Anatomy on How to Sing High Notes Effortlessly
Although there may be many different, and even conflicting, methods on how to reach higher notes when singing, they all generally agree that higher notes become easier and more reliable if the singer minimizes tension throughout the vocal instrument. To do this, we need to create a proper balance of air and muscle coordination. Let’s start with a basic understanding of how the instrument works when singing, which is what Throga is all about!
First, we inhale be contracting our diaphragm (dome shaped muscle that separates our chest cavity from our abdominal cavity) downwards. This action pulls down on the lungs, allowing them to fill with air. Other muscles around the lungs (exterior intercostals) may expand as well, but it is best to minimize their involvement to make breathing when we sing as simple as possible.
Next, we do a controlled release of air by allowing our inhalation muscles to relax in an antagonistic relationship with the exhalation muscles (abdominal and interior intercostals) while bringing the vocal folds together (approximation). The vocal folds are located inside the larynx, also known as the ‘Adam’s Apple’ or ‘Voice Box’. The vocal folds are about half the size of your eyelids, and when air passes through them, they create a ‘mucosa wave’. The wave pushes air molecules into a pattern (frequency), that the human ear and brain can turn into a recognizable pitch.
We control pitch by modifying the tension of the vocal fold inside the larynx, similar to stretching the string on a guitar, a rubber-band, or the mouth of a balloon. Aside from stretching in length, the folds can also become thick (chest register) or thin (head register). These are the main register positions that are referred to when singers are attempting to expand their range. The reason for this is that in order to increase range without straining, we need to be able to transition from one register to another smoothly.
It’s important to recognize that volume is a separate control from pitch. If a singer wants to become louder, more air pressure and a thickening of the vocal folds will be required. This is where a lot of frustration comes in for singers who want higher, yet louder, notes to rely on. If volume were to remain a constant throughout a singers vocal range, it takes LESS air to sing a higher note than a lower one. It’s only when he or she chooses to sing louder on a high note, that more air will be required.
So in order to reach higher notes, on any volume, without strain, there needs to be just the right amount of air pressure against just the right amount vocal fold tensions. If the balance is off for any reason, your body will bring in other surrounding muscles in an effort to help. This is what creates unwanted whiny or strained tones, awkward facial expressions, and a myriad of other issues when singing higher notes. Extended periods of imbalance and excess tension will cause the singer to fatigue quickly or not be able to sing the desired notes at all.
There are countless different exercises online (youtube) by all kinds of teachers you can explore to help expand your range. However, for reasons discussed above, I believe it’s best to address the pitch and transitions between the vocal registers with an acute awareness of volume, clear tone, and relaxed expression. Start with a low volume on any given exercise you chose to explore, and slowly build up to a louder volume AFTER the lower volumes on the same notes feel effortless. Otherwise, other muscles will jump in which creates bad habits and inconsistent performances. Just like starting with 25lbs in the gym. Only after you can demonstrate lifting 25lbs with good form, will a trainer recommend that you try 30lb, and then 35lbs, and so on. Keep in mind, you can always modify volume and tone to execute the emotional intent of a song when singing, not when training.
On another note, it’s important to recognize that ALL of the muscles and activity involved in singing is controlled entirely by your brain. This may seem obvious, but we often blame our muscles or other parts of our body for not ‘working’ correctly or not responding to your intention, when in fact, your body can only do what the brain (you!) asks it to do. So be patient with yourself while exploring your voice, which will help reduce any unnecessary tensions.
Now, it’s time to vocalize…
AUTHOR: RICHARD FINK IV