We all reach that point in our vocal training when we are looking to expand our horizons. Maybe you want to audition for a role that is traditionally outside of your vocal range or cover the newest Ariana Grande single. As a professional stage performer, and as a singing coach, I have observed throughout the years that with practice, this is possible. The key is learning how to sing higher notes with power and without straining.
One of the mistakes I see singers make is attempting to reach those notes by belting them out. The only thing worse, of course, is not taking the time to warm up. Not only are these an unproductive way of reaching your goals, but they are also potentially damaging to your vocal cords. And as we all know, sore throats keep the jobs away.
Every vocal coach out there has different methods to help their students maximize their range. If you have a great coach, they will tailor that process to you with a variety of exercises. It surprises some people but the vocal cords, like the human body, are unique to every person and so no one method works for everyone. Disclaimer: What works for one person may not work for the next. If you have been trying certain exercises that don’t seem to be working, look for new ones. Here are some things that have worked for me.
Warm Up Your Voice Before Singing
Imagine that instead of singing, you are getting ready to run a marathon. You wouldn’t jump right into a sprint first thing in the morning. If you did, your muscles might tire and cramp. You might also run the risk of injuring yourself. The same goes for singing, if you don’t warm up your body you won’t perform to your highest ability.
First, start with some stretches that will help you relax and loosen up the muscles in your body. This includes the muscles around your instrument, in your neck and jaw. The less tense your muscles are, the easier it will be to reach those higher notes with ease. Warm-ups like the neck stretch, shoulder roll, yawning, tongue roll, and a full body stretch are a good start. I like to jog in place or talk a brisk walk if I have the space to do so. If you like yoga or pilates, add in a short warm-up for about five minutes. Take a look at this post to learn more how to stretch as warming up before singing
In addition to these exercises, I highly recommend paying attention to warm-ups for your facial muscles. Rub your face or do the lemon/lion stretch to get those cheeks feeling like jelly. You may look silly while doing it but having tight muscles throughout your body will affect your singing. Therefore, this is an important part of warm-ups that should never be ignored.
Watch the following video to learn more about facial muscle warm-up before you start singing.
Breathing Tip for Singing
Once you are loosened up, work on breath control. First, let’s talk about the diaphragm. I always remind my students that speakers breathe from their shoulders and singers breathe from their diaphragm — and it’s true! In regular day conversation, your chest rises and falls as you breathe. When you sing, you expand your diaphragm.
Our diaphragm is what provides breath support and allows us to sing higher, louder and longer. Michigan Medicine has a YouTube video with a great demonstration of diaphragmatic breathing. Watch it to see the difference when you breathe with your chest, versus with your diaphragm.
Here’s an old classic exercise but a favorite of mine. Grab something heavy, like a coffee table book, and lay down on the floor. You can have a friend or vocal teacher watch you, but this is a technique you can do on your own too. Watch to see the movement of the book as you breathe in and out from your diaphragm. The book should be rising and falling in a vertical direction without toppling on to the floor. Complete your vocal warm-ups with the book on your stomach. If you are able to go through those scales and the book remains in place, then you will have mastered breath support.
Here is a very helpful video pertaining to diaphragmatic breathing:
It goes without saying but, vocal warm-ups and running through scales are essential. However, understanding the vocal cord position is also a key way to sing higher notes with power and without straining. Vocal coach Madeleine Harvey covers this topic on her YouTube channel.
Earlier, we discussed relaxing the muscles in your body and around your throat. This is where those exercises come in to play. Harvey explains that your vocal cords, when relaxed, contract and lengthen. They contract when you sing lower and lengthen when you sing higher. The more relaxed those muscles are, the easier it is for you to reach the desired notes. In her video on “How to sing really high – Voice lesson on how to sing higher”, she provides some warm-ups to improve vocal cord positioning.
Here is a lesson to show you how to sing really high. Some great tips here, check it out!
Rest and Care
After a workout, the last step is to cool down. Again, the same goes for singing. I like to let out a big yawn starting from my head voice and slowly bringing it down to my chest voice. I follow up with another quick stretch of my muscles and then I’m finished. Although the cooldown is not a mandatory part of the training process, I find that efficiently brings my vocal cords back down to speaking level in a healthy way.
Other things you can do are self-care for your voice in between lessons or performances.
- Drink water!
- Tea – although be careful of caffeine as it does dry your throat out.
- Rest your voice and avoid speaking for at least 1 hour.
- Steam inside the shower.
- Hot towel on your neck for 15 minutes.
- Essential oils
As I mentioned earlier, not all practices work the same on each person. These are simple techniques that have been effective for me. Take the time to explore and find what works best for you. Start with these methods above and add or remove practices until you find your favorites. Aside from the practical, singing higher notes with power and without straining is a mental process. You have to learn to let go and trust that your vocal cords will do the work. With practice and time, you will be able to increase your vocal range and maintain it in a healthy way. Then it’s out with the old and in with a bigger and better repertoire! You got this, future vocal legends. If you are just starting and looking for some singing tips for beginners, browse around from our other popular posts.