How to increase your vocal range, pt. 3

EscadaWell gang, my intent was to finish this series on increasing your vocal range with a video blog. But after trying unsuccessfully all night to get it to load to YouTube I’ve decided to just write my thoughts down for you rather than miss my deadline.

We’ve talked a lot about breathing in the last two installments. In part one I drove home the point that simply pushing and singing harder to “reach” for high notes is NOT the way to increase your range. In fact it’s a pretty sure way of losing what you do have.

But as I stated before, many people still don’t understand the importance of learning to breathe properly for singing as it relates to your range. Most of us think the only think about breathing when we’re running out of air for notes and phrases. However, the way we breathe, or more specifically the way we use our air to reach high notes has everything to do with almost all of the most common issues that plague us as singers.

In part 2 of the series I wanted to show you just how critical it is that we as singers learn how to use less air to sing and STOP the hard pushing. Again, not just for the sake of increasing how long you can hold a note. But the fact is, pushing hard for the high notes is really tough on your vocal cords and can cause significant damage over time.

I talked about how the vocal cords work to produce sound and how they use the air we send up so we really understand how pushing for the note affects your vocal cords in a very bad way.

So that leads us to today’s installment (video still stuck at 93%), lol). Hopefully if you haven’t understood anything else from the series so far, you understand that you can’t increase your range by continuing to do what you’re doing now. So no matter where you are with your talent; no matter how anointed or naturally gifted you are; if you’ve never had any kind of vocal training it’s imperative that you do so.

I made a very important point in one of the other blogs, that before you can increase your range by adding notes to the total number you can reach, you must first get to a place where you can reach all of the notes you can sing currently without yelling, screaming or pushing for them. If you do that, then you’ve dramatically increased what I call your “usable” range.

Remember that one and a half octave range I said most people have naturally? And the point I made about how it’s usually those last 4 notes that give most singers the biggest problems? Well in Gospel music, most songs written for choirs and even praise teams put us in keys that force us to sing those notes a LOT. We’re usually singing somewhere in the highest part of our chest voice by the time we reach that “vamp” of the song.

Imagine now a song you sing with the choir that’s really high toward the end. Think about the part that’s really high. Think about the words you’re singing there. What if that note (and it’s usually one, isn’t it?) were easy for you? How much of a profound difference in the singing experience would that make for you?

But think about this: Most Gospel songs are only written in an area that includes about 5 notes. That’s because that’s where choirs and praise teams sound their best. So songs like “Grateful” By Hezekiah Walker represent the upper end of where most Gospel songs end up. “Miracles” by Beverly Crawford, for example, is in the same key as Grateful and basically requires you to sing the same notes in the vamp.

So what if those notes were comfortable for you? If those notes were comfortable for you then 80 to 90% of the songs you encounter in Gospel music would be comfortable too, because the vast majority of it would be right around that key or below it.

So how to you get to a place where you can sing those notes comfortably? By learning simple vocal exercises and techniques. Vocal training teaches you how to use your voice safely and with much less effort. You learn that you don’t need even a fraction of the air you normally use to hit those high notes. You learn vocal exercises that strengthen your vocal cords and lower your larynx. You learn how to approach the notes at the upper end of your range with much less strain and force, but without losing any of the power and fullness we love as Gospel singers.

Believe it or not, some of the most important vocal exercises we use to help our students achieve these things have been included in my home study vocal training course, Vocal Ministry Breakthrough. If you haven’t done so already I highly recommend starting there.

The bottom line is, your voice is your instrument and you’re the musician that plays it. And like every musician, you need to learn everything you can about your instrument in order to be the best musician you can be.

 

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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Ease tension and improve vocal tone with one simple adjustment.

In Everyday UseMost people don’t realize it, but the vowels in the words we sing play an absolutely critical role in just about everything we feel and hear from our singing voices. How easy or difficult a particular word is to sing has everything to do with the vowel in that word and how it’s being pronounced by the singer.

Not only is strain and tension affected by vowels and the way they’re pronounced, but the actual tonal quality is affected as well. If pronounced incorrectly, certain vowels can cause your tone to take on a harsh quality that is a lot less melodic, lacking warmth and richness. Vocal coaches generally place vowels into two categories. We refer to those categories a couple of different ways. The first two should sound familiar to you from school:

1. Long vowels
2. Short vowels.

We refer to them more commonly in vocal training sessions as:

1. Wide vowels
2. Narrow vowels.

Most of us, especially in Gospel, have a tendency to pronounce almost all vowels-even narrow ones- in a very wide position. The position worsens as we sing higher and higher notes.
Pretty soon even narrow vowels like the “O” in God become something closer to “GAD” when sung on a high note.

Vowels like the “A” in Grace, Faith and Wait are all examples of a wide vowel. The vowel “E” is another example of a “Wide” or “Long” vowel. E is the hardest vowel to sing because of all the tension it causes in words like “me”.

This tension comes from the wide position of our mouth when we sing words like these that contain wide vowels. We often refer to them as “smiley” vowels for this reason.

To alleviate some of this strain and tension I teach students a simple technique called “narrowing” or “shortening” the vowel.
Here’s an example:

If we were singing Hezikiah’s song “Grateful”, at the vamp where the song gets really high and you have to keep singing that long, wide “A” in the word grateful, we would just “shorten” that vowel by pronouncing it differently.

So instead of a pronunciation that sounds more like this:

“Graayt-ful”

We shorten that long “A” by pronouncing it like a short “e”, so we end up with a pronunciation that sounds more like this:

“Greytful”.

That looks weird, I know. And your first thought is that it would sound weird too. But to the audience it sounds pretty-much like the first pronunciation.

Doing this however, does a couple of very cool things. First, it takes a great deal of tension off your vocal cords. A wide mouth causes the larynx to raise, which causes a great deal of strain and tension.
Shortening the vowel puts your mouth in a much more oval, narrow position so you larynx drops and you feel less tension and strain.
You also use less air because there is a smaller space for you to push it through.

But here’s the really cool thing. Shortening or narrowing these wide vowels has a dramatic affect on the tonal quality of the singer. It’s especially dramatic in choirs and other large groups, but it works the same way for everyone.

Singing with narrow vowels takes all the edgy, harshness from your vocal tone and replaces it with a warm, rich tone. Almost instantly!

Here’s a really neat way to try this easily. Put on a cd of a song you like that requires you to go pretty high. One where you find yourself straining a lot; screaming for the note.

Then sing that part with your hands pressed against your cheeks until your lips kinda pucker a little. You’ll sound funny and look even funnier (lol) but it’s a cool way to find the narrow pronunciation of a vowel quickly. It also helps you feel what it’s like to sing higher notes without all the tension or screaming. Chances are, if you do this correctly and keep your stomach relaxed, you’ll feel a pretty dramatic difference in those high notes.

So give it a try! To learn more about narrow vowels and get a “low larynx exercise you can do every day, sign up for my free 5 day vocal training course. Details at the bottom of the blog. Don’t forget to come to the Facebook page and tell me about it.

Want to learn even more vocal techniques free of charge? Sign up for my mailing list below and I’ll give you a 5 day video vocal training course. Just my way of saying thanks for reading and subscribing. See you in the course!