It’s a common misconception that a person’s singing ability, particularly their vocal range, is something that can’t be improved in most cases. This is simply not the case. With proper technique, dedication, and focus, anyone can learn how to sing higher.
In this article, I’ll discuss a few methods I’ve used over the years to get the best out of my voice. There’s no quick fix, but like with any skill, if you’re willing to put in consistent work, you’ll be hitting the high notes in no time!
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If you don’t already have a vocal warm-up routine, this is the first thing to consider when trying singing higher notes. I spent the first few years as a frontman unaware of the power of a solid warm-up and once I incorporated one into my pre-gig ritual, the improvements in my vocal range were instantly noticeable.
Vocal cords are essentially soft tissue. The larynx has a layer of muscles on the inside which are responsible for closing your vocal cords. These are both very delicate and need to be treated with care, especially if you are a singer.
This is why vocal warm-ups are so important. Similar to an athlete warming up the muscles in their arms and legs before competing, the process relaxes and stretches out the muscles to avoid injury and increase performance levels.
Higher notes are produced by the vocal cords when they vibrate at a faster rate. This causes more tension than using our natural speaking voice, so if you try to belt out a tune at the pinnacle of your vocal range without warming up, it’ll be much harder to get the desired result. Not to mention, you could cause damage to your voice.
So what should a vocal warm-up consist of? Indeed, there is a multitude of exercises that singers use to prepare themselves for singing higher notes. I’ll give you an example of a simple routine that helps you maximize your vocal range. All you need is 15-20 minutes before each singing session, and it can be a really fun exercise.
Vocal Warm-Up Routine Example
1. It’s important to start of your warm-up as gently as possible, to ease your vocal cords into singing.
To do this, start by humming with your lips sealed. This restricts the movement of the vocal cords and protects them from becoming over-strained too soon. Simply sing 2 notes that are well within your comfortable range, with your mouth closed.
You should alternate between the 2 notes, holding each one for around 5 seconds. Breathe when you feel the need, and keep repeating this exercise for one minute.
2. Secondly, a great way to warm up the vocal cords further is by performing lip rolls. These can be tricky for some people, but basically what you do is push air through your closed lips so that they flap against each other.
If you have a guitar or piano available, use the root chords for reference and try to sing a major scale of your choice. The scale you choose should be well within your comfortable vocal range, so keep adjusting until you find the perfect root note. Sing the scale 5 times.
3. Now that your voice is starting to warm up, you can introduce more airflow into the exercises. Perform the same as the previous step, this time with your tongue touching the roof of your mouth, with your lips open.
This isolates the vocal cords and makes them work harder than the previous two exercises. You can transpose up to a higher key if you feel comfortable doing so.
4. Next, it’s time to incorporate some falsetto into the warm-up. Warning, this exercise can make you look a little strange if someone else is in the room, so maybe tell them what you’re doing before attempting! Stand up straight with your shoulders relaxed.
Using the previously described lip roll technique, start singing at the very bottom of your vocal range. Then, like an engine moving through the gears, gradually increase the pitch that you’re singing. Pay attention to the ascent of the notes, and slowly move through your mid-range, to the top of your chest voice.
Once you can’t go any higher, transition into your falsetto (or head voice) and then hold the highest note for a few seconds. Then drop back down, relax, and start from the bottom note again.
5. The final part of the simple warm-up exercise requires you to belt out your highest note in your chest voice. Thanks to the previous 4 steps, your vocal cords should be nicely warmed up now, so there’s minimal chance of straining them. For this section, you are going to make an “ah” sound.
This sound causes the throat to open fully, using all of the muscles in the larynx. If you have access to a piano or another instrument that you can use for reference, that’s great. If not, you can do it by ear. Sing a major scale using only “ah” noises, starting somewhere in your comfortable range. Each time you finish the scale, move up a semitone.
When you get to the point where you are belting the notes, record your highest note on some paper for later reference. Whenever you repeat this exercise, keep track of your highest note so that you can monitor your progress.
Chest Voice & Head Voice
When discussing vocal range, it’s important to know the difference between your chest voice and head voice. Oftentimes, a singer may get the impression that the highest note they can hit is lower than it is because they are only using their chest voice.
The head voice, or falsetto as it is commonly called, allows you to sing higher than when you are belting out the notes. This technique can be difficult to master at first, but with practice and focused attention, it unlocks a whole new field of vocal possibilities.
Let’s start by establishing a chest voice. This is essentially the range of notes at the lower-end of your vocal range and is created by the thick vocal cords. A good way to imagine it is by thinking of the strings on a guitar. The lower notes are produced by thicker strings and the higher notes by thinner strings.
Most commonly, you will be singing in your chest voice. A good way to know when you are singing in this register is by paying attention to the texture of the tone you are producing.
If you have access to a piano, it’s a good idea to start at the lowest note you can reach, and then move up note by note. When you feel that you are belting out the notes, you’re nearing the top of your chest voice range. Take note of this for future reference.
That brings us onto the head voice or falsetto. This technique of singing has a distinctively thin sound, as it is produced by thinner vocal cords. There are hardly any bass or low-mid frequencies in a person’s falsetto.
The head voice has a breathy texture to it and is used to reach high notes that can’t be accessed when singing with your chest voice. The vocal cords vibrate at a faster rate, causing rich harmonics and a smooth, ghostly tone.
When you’ve completed the aforementioned exercise (singing each ascending notes on a piano or guitar) in your chest voice, and have established where to top of your range in that register lies, it’s time to do the same with your falsetto voice.
You’ll find that there is a “breaking point” where your chest voice transitions into falsetto. Practicing this transition between the two is a great way to iron out any inconsistencies. It’s a difficult skill to master, but with consistent practice, it becomes easier over time.
You’ll find that when moving up the notes on a piano in your falsetto voice, you can reach much higher registers than you thought possible before. There’s less strain on your vocal cords using this technique, so don’t be afraid of pushing your voice to find its limits.
Consistency Is the Key
The number one piece of advice I can give to a singer wanting to sing higher is to be consistent in your practice. Too many people think that unlike learning an instrument, singing is a skill that doesn’t require much effort to improve.
The reality is that like all muscles on your body, your vocal cords and larynx can be strengthened through training. The vocal warm-up routine I described at the start of this article will cause noticeable improvements in your range, but only if it is performed regularly.
Setting aside 20 minutes per day to work on your voice will cause dramatic improvements in a matter of weeks. Use the warm-up routine, monitor the limits of your range using the ascending piano technique, and be sure to sing songs that challenge your voice.
Also, you must take care of your voice. Drinking plenty of water when singing will protect your vocal cords and lubricate them so they are capable of reaching high notes comfortably .