Singers with a wide vocal range are highly regarded; a wider vocal range increases the notes that someone can sing and, therefore, allows a singer access to a variety of songs.
As a vocal coach and performer for many years, I’ve worked hard on increasing my vocal range to add to my singing capabilities. Even adding just a few notes to your range can greatly expand your repertoire. But singers looking to improve their vocal range may not know where to start or how to sing notes that feel unnatural to them.
It’s important to understand how to keep your voice healthy when singing new, difficult notes to ensure that you continue to sound your best.
Improving Your Vocal Range
1. Use proper breathing techniques
Before singing any song, you must learn how to breathe correctly. When someone says that you must “sing from your diaphragm,” they mean that you must learn how to activate your diaphragm in order to control how much breath you expel when singing.
Correct breathing techniques can teach you how to control your vibrato, volume, and strength, but they can also help you to reach notes that may not be possible otherwise.
Learning how to activate your diaphragm when singing takes some practice but is easy to get started. Most people breathe from their upper lungs naturally; breathing from the diaphragm just moves the breath downwards.
To figure out where you should be breathing, try placing one hand on your stomach and one on your back, then breathing so that they move apart. Your stomach should fill with air, but your chest shouldn’t move at all.
Or, try lying on the ground with a book flat on your stomach. When you breathe, try moving the book up on an inhale and down on an exhale. After you learn where the breath should move in the body, keep practicing until this method feels more natural than breathing from your chest.
2. Keep your voice healthy
Although learning proper breathing techniques is often considered the most fundamental elements of singing, keeping the voice healthy is vital to the longevity and quality of a singer’s career.
If a singer is careless about their health, they seriously risk damaging their voice, perhaps even permanently. It’s especially important to keep your voice healthy when singing notes that are difficult to reach.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders suggests a few techniques that anyone can use to keep their voice in its top condition:
- Stay hydrated. Drinking the daily recommended amount of water is key, although avoiding dehydrating drinks like caffeine and alcohol will also keep vocal cords healthy.
- Use a humidifier, especially during the winter or in dry climates. Steaming vocal cords before extensive use (such as before a performance) will also help.
- Eat healthy foods, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.
- Avoid doing anything that would cause additional strain on your voice, like screaming, whispering or trying to speak over loud noise.
- If you are sick or have a sore or scratchy throat, rest and don’t try to overwork your voice. Skipping a day or more of practice may seem like it would harm your overall vocal practice, but resting for that period of time is much more beneficial than pushing too hard and straining your voice.
3. Work slowly
An athlete looking to become more flexible must not rush their practice, or else they may end up straining a muscle or seriously hurting themselves. Exercising vocal cords works in the same way.
Singers should try to moving one note up or down at a time; higher notes, in particular, can be damaging if a vocalist tries to sing too high too quickly. In order to learn which notes need to be practiced, you must first make sure you know what your original vocal range is and then move up or down from there.
A piano or keyboard can be very useful to compare notes to what you are able to sing; each key corresponds with a different note, and playing along with your voice will help you to find the upper and lower notes of your range.
You may also wish to consult with a teacher if you are having trouble discerning exactly which note you are singing. Be sure that you are not forcing yourself to sing something that is uncomfortable or painful to keep your vocal cords healthy.
4. Work in scales
Scales are probably one of the easiest vocal warm-ups, but they’re also the most useful, especially when working on expanding your vocal range.
As stated before, working slowly to avoid rushing into notes that are too difficult is key to keeping your voice healthy. Singing in scales allows you to work your way up or down, slowly warming up your vocal cords just as athletes slowly stretch to keep from straining a muscle.
At the same time, scales are simple and free from words and difficult rhythms, meaning more attention can be paid to proper breathing, pitch, and intonation.
Though they are simple, scales don’t have to be boring. When practicing, try changing up the sounds you make, like adding lip trills, or add words to the scale to work on your diction. You could also use this warm-up to practice singing solfege.
Or you can switch up the scales to a different interval pattern, which can help train your ear to recognize intervals and can be particularly useful if you want to learn how to sight-sing.
In the video linked below, vocal coach Andrew Byrne discusses a few techniques you can apply to your scale exercises to expand your range to both lower and higher notes.
5. Practice, practice, practice
Just like with any other activity, you can only improve if you put in the practice time.
Lots of practice is great, this is well understood. However, singers should be cautious and should avoid practicing too much and more than required. As a singer, you should also be mindful of the time you dedicate to sing scales or to practice when your voice is already hoarse or scratchy. This can lead to overworked cords and strain.
Be sure that you are balancing your practice time with plenty of rest. Vocal coach Spencer Welch recommends sticking to short practices, usually around 30-40 minutes, maybe even shorter when first starting a regular practice, and only up to 6 days a week.
Welch also says that the practices should be divided up into a 15-20 minute warm-up period, then 15 minutes of application with a song. When working on expanding your vocal range, you may choose to add range practices to the warm-up period, then work on a song that incorporates the new notes that you have been practicing.
Improving your vocal range may seem like a tedious task, especially when you have to work your way up or down slowly with plenty of rest added in, but all of the practices above will help you to expand your vocal abilities.
Of course, a wide vocal range does not necessarily correspond with a beautiful singing voice, In between exercises for your range, you can add in exercises that will help you with breath control, vibrato, and pitch, among others.
Hiring a professional vocal coach can provide training for the specific techniques that you want to work on. With gradual, consistent practice, any vocalist can begin to add to their vocal range and improve their overall vocal skills.