Want to become a singing god?
Every singer can sing higher.
But, many singers strain to hit those top notes. I used to be one of them.
Learning how to sing high notes without straining your voice will impress everyone who hears you sing. Perhaps more importantly, it puts you in control.
What do I mean by that?
When you strain you not only damage your vocal cords, your tone is ruined and you pitch poorly too.
Bottom line though: It sounds awful.
Don’t let those high notes control and change your voice. Get the right technique and start owning the high notes.
Singing high notes with power and precision is an important part of singing regardless of genre – Jazz, Theatre, Rock or Pop, and the fundamental vocal technique is the same.
Like any other muscle in your body, the vocal folds can’t achieve the level of flexibility we need to hit those high notes over night. It takes time, practice and correct technique to learn how to reach high notes.
Know your Voice
The standard voice types are…
- Soprano: typical soprano voice lies between middle C (C4) and “high” C
- Mezzo Soprano: typically A3 (the A below middle C) to A5 (the A two octaves above A3)
- Alto: approximately from G3 (the G below middle C) to F5 (the F in the second octave above middle C)
- Tenor: tenor voice lies between the C one octave below middle C (C3) to the C one octave above “Middle C” (C5)
- Baritone: second F below middle C (F2) to the F above middle C (F4)
- Bass: second E below “middle C” (E2) to the E above middle C (E4)
We are all made differently.
Just because you’ve always dreamed of belting out Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer” to an adoring audience, doesn’t mean your particular voice is naturally designed to hit those notes.
You can use the techniques we talk about on this website to work towards achieving some big notes over time. But until you have the techniques down, you need to know your vocal limits, so you don’t end up fatiguing or damaging your voice.
Vocal damage can leave you out of work for a few weeks, or worse – you can damage your voice permanently and never sing again.
The simple fact is that most people have a natural range of about an octave and a half to 2 octaves. This means that the physicality of your voice might not allow you to sing high notes without straining.
My comfortable range is about 3 octaves. Top singers like Axel Rose have 4+ octaves at their disposal. We weren’t born this way, we trained.
Knowing your vocal range is an important part of being a singer, and choosing appropriate repertoire and keys will enable you to be the best singer that you can be for now.
As your training progresses you can start pushing the boundaries. It’s a lot of fun.
First Steps: How to hit high notes when singing
It takes practice. But I want to show you the first 3 step of how to sing high notes without straining your voice. Follow the steps below and start working towards hitting those high notes cleanly, every time.
1. Facial Relaxation
Some people think that the way to sing a high note is to open their mouth wider, push more air out and just go for it.
Nope! You will only end up hurting yourself. If the veins on your neck are standing out each time you reach for a high note, that’s even worse.
One great way to avoid injury is to learn to relax you face and mouth before singing.
- Place both of your trigger fingers over your chin, with your thumbs placed on the fleshy part under your chin. Softly massage this area to loosen up the muscles.
- Open your mouth and eyes as far as you can, then scrunch your face up as much as possible – do this a few times over.
- Do a big yawn – this is great for stretching your face and jaw
- Give your neck and shoulders a good stretch – you hold a lot of tension here that can get in the way of your singing.
Stretch and Relax
I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times before – but your breath is an important part of learning how to sing high notes without straining your voice.
The important thing to remember is that you do not need more breath to hit higher notes. But, you do need to have good breath support in order to create a clean, projected sound.
- Place your hand on your diaphragm (directly above your stomach) and practice taking big deep breaths while staying in a relaxed standing position.
- Remember you do not need to raise your shoulders to take a deep breath. Pull the breath in from your stomach, NOT the top of your chest.
- Take a few large breaths and feel your diaphragm expand.
- Now slowly release the breath on a “shhhhh” sound. Try to do this without having any breaks in the breath. Release a slow, clean, constant shhhhh until you no longer have enough breath to make sound.
This exercise teaches you to have the breath to cleanly support your sound – without needing to push. The more aware of your diaphragm you are, the more you come to realize that a big clear sound does not come from raising your shoulders and puffing out your chest. But from having a strong control of your diaphragm.
Want to figure out what else might be holding you back from singing success? Grab a copy of my free checklist and discover, in just 10 minutes, which of THE 8 most common mistakes are holding you back – and how to solve them.
3. Sing higher notes effortlessly in your vocal warm up
Once your face is relaxed and you are supporting your singing with proper breath control, this one killer exercise will show you that you can sing high notes without straining your voice.
Start by humming a “mmmmm” sound. Be aware of where you are making the sound resonate in your head. A clean full sound should be projected forward, and should resonate in your sinuses around your nose and forehead. Not stuck in the back of your throat.
Can you feel the vibration of the sound on your lips?
At the bottom of your range start by singing a note on an mmm sound then open your mouth to an “ahhhh” sound. “mmmmmmm-aaaahhhhhh”. Keep the same feeling of resonance in your head for both the mmm and the open ahhh sounds.
Continue to move up the scale repeating the mmmm aahhhh until you reach your vocal break. Even at your break where you need to change into head voice, try and keep an even, clear tone. Work on having a clean switch between the two.
Move higher up the scale in your head voice until you hit the top of your range. Focus not on how high the note is, but on creating the resonance in your head. If you tell yourself that the note is too high – you’ll psychologically believe it.
Forget the note and focus on a clean crisp sound and resonance as you move up the scale.
You’ll quickly find that you can sing higher whilst practicing this exercise than you can whilst singing a song.
The goal is to learn how it physically “feels” to sing those higher notes so that your muscle memory can then translate that feeling into comfortably hitting the notes.
Once you master the “mmmmm” sound for a high note, and can effortlessly transition that into the “ahhhh” open singing sound, you will eventually be able to hit those notes straight off in a full and controlled singing voice.
Anytime. On stage, in the shower. This fundamental vocal exercise is your foundation for how to sing high notes without straining. It’s truly exciting once you “get it”.
Remember, don’t push, don’t rush it. It needs to feel effortless and you will get it eventually.
Keep doing this exercise every day and soon you will find that your higher notes become stronger, clearer and more confident.
I go into a lot more detail about how to dramatically improve your vocal range in my free ebook. Check it out.
4. Relax Your Jaw
Here’s the truth:
The position of your jaw can change your sound dramatically.
That’s because your jaw has a lot of influence on your vocal tone and even whether you’re singing on pitch.
But here’s the bottom line:
The jaw should move freely with whichever vowel you’re singing.
Having one set jaw position for vowel will make you sound like a robot.
So here’s how to let your jaw relax:
- Select a phrase to sing that feels a bit tight or constrained.
- Now watch your face and mouth in the mirror and speak the phrase of the song you’re going to sing.
- Take note of how vertical your jaw opens as you speak the words of the phrase.
- Now, sing the phrase and allow the jaw to open to the same height as you saw in the mirror.
- Don’t let your jaw hang any lower or higher than when you speak the words.
How to Sing Section 5: Sing with Good Vocal Tone
Singing with a good vocal tone is essential for sounding great to your fans.
And while every singer has their own vocal style, you don’t want to sing too breathy.
So if you notice that your tone sounds a bit breathy or light, here’s what to do:
- Pick out a phrase of a song that is sounding a bit breathy
- Speak the phrase at a strong volume—like you’re trying to reach the back row of an auditorium without yelling or whispering.
- Remember that we’re not singing the phrase yet. We’re just speaking it.
- Now, using the power of your speaking voice, act like you’re a robot and “speak” the words on pitch.
- Rather than sounding breathy and light, we’re going for a strong and projected sound.
This strong, vibrant sound is called your “Chest Voice” and is your best shot at getting your notes stronger.
We’ll cover chest voice more in-depth in the vocal registers section.
15. Find Your Head Voice
Here’s the deal:
If you want to learn to sing high notes, you need to find your head voice.
But what is head voice and why do you need it?
Let me explain:
Back in the old days, singers felt that the high notes in their range vibrated in their head cavity.
Singers called this the head voice register.
Now, with the help of modern vocal science, we know the head voice is produced by long, stretched vocal folds.
As the vocal folds become more stretched, they vibrate faster, creating a high note.
But since the cords are thin, they can’t vibrate as strongly as the chest voice.
So we get the breathy, fluty head voice sound.
How do you find head voice in your own singing?
There are lots of ways but my favorite technique for finding head voice is singing a narrow “ee” vowel on a descending octave arpeggio.
Here’s how you do it:
- Pick a high note in a phrase you’d like to sing. Let’s say it’s a B4 if you’re a guy. Or a C#5 if you’re a girl.
- Now sing the note on the word “Fee” (as in “fever”)
- Once you’ve hit the note, sing the following scale using the first note as your starting pitch.
***Quick note: Whistle Register is also one of the vocal registers.
But the whistle tone requires some special techniques to sing it, so I wrote an article with 10 exercises for singing in whistle register.
24. Sing the Exercises Staccato
One of the best ways to begin connecting your registers and sing in a mix is to use a staccato singing exercise.
So what is staccato and why do you need it?
Staccato is an Italian music term that simply means to attack each note separately.
Basically, singing staccato is the opposite of singing smoothly or legato.
But why would you want to sing that way?
When you’re first learning how to sing, your voice may need a lot of support.
And while most songs are sung as smooth as possible, when you’re learning to sing high notes, sometimes the vocal folds need a bit of help.
The staccato singing exercise gives the vocal folds the extra compression and depth they need in order to hit high notes with more power.
Here’s how you do it:
- Take a phrase of a song that you’re trying to sing.
- Rather than sing the words of the song, sing the melody on the word “Bee” (as in “Beet”)
- Try to attack each of the “Bees” separately so that the notes are punchy.
This staccato attack will help you find each note more confidently.
How to Sing Section 8: Sing with Vocal Effects
Now that you’re hitting high notes with power, it’s time to get your voice ready for the stage.
Sure, those bratty “Nays” and “Gees” are great at helping you sing those high notes, but they sound pretty silly on stage.
So let’s start singing more legato.
Legato simply means singing smoothly.
Whereas in the past, it was important to sing your “Nays”, “Gees” and “Mums” with a bit of attack, let’s try singing phrases more legato.
In singing, legato often means just putting the emphasis on the vowels rather than the consonants.
Now, this sounds like an easy thing to do.
But, it’s actually one of the hardest.
That’s because you need to keep the same power you’ve been getting with the consonants, but with vowels.
There are lots of exercises for singing more legato but one of my favorites is to simply drop the consonants.
Here’s how you do it:
- Take the phrase you’re trying to sing legato and take out all the consonants. For example, let’s pretend you’re looking at the first line of the chorus in “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith. The lyric is “Stay with Me”.
- Now rather than singing that staccato, let’s sing the phrase legato by subtracting the consonants.
- So in this case, you would just sing the vowels “Ay ih ee”.
- Try to keep the legato version just as strong as when you had the consonants.
- Now that you have a beautiful legato phrase on the vowels, add the consonants back in.
- This time, maintain your focus on the vowels rather than the consonants.
- So “Stay with Me” becomes “stAY wIHth mEE”.
So how does one learn to sing well?
Singing is a skill. To improve your technique, you must first learn what to do, then do it until you own it. But the price of ownership is great.
The only way to “own” a skill is to do it over and over not just until it’s perfected, but until you do it perfectly without even having to think about it. This takes time, focus, persistence, and possibly the most difficult, a willingness to fail an infinite number of times until you get it right.
I think the age of the internet is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it makes it easier for me to help give people just like you the exact skills you need to live up to your potential as a singer. But, it’s a curse because it provides us with endless distractions that get in the way of us applying what we learn, one of the most common being searching for more info before we own what we’ve already discovered.
Analysis by paralysis is a common term found in the info marketing business, but I think it applies equally as well for singers looking up info. What good is learning everything you can about singing from the internet if you never apply it? So, let’s talk about how we can avoid this fate.
Success always starts with a plan. I suggest you plan to work on your voice every day, focusing on a small detail or two until you own it. Be willing to fail over and over until you get it. Then, stack the next small detail on top of that… then another.
I’ll say this again because I believe it’s so important… Accept that repeating failure is a necessary detour along the road of your success. Actually, I’d argue that being willing to fail is less like a detour and more like getting on the interstate, because it speeds up progress. This is true because so many people are so afraid to fail that they never try… if you jump right into being willing to make mistakes, you’ll grow infinitely faster.
Now that you’ve read what seems like a mini novel on how to learn to sing, you may be asking, “What can I do technically to learn how to sing well?”
Well, that’s the type of material I post all over the internet on a regular basis. You can search around this site for more pointers, or you can simply Join our Facebook Community Page. Here, I’ll share articles and tips on various aspects of vocal technique as well as answer any questions you may have.
Best of luck to you in all your vocal endeavors!
~ Vocal Coach Ken Taylor