I was thinking over the last several blog posts I’ve done and I realized I haven’t done anything on vocal technique in quite some time. So today I thought I’d get back to basics and talk a bit about one of the most common things we singers struggle with- strain when singing in the upper part of our ranges. Now, I could get really technical here, and if I did it would get really long and really boring. So I’m going to focus only on one element of making high notes easier.
There are several things that need to work together in order to make accessing the higher parts of your range feel easier and less straining. But at the center of all of those things-the hub that holds all the spokes on the wheel in place- is your larynx. The larynx is more commonly referred to as your “Adam’s Apple”. It’s that lump in your throat that goes up and down. In a nutshell, a higher larynx equals more strain when you sing higher notes. A lower, more stable larynx means more relaxed, easier singing in your upper range.
Today I want to give you one simple vocal exercise that will help train your larynx to be lower and more stable. This will help you feel much less strain in the choir stand singing those demanding Gospel songs, or on the praise team belting it out on Sunday morning.
These exercises engage muscles that pull your larynx down, thus helping to train your larynx not to jump up high in your throat when you start to approach higher notes in your range. I’m going to have you do this exercise two ways. Both of them will use the vowel “U”. For the first exercise we’ll combine that U vowel with what we call a “hard consonant”. For the second one will use a “soft consonant”. This refers to the amount of air stoppage a consonant causes in your mouth when you pronounce it.
For the first exercise we’ll use the sound “GUH”. For the right pronunciation, think of the word “guppy” or “gutter”. Just leave off everything after the U. Try using this sound on a simple 5 tone scale. You remember the Major Scale we all learned that uses the words “Do Re Me Fa Sol La Ti Do”, right? Well for this exercise we’ll sing the first 5 notes of that scale forward and backwards, using the word “GUH”. In other words, it would sound like “Do Re Me Fa So Fa Me Re Do”. Only we’ll be singing those notes using “Guh”.
Start out in a comfortable place in your range and do the 5 tone scale forward and backward, singing “GUH”. Then move up a half step and do it again. Keep doing that until you’ve reached the highest place in your range you can sing COMFORTABLY. Then simple start going back down one half note at a time.
Exercise #2 is exactly the same, only we’ll substitute the “G” for an “N”. Now we’ll sing “NUH NUH NUH”, as in the word “nothing” or “nugget”.
Do this exercise exactly the same way you did the first one, doing the 5 tone scale forward and backward, then moving up a half-step and doing it again until you reach the highest place in your range you can sing comfortably.
An added twist:
After you’ve done this a couple of days and you’re pretty comfortable with the exercises, I want you to add a new element. Instead of doing the exercises in your normal singing voice, do it in what we call a “dopey” sound. Think “Sylvester Stalone….Adrian!!! Another example of the dopey sound (and where it gets it’s name) is that sound you make when someone says something that’s really so obvious it’s almost stupid..and you go “DUUUH!”. It’s an exagerated, throaty sound. Using this with your GUH GUH and NUH NUH NUH exercises makes them even more effective because they cause this “friendly compression” that helps force the larynx down even further. Try these for a few minutes a day-5-10 minutes tops. Do them daily for a week or so and tell me what you think. Remember though, don’t overdo it and don’t do anything painful!
I’ve explained this stuff as clearly as I can, but let’s face it: It’s hard to really get the full understanding of a vocal exercise looking at printed text. If you’d like to actually see and hear vocal exercises demonstrated, try my free 5 day vocal training course!