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Best and Worst Tips for Hitting Higher Notes

portrait of little boy singing

All the singers I know have interesting stories to tell in the dressing room or on the tour bus – says Rachel Bennett

Most of them are about times when things went wrong on stage, sometimes because they took a crazy risk. Sometimes it’s because they followed someone’s advice – someone who really didn’t know anything about singing!

I’ve outlined 3 of these ‘pieces of advice’ below, just so you know never to follow them!

Worst 3 Tips for Hitting High Notes

1. Drink alcohol!

Beer being poured into a glass

Drinking alcohol slows down your reactions, meaning you can be fractionally behind the music

Lots of performers, including singers, will swear by a glass of port before the show or a glass of wine bedside them on stage. But what is the reality of this?

Not the boast, or the imagined amazing result, but the hard facts about alcohol!

Alcohol slows reactions and reduces the pace of the blood circulation so the singer wont pump the required amount of blood to the larynx in time for those hard hitting notes and, because alcohol slows our reactions, the singer could also be a fractional second behind the band (unless they all had a drink too!)

I know many singers who have regretted taking a drink on stage or who have sadly ended up being unable to perform without one. It’s a real shame, that they can’t just ‘get high’ on the music!

2. Let go and let rip!

This is about throwing all technique to the wind – perhaps great as psychological advice, but vocally dangerous.

Sometimes when people act like they don’t care, its because they don’t want to look carefully at what they’re doing.

A singer who ‘throws away’ a performance with a blaze attitude is more than likely a singer who isn’t feeling that confident about what they are about to do!

Letting it rip undoubtedly causes strain and usually sounds terrible; there are real support techniques involved in producing a belt or a yell, and if these aren’t practiced, the vocal cords will simply become irritated and, after long abuse, a singer will be likely to develop nodules.

I have taught and coached many singers who finally came to realize their technique was more important than they had been willing to admit.

3. Think down when you sing up!

Sometimes singing teachers use visual instructions (sing through the top of your head…sing to the clouds…sing down into your feet…)

A favorite I have heard is to imagine you are singing low when you sing high’. Whilst this creates a feeling of psychological safety for some singers, it’s often an empty instruction as it comes with no actual physical action to support the thought.

It often causes the singer to push downwards with jaw and throat area causing constriction and simply adding further tension to an already tense larynx.

Best 3 Tips for Hitting High Notes

1. Careful tongue stretches on some scales

Close up of a woman mouth sticking tongue isolated on a white background

Singing out with a stretched tongue can release tension

Tongue stretches can be worked in various ways but are usually most effective when you are actually singing notes.

If you stand carefully, head up and shoulders dropped, you can simply sing out with a stretched tongue, the bridge or back of the tongue reach right forward as you sing a note.

Starting the note with ‘lah’ will help this action to flow smoothly. This can release the singer’s tongue root from undue tension and so bring some freedom and openness with the approach to higher tones.

Practice some simple scales with either a long stretched out tongue or some short notes on a ‘TH TH’ shape (the tongue tip outside of the teeth as if to sing the word ‘THE’).

2. A good breathing warm up

Top tones are supported by a clear and appropriate flow of breath. Breath that connects to abdominal action finds confidence in this natural support system.

Here is one way to approach breath exercise, it’s simple and very effective, and it calms over active nerves: Just inhale through a gentle shaped open mouth then exhale through an ‘oh’ shaped mouth on the silent word ‘tooh’

3. Slowly marking the song

I have seen many singers do this in the studio before a take, especially backing singers who need to be very accurate and are likely to be singing complex harmonies and intervals.

Simply sing through all of the tones of the song in succession but without feel or rhythmic interruption – it’ll sound a bit like a choir boy.

This allows for tonal muscle memory to be active and tones to be confident.

The body actually remembers the song shape in the larynx and the singer can relax, feeling really prepared.

Rachel Bennett is a London-based vocal coach and singer songwriter. She is the lead singer / songwriter of RAIE and a Musical Director for theatre, television & recording studios across London. She has associations at WAC Performing Arts and Media College and Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama. You can learn more about Rachel on her Website or Facebook. You can see more of Rachel’s writing here.

  • One of the BEST things you can do to “hit high notes” is to STOP thinking about notes as “high” or “low”. The reality of frequency is not “up” & “down”. Visualizing frequency as up/down & low/high creates a lot of problems for singers related to how the body will respond to auditory imagery. Thinking about frequency as “up/down” & “low/high” is one of the #1 things that is causing singers to push. Apart from the fact that it has no scientific foundation. Frequency does not exist on a vertical orientation. There is no altitude with frequency. Understand some basic science about singing and then teach students properly.


    BTW, stretching or tugging on the tongue is complete nonsense. This article is not helping singers in my opinion. Can we see and/or hear the author demonstrate or sing something?