How to increase your range pt. 2

Ladder to SunWe’re back for the second installment in my series on increasing your range. In the first installment of How to increase your vocal range I told you that like every musician, a singer needs to learn as much as possible about their instrument and how it works.

So today we’re going to talk a bit about how your vocal cords work. Specifically, how they work to produce higher notes for you. Once you understand that you’ll really understand what all the fuss is from us vocal coaches about breathing properly and not pushing. I’m going to explain the process here as much as I can without getting all technical and boring.

Your vocal cords, as you know, produce all sound we make. As you’re sitting there breathing right now, reading in your head, your vocal cords are in an “open” position. If you were to start humming right now, they would come together and start to “adduct”, which is really just a fancy word for the vibrating that happens as they’re opening and closing really fast.

To put it simply, they take the flow of air moving up from your lungs through your trachia and they kinda cut it off until it builds up, then they open again and release that little build-up of air. That little “puff” of air becomes the sound waves that eventually reach our ears. Now, imagine that process happening at about 200 times a second .

So we have a general idea (and that’s very general, it’s much more complex than that) of how they create the sound we hear using the air we send up. How do they change that sound to different notes? In particular, how do they create higher and higher notes? The easiest way to illustrate this is to think about the strings on a guitar.

Looking at a guitar you notice that the strings at the top are thick. Then they gradually get thinner and longer as you go down to the string on the bottom. The thicker strings produce lower notes, while the thinner, longer strings produces the highest notes.

Your vocal cords make a similar adjustment as you move toward higher and higher notes in your range. At your most comfortable range, which is right around the level of your speaking voice, your cords are short and thick. As you start to graduate higher, your cords start to stretch and thin. As they do this they get tighter. Remember, their job is to close long enough to let that puff of air build up and release it so it becomes sound. Are you with me so far? :O) Take about 5 minutes to watch this amazing footage of this.

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Ok, so we’re moving towards a high part in our song, and our vocal cords are stretching and thinning and creating tension. But then something happens they didn’t expect. “Wait, what’s going on here?!! There’s a LOT more air coming through here now! This is much more than what was happening on the lower end of our range,” they say. ” He’s pushing too hard! We’d better tighten up or we’re gonna get blown apart”. And so they do. And they get tighter and tigher, trying to continue doing their job of holding back air long enough to get that little build-up. “Oh, man, looks like he’s pushing even MORE now. I think we’re gonna have to give up, it’s too much for us!”

And eventually that’s what they do, and that’s when your voice fails. Now, as primitive as that little “dramatization” was, it’s a pretty good representation of what’s happening to your vocal cords when you use what I call “air velocity” to reach high notes. Basically you’re just sending up way more air than your vocal cords can handle. So they try to compensate by tightening and becoming even more tense, but eventually they’re just no match and they get blown apart.

So you can see how critical it is to learn how to control your breathing. Not just for holding notes longer, or even increasing range. It’s critical for the health of your voice over the long haul. And hopefully, you understand better why pushing won’t get you more range; at least not safely, and not for long. I told you in the first installment that even though most people have about an octave and a half naturally, those last 4 are usually very uncomfortable. Now you know why!

How how to we make these note comfortable? How do we learn to use less air so we put less strain on our vocal cords when their elongating and thinning to create high notes for us? That’s what we’ll be talking about in our next installment of the series.

See you soon!


How to increase your vocal range (first in a series)

Fly like a BirdEvery singer wants to add more notes to their range, and for good reason. Even though most of us don’t need nearly as many octaves as we think, the more notes we have easy access to the more flexibility we have. The key here is the word “easy”. Most singers have about one and a half octaves of range naturally, without any vocal training. That’s actually enough for many songs, to be honest. But the problem is, only the first 8 notes of that one and a half octaves is really comfortable enough to use for any length of time for most singers. The last 4 notes most people can reach are pretty uncomfortable, to the point of yelling.

So the first step to increasing your range is getting full control of all the notes in your range currently. Any note you’re screaming for is technically not in your range when you think about it. If you’re screaming to reach it, you can’t stay there very long or hit it very many times. So even though these notes are “technically” in your range, they’re not very usable for you in most songs.

Your first priority then should be learning to reach that last 4 notes past one octave comfortably. To do that requires some “unlearning” of the typical ways most of us reach those notes. For most people when we think about reaching higher notes we think about using more air. Pushing harder. In fact as Gospel singers, more air is the way we accomplish almost everything we want. More range, more air velocity. More volume, more air velocity. More power– you get the idea. The irony of it all is that the very things we do to try to help our voices accomplish these things are the very things that hinder us from accomplishing them.

It’s going to sound strange when I say this, but the real way to accomplish more than you ever wanted to accomplish with your voice is to do less than you ever have before. Like every musician, a singer needs to learn all he can about his instrument. When you really understand how the voice works you’ll understand why pushing hard to hit those high notes is NOT the way to increase your range.

Despite what you may have heard, simply pushing harder until you can gradually sing higher is NOT the way to increase your range safely. It is however the fastest way to start losing what you already have. While it’s true that some people do add a couple of notes to their range by using this “brute force” method of pushing and muscling your way up to higher notes, this is a very unhealthy way to increase your range. When you do it this way you’re really just back to square one. Higher notes that are really not very usable to you for any length of time because you’re screaming to reach them.

In order to properly and safely increase your range; meaning you now easily reach and sustain notes you had to yell to reach before; you must seek a deeper understanding of your instrument and how it works.

For example you always hear people talking about the importance of learning how to breathe properly for singers. But most singers think that’s mainly for the purpose of being able to hold notes longer. That’s part of it, but the real reason to learn how to breathe properly and not push so hard is that doing so causes a chain reaction series of events inside your body.

These things all conspire together to cause all of the strain, tightness, dizziness, coughing, hoarseness and pretty-much every other negative or bad thing you experience when you’re singing toward the very top end of your range. In my home study course Vocal Ministry Breakthrough I teach you vocal exercises and techniques that help you overcome and eliminate all of these common issues so you can sing at the top of your current range easily. And that’s the key to adding more notes.

So I’m going to start a series of blogs to discuss this in great detail. We’ll learn how the voice works by taking a close, detailed look at exactly what happens when you push and yell for those high notes. We’ll learn how the vocal cords produce higher notes and how pushing for those notes HINDERS the vocal cords’ ability to produce them for you. All that and more will be discussed in this blog series on increasing your range.

Stay tuned and keep reading!

Video blog: How to measure your vocal range (and how much you really need)

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The 4 Stages Of Breathing Explained, Pt. 2

Welcome back! In my last blog I gave you a detailed explaination of Inhalation and Suspension, the first 2 stages of proper breathing. Now I would like to break down the last two, Phonation and the Resting Period.

We discussed how important inhalation is to a singer. On the opposite hand we have exhalation, which is the usage of the air you inhaled. In normal breathing this process is called exhalation but in the singing world it should be referred to as Phonation. Phonation is simply the process by which the vocal folds vibrate and produce sound. To the average gospel singer we naturally have the gift to sing so we really do not focus on what is actually going on in our body when we sing. I believe that it is important for a singer to know how the body affects the sound we produce.
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The 4 Stages Of Proper Breathing Explained

In my previous blog I started talking about the breathing process that a singer should go through. In that article I mentioned that there are four stages of proper breathing: Inhalation, Suspension, Phonation(exhalation) and the resting period. I thought it would be helpful to go into more detail about each one. Today I’ll cover the first two, Inhalation and Suspension.

First let’s talk about Inhalation.
During the inhalation stage of breathing it is critical for the singer to have a relaxed body so that the air can fill in where necessary. Referring back to a balloon analogy I used in the first blog , when air is blown into it the balloon expands all the way around. When inhaling air, as a singer the mid section of your body should expand just as that balloon does, freely allowing the air to fill the lungs from bottom to top. The average singer is prone to taking a shallow inhalation right before they sing. But I cannot tell you how imperative that intentional deep breath is every time you open your mouth to sing. The body should be erect in a natural stance. The shoulders are not in any way involved in the inhalation process. The only movement there should be is in the mid section of the body, from the air filling in.
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The fine art of proper breathing

Breathing is something we all do naturally. But in the singing world- more precisely the classical singing world- there is an art/technique to breathing. Singing gospel most of my life I was stuck in my ways as far as singing was concerned. I lost my voice often and I always felt like I was screaming to get certain notes out. It was not until I began studying classical music that I began to understand the technique.

The way you breathe not only produces the sound but it also controls the quality of the sound and the volume. Have you ever heard a singer and you could hardly hear what they were singing? Or maybe a singer who always sounds like they are afraid when they sing. There are even singers who do not fully understand how to preserve the air that they take in while singing. Breath control is a great way to assist the average singer with such issues.

The average singer is drawn to just taking air in right before they sing their first word. But I want you to think about not just taking air in, but letting the air fill up from the bottom to the top. This process involves the entire body and takes some extra thinking. As the air fills the lungs the stomach section and the back section should expand. During this time the singer should be thinking about what has to be sung and how it should be sang.Once the singer knows what is about to happen then the actual singing begins.

In normal everyday breathing there are three stages: inhalation, exhalation and a resting period. In singing there should be four stages: inhalation, suspension, exhalation and a resting period. It is vitally important that a singer consciously do these four stages until it is natural. The exhalation or phonation stage is typically the stage where most singers lose control of their breath. Phonation involves several areas of the mid section the abdominal, internal intercostal and the lower pelvic muscles. These muscles control the amount of air that is released while singing. They also support the sound and tone quality of the notes.

The entire process can be a lot to think about while one is trying to remember the words to a song or fight through nerves. But if you want your singing to improve and become much easier, it’s definitely worth the effort. Try thinking about breathing in a different way when it is time to sing. Practice letting the air fill from the bottom of your lungs to the top, then stop and think about what all you want to sing with that breath. Imagine you have a full balloon and you squeeze the top so the air will seep out. That balloon is your lungs. Once they are filled you want to strategically release the air, rather than just pushing or blowing as hard as you can.

We’ll be talking more about breathing in future blogs.

Shena Crane,

The Music Ministry

Shena Crane is a Classically trained professional vocal coach. She graduated from University Of Texas At Arlington. Shena holds a Bachelors Degree in Music Education as well as an Associates Degree in Music/Performance.