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Maximum Range
(The back door approach for high notes)

by Mark Baxter

Voicelesson.comNot once has an award been handed out for singing glass-shattering high notes. Likewise, no song has ever become popular simply because it contained some birdcalls. Yet, we singers tend to fixate on range as if it’s the reason we’re not winning awards and selling piles of CD’s. True, there is an emotional lift when a melody soars upward, but the pitches should always be proportionate to the instrument. Sing at the height of your voice’s potential and your audience will assume your abilities are limitless. Sing beyond your boundaries and you merely call attention to your limitations. This does not mean you are stuck with the measly dozen or so pitches you sing well these days; rarely does a singer access his or her full genetic range without some training. It does mean, though, that before you worry about expanding, it helps to embrace what you have.
Vocal range is a lot like the range of motion of your limbs. Can you drop down into a split without warming up? Even after warming up? For most, the elasticity necessary for a move like that requires a long program of stretching. The same is true for your voice. The vocal folds are membranes (a little smaller then your eyelids) that close over the windpipe. When air streams through the tiny opening they create, their edges vibrate. The vibration is nothing more than a microscopic wiggle. Look closely at a guitar string after it’s played and you’ll see them same thing. The speed of the wiggle, or vibration, is called the frequency. We refer to frequencies, or pitches, by their beats per second. The pitch, for instance, that an orchestra uses when tuning is A – 440, meaning the frequency wiggles 440 times in one second (the larger the number, the higher the pitch). To sing high, your vocal folds have got to vibrate fast.

The action required to sing different notes is very much like tuning a guitar. Muscles surrounding the larynx pull or release the folds to create high and low pitches. The amount of movement required for your entire range is microscopic. I suggest you reread that previous line about a thousand times until it is embedded in your subconscious. The root of all vocal problems is that we perceive the activities involved with singing as big events. They are not. We ball our fists and load up enough air pressure to create an aneurysm just to get through the chorus of a song. The automatic reaction to such force is resistance; the body braces for the assault. Rigid muscles surrounding the larynx deny flexibility and lock up the vocal folds. No flexibility, no range – it’s that simple.

The key to singing high notes is volume. Reducing the volume of your voice removes the burden of excess air pressure so your folds can become more elastic. Just as it takes a little stretching every day to get your legs into a split, vocalizing daily at a low volume will allow you to visit higher notes without stress. It’s best to sing scales rather than songs at first; the memory of a song’s performance will lead you to pushing. Allow you higher notes to venture into falsetto or head voice. It’s okay if the transition cracks or skips out; this is just a symptom of your imbalanced ways. Don’t worry that the light voice you vocalize with is not up to performance standards. Only after you are completely comfortable with producing a note at a low volume should you attempt to raise the output. Increasing the volume in very small increments will allow you to monitor muscle independence. If facial or neck muscles join in to support a note, you’ve added too much air pressure. Your controllable range for the day lies waiting at the balance point between force and flexibility. And as always, tomorrow is another day.

Mark Baxter is a vocal therapist who offers private and video lessons. To contact him, call: (800)659-6002. Visit his website at: www.voicelesson.com

(reprinted with the kind permission of Mark Baxter)

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