World Choir Games Flanders 2023

How can I extend my vocal range as a singer?

  • [A version of this article first appeared as a post on my blog From the Front of the Choir]

    I often get asked this, along with “How can I sing high without hurting myself?”

    photo by Allisonnik


    There is no quick fix, but here are some ideas that might help you.

     

    When I first started singing I wanted to sing high like my pop idols. So I spent a lot of time straining and hurting my voice and still not hitting the top notes. It didn’t stop me trying.

    Although I’ve not had singing lessons, things have definitely improved since then.

    Over the years I’ve noticed that my range has extended dramatically and I can now hit much higher notes than I could with very little effort and no strain on my voice. How on earth did that happen? I’ll share what I discovered below, but first …

    why extend your vocal range?

    You need to ask yourself why you want to extend your range.

    Billy Holiday apparently only had an octave range and look at her success. It’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it that counts.

    Some people want to sound like their favourite singer. They have a particular role model and want to hit the same notes as them, whether they’re really high (usually the case) or really low.

    It’s great to have something to aim for, but just because your idol can sing very high (or very low) doesn’t mean that you can. We all have our own physiological limits: it’s how we’re made and there’s not much we can do about it.

    You might want to tackle a particular song which has a wide range. Again, a good thing to aim for, but it might not be for you.

    You need to recognise those times when what you’re attempting is just not you. Celebrate your own unique voice and stop trying to be someone else. See How to be a better singer if you’re a mere mortal.

    One of the most common reasons for wanting to extend your range is if you’re just starting out as a singer and want to develop your voice. Like any other activity, it takes a while to improve and develop your muscles and technique. When you first start out you may well find that you have a limited vocal range and trying to sing high or low puts a strain on your voice.

    be patient

    When you learn a new sport like soccer or tennis say, you’re not expected to serve aces or score loads of goals immediately. It takes a lot of practice. Unfortunately, with singing (and many other creative arts) people judge you straight away believing that the ability to sing is something you’re born with. They’re wrong.

    It takes practice. Very few people are virtuosos of the voice when they start out. So don’t expect to have a large vocal range straight off. You’ll need to sing regularly for some years before you notice definite improvements. Be patient and let things take their natural course. Like any new skill, the more you do it, the better you’ll become.

    sing the opposite of what you normally do

    Most people – especially those in choirs – pick a vocal range and stick to it. “I’m an alto” they say, or “I only like singing in my head voice”. They think that by constantly practising that vocal range (whether it’s their natural range or not – see the definition of tessitura in Why can’t I sing low notes with more power and volume?), they will see improvements.

    Unfortunately the voice doesn’t work like that.

    If you usually sing high, you’ll find that if you sing the low part now and then, you’ll notice improvements at the top end of your range. Similarly, if you usually sing low, then singing the high part occasionally will improve your low notes.

    This is what happened with my voice. As a choir leader who teaches by ear, I have to sing all the parts to every song. That means each week my voice gets a good work out: from very high notes to very low notes. Each time it gets a bit easier and I notice the extremes of my vocal range extend a little. It happens slowly over a long period (it’s taken me nearly 20 years so far), but it does happen and the effects last.

    Next time you’re in a singing workshop or rehearsal, try singing a part you don’t usually sing. Then when you come back to your usual part, you should find it easier.

    be gentle and play

    By singing regularly and using different parts of your range, you will slowly notice differences. But if you want to tackle the extremes of your range head on, you’ll need to do it very gently.

    The best way is to be playful and try silly voices out in the shower. Do lots of gentle slides up and down and have fun. Don’t be too critical of the quality of your voice at this stage, just use the whole of it.

    If you find little glitches in your range, then be even more gentle and sing quietly past these to try and minimise them. Try bending over or rolling your shoulders or swinging your hips – basically engage your body in whichever way feels comfortable. See if it makes a difference as you go really high or really low.

    Note what works and what are the uncomfortable bits where you’re straining a bit. Don’t do it for too long or your voice will get tired.

    Playing in this non-judgmental, fun way can bring lots of surprises and unexpected breakthroughs. See also Want to develop your voice and sing better? Be silly and play!


    I hope you find these ideas useful. Good luck! Let us know how it goes.

     

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

    website: chrisrowbury.com
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