The biggest percentage of new singers that come to study with me are interested in increasing their vocal range so that they do not have to worry about the high notes in songs -says Ron Browning
They are tired of straining, and some have even pushed their voices to the max, which has resulted in vocal abuse issues.
These singers are in search of smart techniques that will allow them to be the powerhouse vocalist they want to be, and they want to feel fearless when they sing.
I have had the good fortune to work with singers, known for their “sky-is-the-limit” vocal range, Allen Stone and Patti LaBelle, to name only two. So these tips have certainly been tested!
Below are 5 methods I have used in helping singers find their upper registers easily.
I suggest that you study closely with a teacher and/or voice coach so they can monitor your progress on a weekly basis.
That way you will not create unnecessary tension from practicing incorrectly. I cannot stress this enough.
1. Laser Beam Method
Sometimes it can be helpful for singers to think figuratively. Pretend that you have a laser gun in your torso pointing up. Shoot out a high note from the gun and aim it toward the dome of the head. Keep the body relaxed and keep the throat open. Avoid grabbing the note with the swallowing muscles as you approach the first high note in the phrase. Send it from the diaphragm, letting it slip through the throat with no counteraction from the throat in any way.
The throat should not attempt to manage or stress about the high note, or any note for that matter. It should remain, at all times, unconcerned. The neck, jaw, lips, tongue, chin, and eyebrows should not tighten or attempt to adjust pitch or placement.
The high note should feel as though it oozes out of the singer. Avoid being loud and rough on the attack of the high notes. Instead, think of being “beamed up” into them. It is easier if you remember to use less volume as the pitches climb higher and higher. The singer must keep the lips dedicated to the words, as if he or she were to speak the words in a real conversation. They should avoid over articulating in an effort to accommodate the higher pitches. So speak it first, then sing it! The mouth should feel the same for both.
2. Staccato Scales
Work out with very light, fast moving scales in the top part of the vocal range. Do so first with a 3 note scale… then a 5 note scale… then 8 and 9 note scales. Keep the tempo brisk and the dynamics light. Keep the attacks quick. Staccato will yield the best results.
Bring forth no big energy at all. Do not open the mouth bigger to accommodate the high pitches in any way. Keep the mouth size consistently the same on the high pitches as well as the low pitches. Practice with a mirror and monitor the mouth. Keep the whole body relaxed but alert, especially the face. Use the syllables “yum yum yum” or “meow meow meow” (like a cartoon cat), singing one syllable per note.
Avoid over articulating. Keep the mouth small. Then try two notes per syllable on a 5-note scale, “neh no neh no neh”. In the key of C, “neh” would include notes “c” and “d” and “no” would include notes “e” and “f,” and so on. This will aid in flexibility if you sing lightly and keep the tempo moving along. Think thinner voice so the resonance comes more from the nose horn.
Above all, avoid over-breathing and over-supporting. After working this way, you will soon notice that higher pitches will start to pop out by surprise, effortlessly. The lighter your approach is, the quicker the higher pitches start to appear in the vocal range. So pulling back on the amount of breath and support used, and keeping the volume at moderately loud, or a little less, are the key ingredients. For high notes this needs to become the new default. Remember that high notes are very exciting, but you – the instrument – must NEVER get excited! You must grow and maintain a will for smart action.
3. The Inversion Table for the Daring
For the adventurous, here is an unconventional method for singing high notes effortlessly.
Strap your ankles into an inversion table. Sing a song that has a difficult high note that seems to be out in the stratosphere somewhere.
A couple of beats before the high note, flip yourself up-side-down on the inversion table. The difficult note, or notes, that you thought impossible, will plop right out as easy as pie.
This happens because the body is disoriented and doesn’t have time to put up the fight to try to control the note(s). This proves to the body that the high notes do not need your help with placement. It will convince you to get out of your own way and just let the high notes take place. You will use breath and support that are more natural.
NOTE: Be careful with this experiment. If you do it, you will need an excellent table and be sure your ankles are strapped in firmly. Do not do it if you are a singer with certain medical conditions: high blood pressure, a heart condition, eye or ear problems, hernia, fracture, osteoporosis, overweight, or pregnant. In fact, please check with your doctor to see if the inversion table would be safe for you before giving it a try. You’re on your own! Be safe!
4. The Siren Method
Make the sound of a siren on the schwa sound, like the “a” in the word “above.” Keep the volume at moderately loud and produce the sound without unnecessary physical effort.
Now run the pitch of the siren up and down, over and over, going further up the scale each time without getting louder, and without producing any extra tension in the body.
Now run a word or two up and down this siren pole of sound, words like “boy oh boy oh boy” or “onion onion onion”. Or try a consonant/vowel combo that is easy for you.
Once you find a consonant that is the easiest for you, work through all the vowels with it, e.g. “wee..way..wy..wo..wu” or “bee..bay..by..bo..bu”. Toss the pitches and the syllables up the magic sound pole without effort.
Try to keep all of the sound aimed at a small spot in the nose horn, which runs slightly above the upper lip up to the forehead. Prevent the body of sound from growing any larger than the original sound. Keep it all in the “sweet spot”. From here, high notes will be easy and will have a clear, ringing tone, loaded with golden resonance. You may or may not feel a buzz in the nose or forehead. Some singers do, some don’t. Keep the tummy relaxed and avoid the tendency to over support. If you can pretend to be a little sleepy, it works better. Pretending to be somewhat bored will also work well.
5. Pulling on The Tongue
Grab the tongue and pull it straight out. Sing scales and arpeggios in this manner giving the tongue a little extra yank just as you get to the top and head back down the scale, while still holding onto the tongue.
9-note scales work great for this and so do 1½ octave arpeggios, where the singer ascends on a major chord and returns to tonic on a dominant 7th chord. The singer can also hang the tongue out of the mouth and park it comfortably just below the bottom lip line.
Practice the entire song in this manner until all of the notes are freed and the process seems to be effortless. When the throat is tired, the tongue has been working overtime. The jaw and tongue will feel weary. Pulling the tongue out prevents it from being a back seat driver for pitch and placement, and puts it to doing what tongues do best when it comes to singing—articulating the text.
This technique combined with lip and tongue trills are excellent for relaxing the tongue, which in turn will help restore a happy throat.
My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry
Jody Cooper - Here Comes the Rain Again
You have a very radio-friendly voice and this song is great for you. You also have a great thing going with your arrangement and the way it builds. It’s a unique approach and very hypnotic. Try to provide more blank space between your phrases, which means you will need to clip the ends of some phrases here and there. Add some dramatic breaks in the middle of some of the lines. It will keep it from being so legato or sing-songy. Try to feel the words more in front of the mouth on the lips and teeth. You have a great voice so you can throw the song away more. In other words, avoid monitoring yourself—the pitches, the tone, the phrasing. Let it go and just sing! From time to time I pick up that you are trying to be too careful. You got this! Own it more.
Why I chose Jody Cooper as a Finalist
I have chosen Jody Cooper to move on as a semifinalist in the Voice Council Magazine Competition because I feel that he has a beautiful hypnotic voice, full of heart, that keeps the listener’s attention. He creates a nice intimate vibe and has impressive musicianship. Jody has a lot of star potential!
Ron Browning is internationally known as the “Voice Coach to the Stars.” His clients include all levels of singers from beginners to Grammy-winning celebrities in all genres of music. Ron works with the major record labels producing vocals and preparing artists for radio, concert tours, and special television appearances. He is a voting member of the Grammy Foundation and the CMA Awards. Ron has been seen and heard on Entertainment Tonight, The Voice, Oprah Network, and BBC’s Simply Classics, to name a few. He is a successful songwriter, jazz pianist, painter, and is currently writing a series of voice and performance manuals, which will include interviews with many of his students and celebrated clientele. His solo jazz piano CD, In a Sentimental Mood, is available on iTunes and CD Baby.