How to Improve your Vocal range

How To Find And Improve Your Vocal Range?

One of the first questions I’m asked by singers is:

“How do I find my vocal range?”

Fortunately, this is one of the first tasks I do as a vocal teacher with 20+ years of teaching experience.

The whole process is simple yet complicated, and it’s completely essential.

Singing in your vocal range is key to being a successful singer.

But are you locked into your vocal range? No, but it takes dedicated work to strengthen your range.

All of this is why I saw a need to build a guide on how to find your vocal range and how to improve your vocal range.

This article is a crash-course to help most people get started. Let’s dive in!

How To Find Your Vocal Range?

There’s a lot that goes into discovering your range. In fact, there are whole classes taught in vocal undergraduate degrees dealing with these topics.

Still, you don’t need training to get a good idea of what your voice can do.

This section will tell you what you need to know and what you need to do to figure out your vocal range.

Don’t worry if you’re frustrated with your vocal training, it can change over time mostly with vocal exercises and training. More on this in the next large section…

What Is A Vocal Range?

A vocal range is how high and low a singer can comfortably sing.

This is one of the key aspects of a singer which determines your voice type.

It’s important to know what your range is. Once you do, you can look at any song and tell if you’re going to be able to sing it as is.

Any song is able to be learned, but it may take some tweaking or changing the key to make it accessible to you.

I can’t tell you how many students are unconfident because they keep trying to learn songs they physically aren’t able to sing.

As I mentioned above, your vocal range is expandable by using our best vocal exercises for singing.

What Is A Vocal Break?

A vocal break, or simply break, is a complicated concept most online resources will completely ignore.

Your voice consists of two main voices, a chest and head voice.

The difference is tricky to understand and has to do with how the vocal cords are shaped and where your voice resonates.

In simple terms, your lower range is your chest voice. At some point, as you sing higher, you’ll notice your voice switch to a different feeling.

This is your head voice.

The words come from where it feels like the voice comes from.

The chest voice sounds rich and deep, and the head voice is lighter and seems to flow from the head.

Where the break occurs is actually the most important aspect of your voice type. While your vocal range will expand if you train your voice, your break is smoothed over and adjusted depending on what you’re singing, but it doesn’t change much at all except with age as your vocal cords change.

If you wish to, it’s good to find where your break is, but it isn’t a big necessity unless you really get into serious singing.

Then this topic is for a whole other subject. For this rest of this article, we’ll focus on voice types in regards to the typical vocal ranges.

What Are The Voice Types?

The voice types are simple classifications for where you should sing and listen to other singers of your voice type.

There many subsets of vocal types, but these are these general voice types you need to know and label yourself as once you figure out your range (check out the next section).

Soprano

First up is the soprano voice. This is the highest woman’s voice.

Soprano usually sing the melody and are the leaders of many operas and musicals.

The typical soprano range is from C4 to A5, but many sing higher than this once trained.

Mezzo-soprano

Mezzo-soprano is a newer voice type overall. It consists of women singers with a slightly lower voice than a soprano, though many mezzos will sing high parts.

The main difference also comes in the tone of their voice which is usually a little richer than a soprano’s which is usually considered light.

A mezzo-soprano range is typically A3 to F#5.

Alto

Alto is the lowest female voice (although a sub-set contralto is still lower).

This is characterized by a low and strong female voice.

The alto range is G3 to E5.

You’ll notice high male singers may sing in this range.

However, due to the difference in voice quality and where the break occurs, you never call a male an alto or a female a tenor though they may sing in a similar range.

Tenor

The tenor is the highest of the male voices, though there is a higher subset called the counter-tenor.

Tenors often get the lead parts in operas, musicals, and are the most common popular singer.

Tenors have a range of C3 to A4 typically, though some can sing higher and lower.

Baritone

Baritones, my own voice type, have a standard range of A2 to F4. When singing in choirs, we tend to sing with the bass line as most of the time we sing in a similar range.

Baritones don’t get a lot of lead singers, though they were most popular during the early jazz and big band days.

Training your voice to have a higher range may help you evolve into a lyric baritone or dramatic baritone.

This means you sing closer to a tenor high range with a more powerful voice.

These have become more popular in musicals and in popular music in the past 20 years.

Bass

Bass is the typical lowest male voice. There is a subset called bass-baritone which (contradictory to its name) sings even lower than a bass.

A standard bass range is F2 to E4.

The speaking voice of these folks is low-sounding even when just talking to them.

Child’s Voice

Children’s voices are always light and high. No matter if they’re boys or girls, they’re all technically soprano or mezzo-soprano.

Some vocal coaches will label them as such, but the difference in tone is quite stark.

A child’s voice is always light and airy when used properly. A soprano woman’s voice has more strength to it.

It’s also important to note the vocal break doesn’t really exist with kids. Their cords haven’t been strengthened and stretched through puberty yet.

Which brings me to the next voice…

Transitioning Voices

When women go through puberty, their vocal muscles are stretched and strengthened.

Sometimes their voices drop a little and sometimes they don’t. It’s a matter of genetics and randomness. There’s no controlling it.

During this time, they likely won’t notice much of a difference in their singing at all.

For boys and men, it’s completely different.

As their voices change, they are moved so dramatically, they go through a period of transition where they can barely sing with any range.

Some boys lose range down to only a few notes. Some keep a fairly good range throughout.

Their voices are more prone to injury during this time.

More importantly, the singer may get easily frustrated with their limitations.

Just let them sing what they can and wait for the process to finish.

Men’s Vs. Women’s Voices

Singers may have a range more similar to the range of a different gender voice type.

This is a tricky area for singers.

For example, a man may sing in an alto or mezzo-soprano vocal range. Or a woman may sing down in the tenor or lyric baritone range.

Do we call them by their range?

Yes and no. When choosing parts to sing, they would sing a song or part in the other range. But their voice type isn’t the same.

This is a picky difference, but it’s there all the same.

How To Discover Your Range

There are two big ways to discover your vocal range besides finding a teacher. We’ll cover how to do these in this section.

With A Keyboard

First, you need some kind of keyboard and knowledge on how notes work with their labels (the letter and number).

Either watch the following video for instructions or just head over to this virtual piano which has them all labeled.

Once you’re there, follow these steps for men and for women:

Steps For Male Singers

  1. Start on F3.
  2. Sing on an open sound (“Oooh”) going down by half-steps slowly until you reach the lowest note you can sing and sound good on.
  3. Write this down as your lowest note.
  4. Start on F3 and repeat with an open vowel (“Eee”) going up by half-steps until you reach the highest note you can sing and sound good on.
  5. Write this down on your highest note.
  6. Find the voice type most closely matching your vocal range.

Steps For Female Singers

  1. Start on F4.
  2. Sing on an open sound (“Oooh”) going down by half-steps slowly until you reach the lowest note you can sing and sound good on.
  3. Write this down as your lowest note.
  4. Start on F4 and repeat with an open vowel (“Eee”) going up by half-steps until you reach the highest note you can sing and sound good on.
  5. Write this down on your highest note.
  6. Find the voice type most closely matching your vocal range.

Following Another Singer

This other method is a little trickier, but it’ll still help you get an idea of your voice type and therefore your vocal range.

Find a singer in your gender and what you think your vocal range is.

This is easy to do if you’re in a choir of some kind, otherwise, do a simple search for “soprano popular singers” for ideas.

Sing along with the singer on one of their songs.

Can you mostly match them? Do the high notes or low notes challenge you?

Adjust until you match someone you feel comfortable with.

Remember, many of these singers have larger than the typical range because they’re highly trained.

Once you find one you mostly match and can sing easily with, consider this your voice type.

Reference the graphic below to then to guess what your range is.

How To Improve Your Vocal Range?

Fortunately, though we’re born with a specific vocal range, this doesn’t mean we’re locked into it.

Our voice type never truly changes (as it’s based on more than just range), but the range does expand based on experience and exercises.

Though I’m a baritone, when I’m in good shape, I’m actually able to sing as low as the typical bass and almost as high as a tenor.

The main things to do are engage in daily exercises and implement other specific strategies.

Daily Vocal Exercises

These are four of my exercises for improving the vocal range and general vocal strength.

Do these every day, and you’ll notice improvement.

Each exercise should start where written and then go higher by a half step until reaching the highest range you can comfortably sing with straining.

Then, reset on the written pitch and go lower by half step.

Sirens

This warms up the voice and helps smooth the break. Newer singers often write this type of exercise off as silly, but it’s one of the best vocal exercises for training singers.

Sirens

Stepping Down And Up

This exercise works on the gradual strengthening of the vocal range. This one is great for improving your lower range.

Stepping down and up

Arpeggios Are Fun!

The energy in arpeggios improves general vocal dexterity and high range.

Arpeggios

Scale Mastery

This one improves the ear and also improves the high and low range.

Scale mastery

Strategies For How To Expand Your Vocal Range

These strategies are simple and tricky to use whenever you think about it. The more often you add these in, the easier it is to develop good habits and strengthen your vocal range.

Don’t Strain

Pushing isn’t ever a good thing. To the untrained ear, it may sound like many vocalists push to achieve a powerful voice or higher pitch.

This isn’t the case. Pushing can actually injure your vocal cords irreparably.

Blend Over The Break

We mentioned the break above. It’s where your head and chest voice meet.

Blending this area is one of the hallmarks of a skilled singer.

Blending means to have the difference in tone across the switch sound more similar. Vocal exercises for singing over the break include sirens going through this register.

Staccato Notes For Higher Pitches

Staccato notes or light syllables will help engage your abdomen to support the tone with more air.

This will improve your ability to reach the higher notes. Over time, remove the staccato singing, and your voice will still reach the higher notes easier.

A good staccato strategy is to sing scales with the consonant “H” before each vowel.

Look at the scale exercise for an idea.

Bend Over/Lay Down

To be clear, it is NOT recommended you do this when you sing normally. This is just a trick to make you more aware of how your body works.

Bending or laying down removes the tension of standing from your body. All you have left is your breathing and singing.

This makes you really feel how the air moves through your body and connects with your vocal cords.

If you’re having trouble supporting your voice through a phrase or reaching high notes, try bending over or laying down.

You may have famously seen this in several episodes of popular singing TV shows such as American Idol.

Think Of Crying When Singing High

This is a weird strategy, and when my vocal coach in college suggested this to me, I honestly thought she was crazy.

To some degree, it worked for me, though some of my colleagues love this tip.

Imagine the feeling of crying when trying to sing higher.

When most people cry, they unconsciously lift their soft palate and bring the center of their voice up through the roof of their mouth.

This redirection (rather than forcing out) is the real benefit of this imagery as the center of your voice makes singing higher much easier.

Tongue Trills, Lip Bubbles, And Other Silly Sounds

Most people like to do these sounds for fun, but many don’t realize how important they can be.

Tongue trills (when you sing while fluttering your tongue), lip bubbles (sing a neutral syllable while your lips vibrate together, and other sounds such as these are actually great vocal exercises for beginners and experts alike.

Do these with your sirens and see how it helps:

  • Unconsciously open your oral cavities for better resonance
  • Engages your core for greater air support
  • Gets you out of your head on how you “can’t sing” high notes
  • Increases flexibility of your vocal muscles
  • Releases tension in the body and singing parts

Keep Your Head In Proper Position

It’s a normal, human, and kinesthetic thing to move your head to help you reach higher and lower notes.

But this actually works against.

I see (and will sometimes do it myself) students drop their heads when they sing lower and raise their heads to sing high.

The problem is when you lower or raise your head you’re adding tension to your neck and throat, narrowing your airway, and collapsing the space inside your mouth and throat.

All of these work against you when it comes to range.

Keep your head looking straight ahead or slightly above level at all times.

To help sing low, think relaxed, open, and free. To sing higher think of support and energy.

Support, Support, Support

Air is key to singing high.

Learn to breathe with your diaphragm and lower abdomen moving first. When you sing higher, you support the more through engaging the ab muscles to support air through.

My students enjoy the following imagery:

  • Pushing is like putting your finger over the end of a hose. There isn’t actually as much water coming out, but it’s forced out. All tension, no support.
  • Support is when you increase the water flow at the source which is your diaphragm. The water is equally stronger, but there’s a lot more of it.

Sing At Medium Dynamics

Imagine how loud you speak on a normal basis.

Sing at this speech-level when you practice sometimes. The idea is that your voice is used to this level, so you won’t strain yourself.

On the flipside, singing too loud for higher notes will encourage straining and poor technique.

Strengthen Your Voice By Singing Songs That Challenge You

Find a song you can sing comfortably, but challenges you in the higher register a little.

Sing this song several times throughout the day.

Still, always support the voice when singing high. But doing this will gradually strengthen your muscles, so the hard notes become a little easier.

This is done equally as well with a song challenging your lower notes.

Breathe Again

It’s impossible to stress how important good breathing is.

Air needs to be supported and even. Inhale leads to exhale which leads to inhaling.

It’s all circular and smooth. Never hold your breath or force it out to where it stops.

During singing, practice this. During the day, take some time to focus on how you breathe and imagine breathing in a circle.

Over time this reduces tensions and improves support as well.

Final Thoughts

Your vocal range isn’t tied down forever, but it takes time and works to expand it.

The best vocal exercises will strengthen the voice, develop good vocal habits and techniques, and be engaging and challenging.

Our guide here is a great place to start.

Stick with our tips and soon your range will improve once you know where you start.

 

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How To Find And Improve Your Vocal Range?
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