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Here are four simple yet effective top tips for singing high notes without straining:
1. Make sure you warm up properly before singing – get the muscles ready.
2. Don’t crush your instrument – check your posture.
3. Fool your brain – Think DOWN.
4. Use exercises.
1. Warm Up
Suddenly trying to sing a song that involves high notes without warming up first is asking for trouble. If you were running a race you wouldn’t try to run from ‘cold’ and it’s important to recognize that singing is an intensive vocal activity and preparation is vital.
You need to gradually explore the range of your voice from low to high in a way that avoids straining entirely. One of the best ways to do that is to use the ‘lip bubble’ sound where you blow air through your lips to get a ‘horsey’ or ‘tractor’ like sound. You then put a tone behind it and slide up and down while ‘blowing bubbles’ with the lips. Keep going gradually getting higher and it should feel really easy to go high in your voice with this warm up. You can go back to doing this any time when you want to remind yourself how easy your voice can actually go up to a high place.
I have worked with people who had no idea they were pulling their head back and pushing their neck forward when singing, effectively crushing their instrument! You need to watch yourself in a mirror as you are singing and watch what happens when you are singing higher. Do you reach up with your chin as you ‘try’ to get higher notes? Does your chin stick out further when up high? All of this makes straining virtually inevitable. High notes don’t require any kind of pulling up or out from the chin and neck. If you find yourself doing this then try singing with your palm on top of your head and pushing up into it slightly as you go higher. This can take the focus away from the chin and allow your throat to stay open and aligned rather than crushed and compromised.
3. Think DOWN
A lot of the trouble with high notes is in our thinking. If you think it’s really hard to ‘reach’ top notes then your body acts that thought out, it can’t ignore all that tension you feel when you worry about whether you can reach it or not!
Luckily there is a very simple and easy way to counteract this. Think down. How do you do that? Try starting with your hand up high in the air as you sing an easy lower note. Gradually slide up and as you go higher in your voice bring your hand down lower. Once you get used to this you can do it without sliding but singing a pattern or even a phrase from a song. Once you get used to the idea you can ‘think’ down without moving your hand physically. Imagine that you are going down in a lift as your voice goes up to the higher notes.
4. Use Exercises
Many times you can extend the comfortable range of your voice by working on things gradually step by step. Start by knowing where you can go in your voice without feeling any strain and then use a vocal exercise going only 1 tone higher than the really comfortable note. Practice every day (it need only be 5-10 mins) and then when you feel ready (might take a week or more) try going up just one more tone with the same pattern before coming down again. It doesn’t really matter what exercise you use as long as it is one that has a pattern that gradually goes higher and then comes down lower again. You can find lots of exercises online, just choose one that you are happy singing.
Everyone who struggles with singing high notes will have a unique voice and different capabilities but these four tips give you the opportunity to conquer the most frequent reasons for straining so that you can sing out with confidence and ease.
Toward the end of the last season of “American Idol”, there was a brutal attempt at a high note made by contestant Danny Gokey. Trying to hit the high note at the end of Aerosmith’s “Dream On”, the note(s) he did hit were excruciating to hear and were actually made fun of incessantly the next day on video sites and on television.
He had to strain so hard to hit the note that he missed it both on the upside and the downside, wavering back and forth. Although he is certainly an accomplished singer, this was not a good example of singing. You need to learn how to sing high notes without straining if you are going to be successful on stage.
Although it would make sense that women would be able to strain less while hitting notes much easier than men, it is not always true. Some women just try to out-sing their own vocal chords and go too high. A singer like Mariah Carey, with her crazy range, can almost never go too high, but for the rest of us mortals, we will eventually get to a note in a song that we can’t hit – and we know it when we’re there.