themselves does nothing to solve this situation. This also takes away the opportunity for the singer to sing in an upper range.

 

Can you avoid this break? Yes, by modifying the vowels in the song’s lyrics, you can. Case in point: vowel modification is based on an acoustic principle that rounded or more closed vowels enable a singer to let go of his/her chest voice slowly and bringing in his/her voice head. You know by instinct, even if aren’t a singer, that you can sounder higher by shouting “whoo-hoo” instead of “ah-ha.”

 

Try doing this: sing higher scales using closed sounds of the vowels “ee” or “oo.” Once you are into the ideal register, slowly sing “uh” and “oh” while you maintain the resonance of the closed vowels. Yet another example is to modify “uh” to “ah” when ascending on the latter vowel as you enter that break area. This will make it easier for you to learn how to hit high notes.

 

Minding Your Consonants and Vowels   

Most singers, even the seasoned ones, find the vocal exercises in which you trill the tongue or bubble the lips plain silly. There is a logical reason, however, for doing these exercises that release partially-blocked or semi-occluded sounds: the pressure which your tongue or lips create feeds your vocal cords pressure for easier phonation and proper air resistance.

 

As mentioned previously, the “ng” and “zzz” sounds can help warm up your voice to transition into its upper registry and assist your vocal cords to perform without straining them. A consonant placed in front of a vowel has the same benefit as a partially-blocked or semi-occluded sound, albeit in a musical tone. Take note to remember the following:

 

  • Consonants such as “g” are “hard” consonants which can assist cord closure.
  • Voiced consonants such as “n” and “m” give vocal cords a good workout sans the stress by keeping them phonated the entire time the singer is performing.

 

“Voice-Friendly” Exercises

The repetitive singing of problematic notes as friendly exercises can help a singer experience vocal balance and store it in his/her memory bank for future use. Certain vowels that are easier for some singers may be more difficult for others to sing. Find your own friendly vowels and repeatedly practice them on your problem notes.

 

You can lighten your otherwise over-heavy voice by singing your exercises from top notes to bottom notes to break the cycle of getting out of your chest voice in order to gain access to your upper registry. Starting from top notes will force you to lighten your voice and squeeze your vocal cords less, reduce the rise of your larynx, etc.

 

Replacing text with an exercise works on problem notes, too. Try singing “noo” on the higher notes and add the text gradually back in. You can modify vowels to find the most appropriate substitutes for problem words. When you sing the word “that” in your upper registry, for instance, pronounce it as “thet” to make it easier to sing.

 

Your Tessitura

Assuming that you have expanded your vocal range and have figured out how to sing those high notes, the next question would be, can you sustain them? You are neither the first nor will you be the last singer who has this challenge. The issue is your tessitura, the range in which you can sing notes comfortably, on pitch, and consistently without any strain.

 

Some considerations of a singer’s tessitura include the following factors:

  • The relative numbers of very low or very high notes.
  • the proportion of gradual or sudden falls and rises in pitch in which the pitch speed changes.
  • Whether or not the phrases and lines of the music in the song tend to rise or fall.

 

You first have to know where your tessitura is to enable you to choose the songs which are well within your range because even if you are capable of singing higher than your natural range, the risk of voice strain may be liable to increase. While it is possible for a singer to raise his/her tessitura, it depends on the kind of breath support and upper resonance you have.

 

Think of it this way: if you lack adequate breath support and attempt singing notes which are higher than the normal ones from the throat, you will definitely cause strain to your vocal cords. Singing higher notes requires engaging all muscles which provide breathing support such as your spinal, intercostals, abdominal, and diaphragm muscles.

 

Coordination among all of these muscles will enable you to fully expand your midsection every time you inhale. This coordination will also control the amount of breath that you release when you exhale while these muscles are expanded, with the exception of your abdominals. Without sounding redundant, this process should be done as an exercise for proper breathing control.

 

The Different Vocal Registers

The major categories for vocal registers or the various ways of how singers produce sound are high and low – more commonly known as the “head voice” and the “chest voice,” respectively — with different tone qualities in between. Vocal cords appear as well as vibrate in varying forms for different registers which can help determine what registry is used.

 

  1. Head Voice

First of all, it doesn’t mean that you have two voices when there is a reference to either your “head voice” or your “chest voice.” It simply means that your voice is able to create sound in several ways with the use of your vocal cords. The “head voice” isn’t called by that name for nothing; most singers feel vibrations in their heads or skulls while they sing in that voice.

Try placing your hand on your head’s crown or the back of your neck while singing to feel those vibrations move up in their pitch as you ascend to the high notes. You can feel vibrations in different parts of your body – such as your hard palate or the front part of your face — as you go up to sing even higher notes. All of these locations help you to find sensations of your head voice.

  1. Chest Voice

Your “chest voice” is what makes those vibrations in the chest when you sing. The rule of thumb for your chest voice is knowing when and how to use its power. The chest voice is heavier, lower, and more powerful than the head voice. An example of a powerful chest voice is that of Aileen Quinn’s when singing “Tomorrow” in the film, “Annie.”

The head voice, on the other hand, is lighter and higher, the one that is used when learning how to sing higher notes. When singing in a head voice, the vocal cords become tauter, vibrate faster, and lengthen as pitch rises. Think of Peter Autry singing “Walking in the Air” in the animated short film, “The Snowman” and you have a pretty good idea of what a head voice can sound like.

  1. Vocal Fry

The lowest of registers, the vocal fry is used commonly by singers in chorus groups. Vocal cords lengthen and relax and the cords have small and loose openings between them. The sound you will hear is mainly a growling one which speech pathologists consider unhealthy if used for a long period of time. The Kardashians are known to have started the use of vocal fry in speech.

  1. Falsetto

Although associated primarily with a male voice, falsetto, which means “false voice” in Italian, female singers use it as well. Countertenors like the all-male classical vocal ensemble Chanticleer sing in no other registry but falsetto. Listen to this group and hear how their falsetto sounds stronger and more dynamic, with some vibrato on the side.

  1. Whistle

Rarely found in male voices, the whistle is least understood, with high pitches that sound bird-like or squeaky. The best example of a singer who used the whistle register is the late Minnie Ripperton for the 1975 hit, “Lovin’ You.” German coloratura soprano Edda Moser, on the other hand, uses the whistle registry for singing roles in operas written by Mozart.

  1. Mixed Voice

None but great singers can use a mixed voice that combines the head voice and the chest voice to create a seamless, unbroken transition between them. Barbra Streisand, Adam Lambert, Patti LaBelle, Josh Groban, and Luciano Pavarotti all mix their head and chest voice to unify the quality of their vocal sounds so that what you hear is an entire range of voice sounds that sound similar.

 

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