Episode 48 – Extend Your Vocal Range | Extreme High Notes

By April 9, 2017


Hello to those who wanted to explore the stratospheric notes in their vocal range! You’ve come to the right place as we show you how to get an extra note or two at the very top of your voice. We’ll also be discussing whether there’s any point to doing that, so stick around for todays episode which you can watch below!

Before we get cracking with todays show we have a brilliant recommendation for any singers out there who have been considering an in-ear monitor, specifically a custom moulded ear piece.
If you’ve been shopping for custom moulds at any point you’ll have probably probably stopped pretty quickly. They In Ear Monitorsare mad expensive! In the UK you’re looking at around £800 to £1000 for good ones and the cost of the in-ear monitor system on top of that. The total could be around £2000. For you guys, we have a solution. InYourEar.biz is a one man company that takes the standard ear buds from your in-ear monitor system and customises them with mouldable plastic. All for under $100!

All you need to do is go to their website and send off your standard ear bud, pick which colour you want, and wait them to return. Once they’re back, you just mould them yourself by heating In Ear Monitorsthe plastic with a hairdryer and pressing them into your ear for a minute or two while they mould to you ear and set. Once cooled, you’re ready to go. Steve from InYourEar kindly provided us with some to try and we can say that they work really well, providing better noise cancellation and staying in your ear as you jump around the stage like a lunatic. If you’re interested in trying them out then give it a try by clicking here. Here’s co-founder Chris modelling his for you!
NOTE: We do not financially gain if you end up making any purchases.

Extend Your Vocal Range

This is certainly a common desire and we’re really talking about the highest note at the top of your full range. Those that sit at the end of your head voice or falsetto, (or whatever you want to call it). For contemporary (not classical!) men we’re probably looking past D5 or E5. For the women we’re looking anywhere past F5 or G5. Really high!

Why would we want to go to such an extreme place in our voice?

Extreme positions in our voice are just that. They are the edge of our ability. They are also quite important for several reasons. Those being:
1. Vocal health – We’ll go into the science of this later, but there’s research as to why going to the extremes is great for vocal longevity. Chris has previous covered this in a short blog article. The essence of the advice is to regularly go to the extremes, just make sure you don’t live there. That’s when it’s not good for vocal health.
2. To take the stress out of the notes underneath – If we add a few more notes to the top, there’s often the effect of experiencing the notes just below a little easier.
3. Belting – There are some similarities between extending the very high range and belting an octave or so below that. One of the keys to this is finding the raised larynx position required to do both well.
4. Getting out of chest voice – If you have a very heavy voice, as men often do, then extending the top can be a good way of stretching that out and finding a register balance.
5. Diagnosis – If you have truly found your highest note then they can be a strong indicator of your vocal health. Going back to Reena Gupta’s episode, she gives some great advice on what to do if you lose two or three notes from the top of your range.
6. Showing off – It’s a proven way to attract loved ones and gain attention (just to be very clear, we’re joking… or are we???).

What can the science can help us with?

Science isn’t everything but it can help guide us through the minefield of singing. There’s a fair bit of research, most recently from Dr. Ingo Titze, around the link between going to the extremes of the voice and vocal health. The larynx is essentially a joint comprising of the thyroid cartilage and the cricoid cartilage. One prerogative for singers should beVocal range to exercise the full range of motion of that joint each day, even for just a short time. Also, the full contraction and release of the muscles that raise and lower pitch (the cricothyroid and the thyroarytenoid) can be explored if we do this. That approach can benefit any muscle relationship, so we need to go to the extremes to experience that sort of muscle activity.

Range has a limit, which is different for everyone, and sometimes that limit can be dictated by how much space is between the thyroid cartilage and the cricoid cartilage (see diagram in red). We raise pitch by using the cricothyroid muscles to rotate these two cartilages towards each other. This in turn stretches the vocal folds inside and raises pitch. The more space we have between our cartilages the more we can rotate them, and hence the more tension can we can potentially apply to the vocal folds for higher vocal range! We are all born with our own unique amount of space and no amount of training can increase it. That’s not an excuse though! Most vocal range problems are not down to this space, but rather elements of singing that we CAN change.

Another very interesting aspect of stretching the vocal folds out to the max is the development of the ligament fibres within them. Again, our friend Dr. Titze has pioneered research in the larynx and how stretching forces could change the fibre spacing and tension of the vocal ligament; one of our primary vibrating tissues in the larynx that produces sound. If a singer applies regular stretching forces to the vocal ligament by going to the top of their range they could increase its fibre density. If you were short on space between your cartilages then this approach would be super-crucial to you in increasing your vocal range. In a Phys.org interview with Dr. Titze, he says:

If you never stretch your vocal cords and never do high pitches or loud voice, eventually the ligament will atrophy into a simpler structure and you won’t have that range available to you

There’s your key to sustainable vocal range. Daily glissandos to the top of your full range can change vocal fold anatomy so that you can sing higher, easier. What more do you need to get going?! Read the full research paper here.

Lastly, there’s the larynx. As much as there’s disagreement in pedagogies about where it should be and whether it should move, we believe that it needs flexibility to move to it’s highest and lowest points. A singer can stunt their range by holding their larynx low because high pitches need a smaller space to resonate in. Lowered larynxes do the opposite and increase space. If we try and go really high with an overly lowered larynx position then it will just drag up anyway! Acoustics makes it do that and we can’t do anything about it!!! To avoid this we must recognise the larynxes role in high notes and practice the ability of letting it raise, without resistance, with the pitch. Singing to the top of the range is one of many ways to put the larynx position through its full range of motion and finding, even just briefly, it’s highest and most extreme position.

Ways NOT TO to increase vocal range

As mentioned above, exercises that raise the larynx without unnecessary tension are very useful in eventually building the top of the range. There are so many available on the internet to try. Here are a few other considerations of what NOT TO DO for vocal range extension:
Slow airflow – If we don’t use enough air to sing, and we’re often really quiet, there’s a chance that you vocal rangewill feel quite strangled when you go to the top of the range. This’ll probably be coupled with going flat. This is because at the top of the range the vocal folds are much stiffer than in the bottom. This means they may require just a little bit more lung pressure to sound consistent and free. Because of this fact we can’t be backing away from the extreme notes just because they might be a bit louder. If you rarely go to the high notes then they will be less balanced and louder, but that’s the necessary evil of initially developing them. Over time, you’ll be able to create them in a more controlled manner, and with less gusto! Just beware… we aren’t saying you should smash it out. Visit a qualified contemporary coach, or work with us online, to ensure that you’re as tension free as possible and staying within safe volume levels.
Backward tongue position – It could be helpful to bring the tongue forward to release the upper range. One reason for this could be that the larynx needs to rise to adjust the shape of one of our resonator (in simple terms, the throat) to match the pitch. That often happens automatically if we don’t get in the way of it. An inhibitor for that happening freely is if the tongue is too far back and too far down, as this tongue position can push back on the larynx and keep it too low. Strain and a lower range can ensue as you feel like you’re hitting a brick wall! Bring the tongue forward slightly, or use forward tongue vowels like [i] (as in feet) or [I] (as in fit) as a way of getting up there. The only stipulation is that you sing them more wide mouth and open jawed than usual!
Strain in the rest of the range – There could easily be too much effort and tension around the notes below to even consider realising our highest pitches. It’s advisable to work on ridding ourselves of that unnecessary strain if we’re having trouble accessing the very top.

Ways to POSITIVELY increase vocal range

Over time we have to determine what our highest note is by consistently going there. For singers, like ourselves, who have worked through vocal technique for over fifteen years we have a pretty good idea of what our highest notes are. For Steve, he’s usually maxing out at around B5. For Chris, it’s more like Bb5. As an exercise, it’s worth knowing your notes by consistently noting YOUR top note and working semitone by semitone from there. Steve and Chris discuss their experiences with range development (watch the podcast for full demonstrations):
Try different directions – Depending on your vocal situation, you may benefit from approach your highest notes from lower down on a long scale. Possibly a two octave scale. It can be psychologically calming to ‘run up’ from lower down and it may help you to ascend with less strain or apprehension. On the other hand, approaching the high notes from the top down can offset someone who might sing with too much depth in tone or too much attachment to chest voice. Great for singers who might hold their larynx too low, a descending octave scale starting close to the highest pitches and working up could suit you more.
Vowel – This is another individual preference. For Steve, the OH vowel is preferred for relaxing the larynx initially. For Chris it’s the EE because it brings the tongue forward to increase his ability to raise the larynx. For you, this will all depend on your current flexibility and approach to singing. Experimentation is the only way to figure it out without a coach to guide you.
Open the jaw and mouth – No brainer! All you have to do is try and sing high without opening your mouth space. You’ll hit that brick wall again! Embrace the feeling and open up.
Keep the chin up – we’re not saying stick it to the sky, but if you pull your chin down you could be Vocal range - chin downpressing back down on the larynx. As mentioned earlier, the larynx needs to be uninhibited if it’s to be able to assist in higher pitches for you. Make room and keep the chin up.
Higher larynx exercises – Often used lower down in the vocal range, twangy and witchy tones can really help singers work their higher larynx states. Vowel/consonant combinations like NAY, with added witchy sound, are commonly used for this. Another vowel that’s likely to explore larynx mobility is a witchy EE. Use it on glissandos and, for the purpose of this exercise only, avoid opening the jaw. By no means clench it and look out for jaw tension, but try not to open it whilst you glissando. This will, by default, encourage the larynx to move more as you ascend and train its flexibility over time. You can’t take it as high in pitch as the other vocal range building exercises because the jaw stays relatively closed, so proceed with caution.
Bending over – This is a weird one, admittedly. It likely works because of distraction, larynx raising and extra airflow. As always, see the video for a demo, but it’s essentially swinging down at the waist as you ascend to the top of your voice! It can be a complete revelation for some singers.

Now it’s time to try it! The podcast at the top of this article has full demo’s which we recommend you review before trying any of this stuff. Because of the tricky nature of extending vocal range we ALWAYS recommend checking in with a coach every now and again to make sure your instrument is keeping healthy. If you’re having trouble finding a reputable coach then you can work with us on any of the techniques in this podcast and anything else that’s on your vocal wish list.

If there’s any research nerds out there, we mention a piece of research out there that was recently done on teachers of belt and how they utilise the highest pitches in a females vocal range as a way of train the belting positions. The difference is, of course, they apply those positions to the notes around an octave lower. Click here if you’d like to know more.

One last caveat. If you’re doing a lot of extreme vocal range training then your lower notes can become less full and resonant. That’s because the larynx can sit higher in general and the pitch raising muscle can find it hard to relax afterwards. We don’t want this to take hold of us over time so please reset your voice with some vocalises in your deepest notes. We have an article to help you with that here.

That’s it folks. Please keep in touch with your progress! As always, if you need any help then please get in touch.

Naked Web Monkey

The Naked Vocalist website guru. Years of experience in fixing websites, uploading stuff and belting out high C's. All whilst swinging from a tree.

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