By Donna Flynn, co-authored with Phillip Brandvold
As a singer, we all strive to achieve the ability to retain resonance and clarity in our voice while powering through either end of our vocal range- whether it be high or low. But time after time again, hitting those notes with ease has proven to be a difficult thing to achieve. Often, as a vocalist, you stumble upon songs that are set in a key you are uncomfortable with, and there may be a couple of notes that are either too high or low for you to hit. Your first instinct might be to change the key to something within your comfort range- however, that’s not always possible. Besides, many songs have such a large range that you may find extreme notes to hit no matter what the key. So how can you sing with the same power and clarity on an extreme note as you can with one that falls in the mid-range?
Remember to Breathe
First, it’s important to focus on your breathing. That is the foundation of your tone. It is the way you breathe that will determine whether you hit or miss the note. Without proper breathing, you will be unable to achieve the tone and projection you want. When singing, make sure to breathe deeply- taking in only the amount needed to sing the phrase. Don’t exert yourself too much, or you will become tense and your voice will sound strained. Rather, think of this action as more of a controlled, steady movement of your air. Although you’re not trying to hold your air in, you also don’t want to exhale it all out in a rush.
Relax Your Throat and Tongue
Second, you will need to keep your throat and tongue relaxed. Whether a note is too high or too low, the tendency for most people is to put in too much effort to “reach” for a note beyond their comfortable range. This naturally causes you to constrict your throat, causing strain in and around your larynx, and contract your tongue. By tensing up like this, the high notes come out sounding squeaky and the low notes tend to sound as if your voice is stuck in your throat. Staying relaxed helps keep the tone clear and strong.
“Chest Voice” vs. “Head Voice”
Finally, when your breathing is controlled and you are relaxed, you can focus on how the sound is produced. The voice makes two different types of sounds. The first, has a full deep texture. The second, sounds sweet and smooth. Classically trained singers call the former the “chest voice” and the latter, the “head voice”. Once you are able to understand the different qualities of your voice, you will be able to control your sound better when hitting the high and low notes.
When you sing using just the “head voice”, the air you use will most likely be traveling further back in the mouth, resonating in your head. In fact, you can feel the sound vibrating through you if you put your hand to your forehead while singing in this style. The sound that you produce using just your “head voice” is gentle and warm, but you are unable to project it in an effective manner. In contrast, singing in your “chest voice” will give you a lot of power, but it will often sound harsh and unbridled, and you won’t have as much control over the nuance of the tone, particularly when you sing high notes. So what tactic should we use when trying to hit the low or high notes?
The best option is to treat high and low notes exactly the same as you would any other note. Allow your breathing to do the work for you. That way your voice will be free from strain, allowing the voice to produce clear and appealing sounds. By paying attention to your breathing, keeping a relaxed posture, and being aware of the fuller chest and sweeter head tones, you will be able to achieve a strong and confident tone no matter what note you need to hit.
If you have any questions about these techniques, feel free to reach out or book a singing lesson, I love hearing from fellow singers!
My personal voice training background has exposed me to all aspects of the human voice and all music genres. I have trained privately through the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, have extensive training in Speech Singing and continued by education in voice function and health.
If you’d like me work directly with your voice, you can contact me on my Savvy profile about singing lessons.