Magic Choral Trick #87 High Notes

Yes there are definitely some tricks, but the uncomfortable truth when it comes to high notes is that daily technique practice over a prolonged period of time will give you the best results. Can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had people ask me about how to handle the high note in a song – the day before the gig. By then it’s all smoke and mirrors – but even they need to be rehearsed if you’re not going to be a quivering nervous mess.

Daily technique practice – even the first 5 notes of the scale exercise on each of the vowels will make a difference.

1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1__________up a half step and repeat.

Or – as I’ve been doing recently with students – once up and down the same five notes on each of the major formed vowels. Ee ay ah oh oo. So you’ll be going up and down this 5 note pattern 5 times – up and down once for each of the vowels. (preferably all in one breath – which will get easier as the focus of each vowel gets cleaner)

After each of these groups go up a half step – then repeat the process until the notes are getting a bit high to be really comfortable.

When the top notes are a bit uncomfortable stop, do a Brass Buzz

Sing the exercise to Zzzzzz

Make sure the mouth shape is no wider than the French Teacher ‘eu’ – and stays that narrow while you sing the vowels on the exercise again.

If you’re squeaking a bit on the top note you need to think more legato (smoothness) on the way down from the top note to the note below it. (Think ‘band saw’)

Focus on the narrowness, and the way the singing feels – NOT the way it sounds! If you start listening critically to yourself you’ll be holding your breath. Holding the breath is the survival mechanism programmed into our bodies when we’re required to listen very carefully. Though in some ways the voice is like a stringed instrument, it still requires the free movement of air to function.

Learning to sing higher and higher notes requires time. Time for the mouth to figure out how to be narrow and avoid going into primordial scream mode when the pitches get up there a bit; time for trial and error; time to practise feeling, not listening (If you want to listen, record yourself and listen later); time to train the tongue to relax into the correct vowel shape without lurching towards the roof of the mouth; time to train your mind to think of a singing line as a horizontal path rather than as a vertical ladder; and time to work on increasing the range by only about one half step every week or two.


About janetkidd

I've been waving my arms in front of choirs now for more than 35 years - and these are descriptions of all the very best things I've learned. I direct a Women's Competitive Barbershop Chorus, a Men's Competitive Barbershop Chorus, a Med School choir, and for a few weeks each year - Big Choir (about 100 voices) - which performs at an annual fundraising concert. Hope at least some of these Choral Magic Tricks will be useful to you - and thanks for reading. Janet

Posted on February 15, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I LOVE this exercise! But, does it work for stretching your lower range as well? I’ve discovered that I now have less strength/volume in my lower ranges (an I used to consider myself an “alto”) and less ability to hold the sustained notes in tune. If this exercise doesn’t help lower ranges, is there another you can recommend?

    • Some good news and some not quite so good news. The good news is that when we really start to work the upper register, the lower middle register becomes more rich and develops more colour in the sound. The not quite so great news for you is that once we start to do some technical work on our voices they tend to migrate to the range where the voice truly wants to sit. Some people’s voices go down a bit, but most shift upwards. This doesn’t mean that you’ll lose the low notes – it’s just that you may be more of a soprano than you thought. The low notes, when they’re sung correctly, and forward in the mouth will be rich, but they won’t be your powerhouse notes. The ‘money’ notes will likely be a little higher.

  2. Thanks Janet!.Note understood!

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