We’ve all wished we could sing higher. Whether it’s belting that final top note in Defying Gravity or getting through Donizetti’s Pour Mon Ame. We’ve all hit what felt like a wall at times with a song we’d love to perform, but can’t overcome how to sing higher without voice cracking.
It’s tempting to stop when you’re confronted with the wall. Voice cracks are scary and embarrassing. However, they are a reminder that you are human and even this singing that comes so naturally at times needs some work (and TLC).
In this guide, we will explain everything you need to know about how to sing higher without straining your voice. Let’s get started!
Pushing through that wall reveals entirely new horizons. For some singers, unleashing their range with supported technique might lead to a realisation that they have been singing the wrong voice part for years. Demonstrating that you should not limit yourself – you can learn how to sing higher male or female voice parts.
For others, nailing good technique for ‘head voice’ (where the high notes sit) and the middle passage transition between ‘head’ and ‘chest’ (where that voice crack usually happens) might allow them to perform ambitious audition pieces that land parts.
So, while it might not seem easy to learn how to train your voice to sing higher, once you do start embracing the following 10 habits and tips, approaching a high note won’t bring the age-old tension, but a new feeling of confidence. Yes, you can do this!
We’re going to be exploring 10 practice methods and tips for how to sing higher without straining.
If you’re really looking to get the most from your voice, however, please do not push these too far.
The point at which you are uncomfortable or in pain is the point at which you are no longer reaping the benefits of your practice.
Warming up is essential to ensure healthy singing in performance.
If you’re wondering, how can you sing higher notes? Lip trills are a great place to start. Especially, if you want to learn how to sing high notes male parts.
If you put your lips together and blow gently allowing your lips to trill, you might find you sound a bit like a tractor. However, this will relieve excess tension in your jaw.
As soon as you do, you’ll find the lip trills won’t work. Now, try and pitch a note while lip trilling. Once you’re comfortable with that, work towards lip trilling up and down a scale.
The point at which your notes cut out (if they do) is when you’re no longer supporting your voice. This is a great way to find where in a phrase you are more likely to lose focus. Interestingly, it’s often in the middle of a phrase or just preceding the highest note. Ideally, you should be aiming for a consistent sound across the ascending scales without any dips or points where the sound cuts out.
We’ve talked about the importance of support, and by this, in singing, we usually mean good diaphragmatic breathing.
To get a sense of what this means, lie down or stand up straight, feet hip-width apart, and put your hand on your belly. Take a deep breath in through your nose and see what happens.
If you’re engaging your core, you should feel your belly expand with the breath and contract as you breathe out. It can take a little while to get into a rhythm of full, deep, supported breaths. This can be a useful way to start a mindful practice or to calm yourself before a performance.
You’ll notice that the more you do it, the deeper your breaths become. The importance of a good lungful when working your way through a lengthy-phrase ending with notes in a high register can’t be underestimated. Support transforms your sound.
The last of our warm-up tips won’t apply to everyone, but is still worth mentioning.
Whether you sing “Bella Signora” up and down an arpeggio or sing scalic “oo’s” up the octave, your warm-up should be relaxed, but not easy. This means not sticking in the range that’s most comfortable, but truly warming up and down through our whole range. Which includes the notes at the extremes of our low and high register.
If you’re a tenor, this means warming up your low range as well as the high. Warm-ups can feel silly at times, but feeling self-conscious will mean we only stick to the bits we know sound good – and then you’re not really putting in work to improve.
A thorough warm-up will make it less likely we damage our voices when we start working on how to sing high notes.
We know that words have diphthongs (adjacent vowel sounds within the same syllable) and as a result, the singer often has a choice in how they approach singing a vowel.
It’s a fact that some vowels are much easier to sing in a high register, frequently these are the more nasal vowels. As an experiment, try going up a pentatonic scale and experimenting with different vowel sounds.
For example, “maa” “mah” “moo” “mee” “mey” “moh”. See which works better for you at different ranges.
Now, try slurring up an octave (starting in a comfortable register) on the word “nay”. Many singers will call this the “bratty singing exercise” because you might sound like an annoying child. However, that is what we want at this point.
You should find the higher register opening up much more comfortably on this vowel sound. The takeaway point is not that we should sing “nay” on every vowel. Injecting a slightly nasal quality into some vowels on a high register will likely go unnoticed by an audience, but will help you reach high phrases much more comfortably.
As we mentioned earlier, often it’s the build up to the high note, not necessarily the note that limits you.
Try starting on top of arpeggio and singing “mee” three times, then step down the arpeggio one “mee” at a time. Until you hit the bottom where you should sing “mee” three times.
Really listen to the quality of the sound your making. This exercise is working on bridging the ‘middle passage’ (that awkward bridge between ‘chest voice’’ and ‘head voice’ where you might get a voice crack) and evening out your sound across the register
This is incredibly important. Bad posture will crush your support and mean you will struggle to sing higher notes.
If you find yourself hunching, try standing your legs hip-width apart, flopping your head down to the floor, and bending your knees (forward fold in yoga). Then, straightening your knees and aiming for a flat back (halfway lift in yoga). Then flop down again to forward fold and gradually come to a standing position.
Your chest should be open, shoulders should be low, not tense, and your head should be following your eye line as you gaze straight ahead.
Alternatively, you can try lifting your arms up, then bending your elbows as you push your arms back into what we call ‘Superman posture’. Hold it, then release.
Studies genuinely show that leaders going into board meetings carry themselves with more confidence and poise in performance after a breathing exercise and the ‘Superman posture’.
Often times, the mental stress of approaching high notes or performing generally is expressed in fidgeting and visible, physical signs of tensions.
A good way to tackle this anxiety is by checking these behaviours. Often, they are more of a hindrance than a help and they will always be distracting for your audience.
Try standing in front of a full-length mirror or filming yourself in portrait mode as you sing through a song you know has a high passage that makes you anxious.
See what you do and try and actively avoid these anxious performance habits.
As you might have realised by now, the mental and physical are equally important when it comes to learning how to train your voice to sing higher.
One technique recommended by singing teachers is to “think down the notes” when you’re going up. Imagine you’re going down and the support you’d give to that note will improve your higher register.
This should help you with how to sing high with chest voice. Sometimes you want a certain vocal tone or need to project further. This can take a while to practice, but the exercise also distracts you from stressing about the scary note. Additionally, the effort you put into imagining you’re going down the notes will mean less mental effort going into performance anxiety.
Enunciation is always important for singers, but in a situation where you want to learn to sing higher for a song, the effort going into hitting a certain phrase just right may distract you from really enunciating the lyrics properly. Also, enunciating and getting really comfortable with the lines bring confidence and nuance to your performance.
Try speaking through the words to a passage, projecting your voice as you chew them over. Then try singing them all at one mid-low pitch, try again a tone above where you started. Work your way up to, or near to, the highest note of the phrase (worth saying that if it’s uncomfortable at all, do not keep working your way up – this will strain your voice).
Yes, it’s repetitive, but this exercise should bring confidence to your performance that will let you comfortably hit those top notes with ease.
Whether or not you’re in musical theatre, smiling really can drastically change how you hit high notes easily while singing.
Smiling often helps with relieving jaw tension, singing vowels in a more nasal way, and generally adding confidence to your performance.
A study at the University of Kansas demonstrably showed that smiling during brief stressors (i.e. a gig) can reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response. The best bit? That the body’s response to smiling works whether or not you’re actually feeling happy.
Smiling pretty much guarantees you will stress less – turns out the adage “Grin and Bear It” isn’t far off the mark.
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So, now you know how to sing high notes in male and female ranges. We’ve gone through different approaches to high note practices, the importance of psychology, posture and smiling, and vocal exercises.
Some words of caution. Don’t expect to be perfect after a few days of practicing these. Some days will be easier than others, but some will be harder and that’s okay.
How we recover on those bad days is often the mark of the kind of singer we are. It will be difficult at times! But be patient and the rewards of your practice will start bearing fruit.
Embedding these tips and tricks into your everyday practice routine is the best way to ensure they impact how you sing high notes. Now you know how to sing higher, let’s get to work!
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