Higher and Louder! The battle cry of singers everywhere.

Singing higher is an important skill, and there are common mistakes singers make when attempting to increase their upper range.

In this episode, John reveals the most significant mistakes and how to avoid them.


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Episode Transcript

Episode 118 – High Note Mistakes

Hey there, this is John Henny welcome back to another edition of the intelligent vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me. Alright, on today’s menu we have just about everyone’s favorite topic, which is singing higher. A voice teacher friend and I will joke it’s just higher, louder. People want to sing higher and people want to sing louder. That’s kind of the basis of our industry. But singing high is obviously a common goal because most people when they first start singing high is very difficult. They don’t know how to access it. So I want to go over some common mistakes that people make when they try and sing higher and help you avoid these and these mistakes may change depending on where you are in your singing journey. But the most common one, the first one is trying to sing high notes too powerfully too soon. 

When you are first discovering high notes, you want to go in without a lot of intensity, without a lot of muscle because that all that becomes factors that you need to balance and you’re not quite ready for that yet and that’s frustrating to people .Because they want to sing higher and they wanna sing louder and you can’t have both in the beginning. So if you want to get louder, which should not really be your primary goal right off the back, I would suggest the beginning to find your range, find your lower register, your chest voice. What generally happens is then people start to find their upper notes. Then they start to find that transition and smoothing that out for a little while. They’ll probably be a bit of a flip, which is fine when you’re first starting, but when you’re first finding these upper notes, you want to do it a bit more gently. 

That’s going to help you get in there so that your nervous system can experience this up or register and start finding coordination before you start kicking in the booster rockets. The other mistake is not going to high notes on friendly vowels. What do I mean by a friendly vowel? Well it’s going to be a lot easier to find and access your upper register an ooh than it is on an aah and I’ve said this before but we instinctively know this. That’s why we whoop and holler on woohoo, we don’t do it on aaha, cause you can’t go as high. Not as easily. That’s why yodelers go Yodel Ay EE OO. Yodel Ay EE, cause E’s and O’s will get into your head register easier. Another mistake is trying to get in there and this is an extension of the first one going too loud, but unfinished sounds. 

And by a finished sound, I just mean like a nice natural sounding voice. You’re going to need to go in with some exaggerations, whether it’s a very hoody heady, ooh kind of voice or if you’re using the semi occluded vocal tract exercises and what that means, partially blocked semi occluded vocal tract. That’s your vocal track is your throat in your mouth, that those are your resonators. That’s the track that they are sound waves are taking. So we want to partially block them. Great exercises, our lip bubbles bhbhbh tongue trills brrr voiced consonants such as Zzz Vvv the NG of sung ammm and even better straw exercises. Straw exercises are fantastic for finding your upper register. You’re using these unfinished sounds so you’re not trying to go in and balance a full rich sound. Unfinished sounds combined with that semi occlusion. What that does is that provides back pressure. 

You’ve got a partial blockage of the vocal tract and that back pressure reflects back down to the chords and helps them stay together and hold back the air. And it gives them a little assistance in finding the coordination. It’s like these wonderful girls singing training wheels and I have a straw exercise course that is free. You can go get it. It’ll give you straw warm ups. Some of my favorite exercises of why the straw works so well, how to do it. Just go to johnhenny.com it’ll be on my show notes for this episode. 

So it’s johnhenny.com/118 or just click on courses in the menu, it’s there it costs nothing. So no obligation to buy anything. But if you do, it’ll ask if you want to be on my email list, you should get on that because I do send out, I’m letting you know when new podcasts are up and I also have special offers that only go out to my email list. Alright, commercial over. So those semi occluded vocal tract exercises or unfinished sounds you can use unfinished sounds like exaggerated, dopey de, de, de, de, de, de or little edgy ik, ik, ik, ik, ik, ik and the edge is when you want to start working towards a little more intensity, but you’re not ready for a full finished sound quite yet. Now another mistake I see people making is when they’re no longer trying to shout towards those high notes and push their voice and they’re trying to go to the heavier of your sounds maybe a little edgy sound. They’re still pushing air as if they are going into that shout condition. So very often people are using way too much air. So there may be doing something on a G gi, gi, gi, gi but gih, gih, gih it’s way too much air and so they’re just overloading the vocal folds or vocal chords and just blowing them apart. So you want to watch out for that. Another mistake I see, and now this is a little further down the track, but once you start getting your voice together and you start accessing that and you start trying to sing into it, it’s keeping the vowel too closed. 

Now by closed, I mean if you have the family of lip vowels aaaaoooo so the ooh where the lips is really rounded, that’s on the closed end. And then you have the tongue movement vowels aaaeeey as an ease on the closed end. The tongue is most forward. Those are fantastic for getting up into your upper notes lightly as I previously stated. But when you begin to sing into your voice, they are going to be too close down and they are likely going to cause you to squeeze and this is very common for singers who’ve had some amount of voice training and they’ve stopped what voice teachers will call pulling chest or having that violation of dragging the lower register up to high acoustically, that shout condition aaaah. So going into the narrow vowel breaks that acoustic alignment, it stops the resonators from aligning with the sound wave in such a way that we ended up shouting and you’re larynx. 

So your throat area starts coming up to fall. The pitch and all that squeezing and everything starts in the chords are slamming together. Horrible condition. So absolutely narrow closed down vowels are such a gift to be able to break that habit that hardwired coordination you know, we’re all born good at shouting survival mechanism, but if you stay with that and start trying to sing bigger again, there’s not enough energy, acoustic energy in the sound wave. What you’re doing with that narrow vowel is you’re pulling all the high frequencies. They’re all the high energy out of it. You can hear when I do it on a vocal fry aaaaaaooo. 

Sounds like I get really low and I’m not changing pitch at all. I am pulling the high frequencies out of the sound. That’s why o’s in e’s don’t belt so well. They actually have to open up. So the problem becomes the vowel is too closed and this scares singers, especially those who have been pulling chest for a while and shouting. So they find comfort in the narrow vowel but when they start to lay into it they find wow, I can’t get any energy on this and they end up just squeezing because all that, those high-frequency parts of the sound wave, all that energy has been pulled down in a way and we need to bring that back in for a belt. However, if you go too open and too wide, which is back to the number one mistake, that too wide of a vowel very likely kicks in that shout mechanism again. 

Now you can go up on quite a wide vowel, quite a wide. There is a tongue twister, quite a wide vowel, as long as you can override that urge for the vocal fold muscles to kick in and start squeezing and that takes some time. But there are singers, Whitney Houston was fantastic with that. She could get vowels very, what some voice teachers call mix where it’s kind of, you hear more of that head blend resonance. It’s a more balanced vowel, and sits more in the center. It’s where I recommend most singers sing most of the time, especially when singing stronger notes. But Whitney could open those up and actually go into a condition that’s starts to become shouty, but she could override and not squeeze at the vocal folds and that’s a delicate thing to do. Idina Menzel can do it. 

When she’s really on and those vowels open up, she can override that squeeze. When you do that, when you go, not only is it going to tend to want to squeeze again, but you also go into an area of acoustic instability. Just depending on how that sound wave aligns, you can easily kick in the acoustic alignment of shout  and then it’ll start to crack and want to go back and forth. The other thing is just the sound, just your physical instrument. Some people are better able to do it than others because you do have to start getting the mouth rather wide. Some dropping that jaw. Some people just are, have wider mouths, quite frankly, can drop their job more. They have a better instrument for going into that really, really wide shouting. The other mistake I see people do is working it on songs where the tessitura where the song tends to sit is just too high it’s like oh, I’ve worked on my high notes, I’ve done some o’s and e’s, now I’m going to go sing five journey songs in a row. 

You’re not quite ready for that. You’re going to start fatiguing bad habits are going to come in. You want to work material where you do get up there and then you get back down where you’re comfortable and it’s kind of a back and forth so you’re not up there all the time until you really start to get a handle on this. 

And then the other huge mistake I see people make when they start really trying to sing into their upper register, they’ll develop their upper register, they’ll develop their lower register, but they will ignore the middle and the middle voice. This mixed voice, which begins on around D or E flat above middle C for men and it’s around A flat above middle C for women. As you go into that area and you feel you’ll feel your lower register, your chest voice starts to go into this slightly acoustically different place and most singers feel as if the voice is lifting. If you don’t master that, you’re going to crack back and forth between the two. You’re going to tend to as you come into chest over grab and slam the chords there. And I don’t care how high you can sing, you can sing off the keyboard if you don’t get this middle voice together. Man, it’s really not that much use. I will have people in, they’ll say I really want to develop my head register. I mean my whistle voice. And it’s no, no, no, no we have to get this bridge together. Most of your singing will be done in this transition area, especially on pop and musical theater, contemporary choruses. It’s a really exciting part of the voice going into the very, very high notes. Sure, there are pieces that go there. It’s very thrilling for the audience, but that’s not your work at day notes, that transition, that’s where you’re going to spend the bulk of your time training as a singer and really getting that nailed in and dialed in. 

So don’t work the high notes and neglect the transition. Work all the areas of your voice at the same time and you’ll feel some voices, a section of the voice will come in and then all the parts of that section will kind of come up at about the same time. Other voices, it’s almost a one half step at a time comes in. 

So there’s some where they, it’s almost like a bed of flowers blooming and another voice that’s one flower, then the next flower, then the next flower. So you also have to just stay on your voice’s timeline and the way your voice is going to work. You don’t rush any of this. Listen I’m hyper aware of the passing of almost every moment and the ticking of the clock and how precious it is. But you can’t rush this. 

You really have to have patience and allow your voice to come together. But you’ve got to do the work. You gotta be doing the work every day. And I’ll leave that as the final mistake is people who just wish for high notes and don’t put in the work to get them, they are available for you. You can sing pretty darn high no matter what kind of voice you have, you can extend your range. Now we all hit a wall basically, but my guess is you’re not at your wall. There is so much more to bring out of your voice and so yet on a regular practice schedule, make it a habit and work your voice and work your voice in a good healthy manner and their end of the sermon. 

Hey, if you want to know more about me, go to my website, johnhenny.com. Again, just click on the courses and you can get my straw course for free if you’re interested in belting. I have a very, I’ve got a short course. It’s only $17. The secrets of belting I will share with you is kind of a bit of a secret, but I am currently working on a much bigger course on belting. So that’s going to be pretty exciting and I’m actually creating a regional songs to work the voice in very specific ways. So I’m looking forward to getting that out to the world. So get on my email list as well. If you want to find out about those things, If you are interested in studying with me, you can reach out. There are contact buttons to click there and until next time to sing better singing. Thank you so much. Bye bye.