How can I learn to sing high notes?
Apprendre à chanter les aigus

© Michael Gordon 1997

[Re: A tenor's high notes (5)]

*** HOW CAN I LEARN TO SING HIGH NOTES? ***

My short answer is that high notes are a product of singing well, and not necessarily something directly pursued at least by a beginner. What is involved in singing well? Well that is a separate discussion and I will be writing my version of the vocal 10 commandments which differ somewhat in spirit from most of those offered so far - I would like to describe the conceptual basics of singing - things like the unit of singing is a phrase and not individual notes, etc. etc. So the basic answer is not to worry about high notes but to worry about singing.

I believe that learning to sing high notes is a slow process that involves physical maturation, correct intention (meaning having your ears learn what sound you should try to make), and learning the (indirectly controlled) muscular coordination to take "weight" out of the voice as you ascend.
Although many teachers don't want to focus their students attention on the larynx, I believe that singing high properly is not possible with the larynx raised, and I found it very useful when a teacher pointed out to me that I had a wildly unstable larynx that would shoot way up as I sung higher.

I offer the following concluding advice:

  1. For young men and less advanced singers: Stop chasing range!!! The first goal is singing well, not singing high. Range comes from freedom and proper use of the voice, not the other way around: vocal development cannot be rushed.

  2. As an adjunct to the work on the middle area of the voice (see below), it is also helpful to briefly exercise the extremes fully: this means some singing at low pitches, and also (for the beginner) some singing in the falsetto voice, especially descending scales. For the falsetto work, see if it is possible to produce the effortless high pitches without raising the larynx, and try to figure out what happens when you bring the sound down and you "break" into your full/lower voice.

  3. Since I advocate the one voice/no switches approach the place to start is in the middle of the voice where one sings comfortably. Many beginners are told that singing too loud is bad, but singing soft correctly and well is an advanced skill. Singing begins in a comfortable range with a full sound and a comfortably relaxed larynx, and not a little wimpy breathy noise and not with screaming. What do I mean by middle voice? Many male voices will have the same areas I describe, give or take a few half steps up or down although I understand there are exceptions. For me middle is from about C3 (one octave below middle C) to G3 (below middle C) - a range of just 5 notes. These 5 notes are a piece of cake.
    Lower than that is also easy, but I have less volume and so a tendancy to fatten it up too much so I don't devote much effort to lower notes. Higher than G3 is trouble - that is where the tendancy to raise the larynx may begin and it is important that there be a sense of "headiness" in the tone. Headiness around G3 is not developed from singing high falsetto pitches - it is training the ear that is the problem.
    It may be helpful for some men to approach this from the speaking voice by trying to speak in different pitch ranges and with different qualities.

    If one sings correctly from G3 up to middle C, then much of the battle of learning to sing high is won. For many baritone/tenor voices it is the range of a fourth or so below middle about C where the mistakes in the full voice are made that then lead to problems higher up. Yes the classic passagio is higher: say from about C4 to F4 for me, but I (and many others) have no trouble in that range - I have trouble getting to that range properly. A break or transition point exists because of how we get there.

    Much time can be spent doing simple exercises that go up and down (or down and up) by just a few notes starting in this easy middle range. There are so many things to work on just at comfortable pitches with a good teacher: learning to start the voice properly, to connect the voice with the breath, to start to work on a legato, to learn to let go of resonance as the pitch goes up so that an increase of pitch does not mean an increase of tension.
    I spent about two years with one teacher basically working on just these sorts of very simple exercises, and after two years I was still far from mastery. But after years of range chasing and falsetto hooting, and then two years spent pretty much just on the middle voice, I discovered to my surprise that I did have this "elusive" upper voice that I wondered how to find - it was just there - it wasn't something I switched to or developed out of falsetto - I would just sing higher and there it was.

Hope this has been helpful.

Best Regards,

Michael Gordon

Retour  Notes
C3 C'est le do2 français.
middle C C'est le C4 américain, donc le do3 français.
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