How to sing high notes is probably the most common question among aspiring singers.
There are hundreds and hundreds of resources out there, including books, websites, singing programs and online courses that promise you just that – teach you how to sing high notes.
In this ultimate singing guide, I put together advice on how to sing high notes in a healthy way.
Keep on reading …
Singing high notes is a learned skill.
This is a very important fact!
Singing high notes does not come naturally.
It is a skill that requires practice.
So if you don’t know how to sing high notes (yet), it’s ok.
You can learn this skill but you need the right information and guidance to sing the high notes in a healthy way.
Freddie Mercury, Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera are only a few examples.
Do you ever wonder what they had to do to achieve such skills?
Have you ever wanted to produce high notes like them?
I have good news for you: everyone can learn to sing high notes!
Don’t tell yourself “I can’t sing high notes!”
It is a learned skill.
A singer’s goal is to develop a healthy technique to produce high notes with ease and power.
Inexperienced singers tend to push and squeeze resulting in a weak sound.
To produce a high note in a healthy way, you need to learn to activate the deep muscles of the larynx without the help of the compensatory muscles that cause straining.
Do you make any of these mistakes when singing high notes?
Mistake Number 1
Lifting Your Larynx
The deep muscles of the larynx change the length, tension and positions of the vocal cords resulting in change of pitch.
The deep muscles are not used very often, unless you are a trained singer.
However, the superficial muscles of the larynx are employed every day and therefore tend to take over in untrained singers when they attempt to sing high notes.
To produce high pitches, a singer needs to learn to use only the deep muscles of the larynx to avoid strain and tension.
Your larynx should stay relatively stable when producing high notes.
Lifting your larynx when you sing high notes (or moving it down when you sing low notes) means that you are engaging the wrong muscles of the larynx.
Moreover, you are doing unnecessary work so singing will feel laborious.
Lifting your head, looking up, tilting your head upward or changing your body posture may be another mistake associated with moving your larynx to a high position.
Mistake Number 2
If there is muscle tension anywhere in your body, the chances are that your larynx (voice box) is also affected.
If your shoulders are tense, your larynx is probably squeezed even before you start singing.
If your belly is tensed up and not moving fluidly, your breath will also not move freely through the vocal cords.
If your jaw is locked, your face muscles will push on the larynx.
Everything in our bodies is connected.
So if you feel any tension in your body, it may affect your ability to hit high notes.
Mistake Number 3
Squeezing From the Throat
Squeezing from your throat is not good for you whether you sing low or high notes.
If you squeeze your throat, you are causing strain to your vocal cords, which can be very damaging.
Singing low or high notes should never hurt.
Inexperienced singers often squeeze because they may associate singing high notes with shouting or screaming.
But power does not mean squeezing or using force!
Power is created by allowing the sound to resonate in an open throat.
If you squeeze, there is no space for the sound to resonate.
The key is to open the resonating spaces and create a sound without pushing.
Mistake Number 4
No Proper Warm-Up Exercises
Many beginner singers just go for it – they try to sing high notes without any preparation of vocal cords, not realizing that singing high notes is a demanding activity.
High notes are often at the top of your comfortable range so singing high notes represents an intensive workout for vocal cords.
Warm up by singing in your comfortable range with either 5-note ascending and descending scales.
This is the easiest fix you can do.
Mistake Number 5
The mistake number five is probably the hardest one to eliminate.
Your previous negative experience with singing high notes, will play tricks on you and affect your singing negatively.
You will anticipate that something will go wrong – maybe your voice will break, maybe you will not hit the note exactly as it should be, or maybe your voice will be weak.
And you know what?
It is very likely that one of these “things” will happen.
But this kind of thinking will not get you closer to your goal of singing high notes.
Singing high notes is a discovery process. Happy singing!
The following infographic is a visual summary of the information presented above.
Your Natural Voice Type
Set realistic goals.
Our voices have limitations.
Not everyone is Whitney Huston or Placido Domingo.
If you are a bass singer, do not try to sing the highest notes in the tenor range.
Avoid disappointment by recognizing your limitations.
Overall range varies between singers. Even two tenors will not have the same range.
And bear in mind, that your range will change as you develop better vocal technique.
Here is a simple procedure to figure out your natural voice range:
- Sit down at a piano (or check out YouTube for videos with range tests) and sing simple pitches.
- Mark down which notes you are able to sing.
- Find where you are most comfortable singing and where your voice “breaks”.
- Find the upper limit of your vocal range, which is the highest note that you can sing without straining.
To increase your range, start working on the next pitch (a semitone higher).
One semitone at a time!!!
There is a lot of “singing techniques” for high notes and information about how to make your voice stronger.
Unfortunately some information is not helpful and can even diminish your range.
Trust your instincts and do not blindly follow anyone’s advice.
Always reflect on your feelings when using a particular technique:
- Do I feel any pain?
- Is it working?
- Does it make sense?
What Actually Happens When We Sing High Notes?
Many beginner singers do not take the time to learn about the vocal mechanism when singing high notes.
If you know the anatomy and physiology of voice, then you have a better idea what you are working towards.
In order to change pitch you need to change the length, elasticity and thickness of vocal folds.
- A low pitch tone is achieved with short, thick and loose vocal cords, which vibrate at a slow rate.
- A high pitch tone is produced by long, thin and tense (in a good sense) vocal cords, which vibrate at a fast rate.
The change in length, elasticity and thickness of vocal cords has to be accomplished by deep muscles of the larynx, while the superficial muscles should not interfere.
Easily said, right?
The trick is to learn to isolate the action of the deep muscles.
This can be a challenge because the compensatory muscles are used to working all day long – when we swallow or yawn.
The Role of Breathing
Good breathing technique allows a singer to produce high notes without straining.
Good tone production requires the right amount of air and the right amount of air pressure underneath the vocal cords.
High pitches require bigger air pressure underneath the vocal cords (as compared to low pitches) because the cords are tense, long and thin.
Only practice will teach you how much is the right pressure.
If there is not enough air pressure, the vocal cords will not vibrate and your voice will crack or be weak.
If there is too much air pressure, your vocal cords may strain.
A good exercise is to let air out in a controlled way (not too fast or too much).
Try exhaling the air and carrying the “sssssssss” sound on the outward airflow.
To learn more about proper breathing technique, visit this page: Breathing for Singing 101
Practice Does NOT Make Perfect But Practice Makes Permanent
There is no quick fix or instant magic that will extend your range without work.
Singing high notes is a learned skill (sorry if I repeat the same idea over and over).
To build a new skill, it is always better to practice every day for a short period of time than once in a while for a long period of time.
So How to Sing High Notes?
There are two main registers – chest and head registers (different people call registers different names, so you can come across names like chest and falsetto, modal and falsetto etc).
Whatever the name, one is low and the other one is high.
Registers are distinct tone ranges that are made in a specific way.
Your speaking voice is produced in the chest register.
When you produce low notes your vocal cords are short, thick and relaxed, which permits more vibration over the entire length of the vocal cords.
The produced sound is (sort of) heavy and strong.
Put a hand on your chest and sing a low note.
Do you feel vibrations in your chest?
When you sing a high note, the vibrations in your chest lessen and vibrations at the back of your head increase (back and roof of your mouth towards the top of your head).
The head register is not as “comfortable” because we don’t use it in our everyday speech.
Sometimes, singers produce high notes in their chest register, which is not a good technique.
The problem is that this causes muscle strain.
The vocal cords cannot maintain this position for a long time and the larynx rises and voice breaks.
Some schools teach “blending” of the two registers (smooth transition from one register to another).
Other schools teach the production of so called “mixed” voice, which allows a singer to gradually move from the chest vibrations into the head register.
Focus on using less of the chest voice and more of the head voice.
Lip trills are great exercises for extending one’s vocal range.
Also singing slides – notes going from low to high and back to low – is a great way to extend your range
Focus on producing a continuous sound that “feels” the same in your larynx – for both low and high notes.
Singing words like “mom”, “now” or “no” help bring the vocal cords together easily, open up the throat and ease into high notes.
Sliding through a range with different vowels, for example a-o-a is also a good exercise.
Focus on not lifting the larynx, which you can feel with your hand on your throat or watch your neck in the mirror.
Singing high notes takes time but it can be learned.
Ultimate Singing Guide: Singing High Notes
The following section is a compilation of videos, blog posts and articles that deal with the topic of singing high notes.
Here is a list of resources that will help you “hit” the high notes in a healthy way:
Singing Guide: Videos
Let’s start with some instructional videos.
Let’s start with Cari Cole, a vocal coach from HowCast.com.
I like her series of video tips for singers. In the lesson below, she compares singing of high notes to an elevator.
I always liked this comparison because it makes sense.
Watch her video called “How to Hit Better High Notes” to find out what I mean.
The second video is made by Valerie White Williams, a vocal coach from Vocal Splendor Studio.
This video is for singers who have a hard time discovering their head voice.
Valerie shares tips about how to experience the feeling of singing in head voice.
Her video is called “How to Find Your Head Voice Easily”.
Kerri Ho is a young vocal coach from Australia.
She has her own website at thesongbirdtree.com.
I like her instructional videos because she does not beat around the bush.
She gives excellent explanations and demonstrates her points. For example in her video “How to Sing Higher”, she gives 5 very concrete tips on how to improve singing in high registers.
She provides lots of details about how to increase vocal range.
I am listing two more of her videos because I like what she says and how she says it. Job well done!
“How to Reach High Notes with Power!” by Kerri Ho
“How to Increase Your Vocal Range & Sing Higher” by Kerri Ho
Christopher Jacklin is one of my favourite vocal teachers.
He is a classically trained singer who produced a series of videos to help aspiring singers to learn more about correct vocal techniques.
Here is an example of one of his videos called “How To Bring Up Your Chest Voice To Head Voice” (click on the link to watch the video).
I also like Justin Stoney, a vocal coach from New York Vocal Coaching.
He produced many videos with excellent singing tips.
He has a great ability to explain things in simple terms and demonstrate concepts that he talks about.
I have chosen four of his videos all related to singing of high notes.
“Middle Notes or High Notes” (Episode 10)
Here are 3 more links to more of Justin’s videos:
“Falsetto vs. Head Voice” (Episode 21)
“The Mix Voice” (Episode 40)
“Head Voice POWER!” (Episode 63)
Let’s finish our list with two vocal coaches who also have paid comprehensive singing training programs on the market.
The first video is by Per Bristow from the Singing Zone.
His main focus is to teach aspiring singers to produce sound freely without any strain in the vocal mechanism.
Per produced only a few free videos and this is one of them: “Sing High Notes – How Rock Singers Do It (the good ones)”
The last video is by Shelby Rollins, a vocal coach from the Singing Success website. T
his program offers a countless number of free instructional videos about any possible topic in singing.
To demonstrate their style, I have chosen a video called “Eliminating Strain – How to Sing High Notes With Ease”.
Singing Guide: Articles and Blog Posts
Now, let’s turn our attention to some reading material in the form of articles and blog posts.
You can access the articles by clicking on the links provided.
The Naked Vocalist website offers some valuable information about this topic.
You can check out their blog post called “The Mixing Myth” to read about misconceptions surrounding the topic of mix voice.
Later, I am also going to introduce you to their singing podcasts.
Judy Rodman is a vocal coach, songwriter and performer who has her own website with information for singers.
In her article “Three Ways to Increase Your Vocal Range Safely and Practically”, she recommends working on three areas to develop a wider range.
She suggests concrete vocal exercises to increase a total vocal range, to raise the range you can sing in full voice and to create smooth transitions between registers.
This PDF document “The Secrets to Singing High Notes” is very informative.
It starts with reasons why a singer may have difficulties singing high notes. Then it continues with some advice on how to discover your head voice. Finally, it names several tips for hitting high notes.
Of course, there are many more good articles about singing in high registers.
Other Singing Resources
New formats of presenting information have been more and more popular among singers, such as podcasts and infographics.
Here is just a little peek.
Let me give you a link to one of many podcasts from The Naked Vocalist.
These podcasts are produced by two UK singing teachers Chris Johnson and Steve Giles.
Every show is full of advice about singing, vocal health and style.
Very often these podcasts feature guest industry professionals who share their valuable experience with singers.
In the last few years, the use of infographics has been on the rise.
People don’t like to spend too much time reading long articles or watch long videos.
They prefer scanning over a colourful visual to be reminded of main ideas.
The same applies to singers; however infographics in the singing world are still rare. Here is one example:
And of course, check out the infographic at the top of this page.
Well, I think that is a lot of information about singing high notes. I hope you find it helpful.