Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Three Ways to Increase Your Vocal Range Safely and Practically - revised

... how low/high can you go?

NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
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There are many vital reasons for singers to work on increasing vocal range. One is of course that you can sing wider range songs without straining and damaging your poor vocal cords! Another is that healthy vocal training for more range can help your vocal apparatus gain strength, stamina and flexibility. This improves your vocal ability in general, giving you richer resonance, more tonal options, better control of pitch and volume as well as more accuracy to execute vocal licks and style idiosyncrasies. If you do training for vocal range extension correctly, you can increase the ability of your voice to mix registers, creating a bigger, better middle voice which is where most contemporary singing occurs.  So increasing your range is about more than bragging rights!

Defining Vocal Range

Here are three ways to think about vocal range:

1. The distance between the lowest note you can sing in chest voice and the highest note you can sing in head voice or falsetto.
2. The distance between the lowest and highest notes you can sing without going all the way over to head voice.
3. The distance between the lowest and highest notes you can sing in both registers, blended so well you can cross registers without breaking or sounding extremely different, or straining, from bottom to top. This is your practical performance vocal range.

To define your vocal range, ask yourself these questions:
  • How many octaves can you sing between your lowest chest voice and your highest head voice notes?  

This is the definition of total vocal range that covers all your vocal registers. Expanding your total range is good exercise for your voice for many reasons, but understand you will be singing scales lower and much higher than will be practically be required for singing songs.
  • How high can you sing in 'full voice'? 

This definition of vocal range is very practical and applicable to contemporary singing requiring strong chest register sound. But it is vital to expand your full voice range without it becoming strained 'throat voice', typically evidenced by over-defined neck muscles when pushing/reaching for high notes. This is the bad way to 'belt'.
  • How well can you connect your vocal registers so it seems you have one smooth register without a discernible break (unless it's a little intentional yodel)? 

Expanding your vocal range by this definition is a very worthy and practical goal for jazz singing as well as many other contemporary and classical genres. This can give you a range that is quite wide but truly strain-free. For examples, listen to Mat Kearney, early Joni Mitchell, Philip Bailey of Earth Wind and Fire, Andrea Bocelli, Sara Bareilles, and of course, the inimitable Aretha Franklin. Smooth register transition is a worthy goal for any voice.

Training for more vocal range

There are different vocal exercises and training techniques for each of the above three goals. To maximize and protect your voice, my suggestion is to train for all three!

1. To increase your total vocal range through all registers:
  •  At the low end... I don't recommend creating vocal fry for the low end of your range; it's not a practical sound and if used habitually it can create vocal damage. Just sing as low as you can create tone with pitch. 
  • Try stretching your torso out instead of collapsing your chest to sound lower notes. 
  • For higher notes, practice carefully to lift your head voice range... don't push high notes up, intend them and let them float up. You might want to read other posts I wrote on what to do and what not to do for better high notes.
  • Challenge yourself by supporting your highest head voice range solidly from the pelvic floor, but never push or strain your voice to go up another step. Just pull it up there, intending it, supporting it and controlling it by lifting above and behind yourself.
2. To raise the range you can sing in full voice:
  • This is also known as 'mixed' or 'middle' voice, gradually changing the mix of chest and head register  involvement as you goes higher but not quite crossing into pure head voice. To do this, you must balance the strength in the two sets of muscles  (TA and CT) that work your vocal cords so they can coordinate their efforts efficiently. You must also allow your vocal cord vibration to access all resonation zones. In other words, allow the note to place itself where it resonates the most freely. To gain this continually adjusting balance, here are some tips:
    1. First, increase the amount of exercise you do with the vocal register you use the least (usually you'll need to work more in head voice for contemporary voice singers, chest voice for classical singers).
    2. Then learn to do some full voice vocal exercises (almost but not quite crossing into pure head voice) with absolutely correct form. I designed humming exercises with a loose jaw for this purpose, which I call 'middle voice circle stretches'. I have my student slur up on an 'm' sound, then slur down, creating a circular hum that is an octave apart at top and bottom.  Then I use an 'n' and 'ng', going up by half steps about 7 or 8 times until the singer must go over to pure head voice to avoid strain. You'll hear me demonstrate on my podcast version of this post.
    3. As you go higher in full voice, back off your air pressure so you don't have to go into head voice to avoid strain. Elongate and allow morphing (modification) of vowels for ease. Check my earlier blogpost for more tips on hitting full voice high notes.
  • If you are training correctly, you'll notice it gets easier and easier to sing higher in full voice than ever before. But note: this should NOT be a pushed, strained or tight sound, just rich and bright! Even metal rockers and r&b divas can learn to expand full voice ranges with no vocal strain.
3. To create more practical range with smooth vocal register transition:
  • Do lots of big range vocal exercises that cross your vocal registers; learn to blend and hide breaks at the transition areas and allow a mix to develop between registers. Hint: You do this by lifting up and back - pulling instead of pushing - as you cross your registers.
  • Lip and tongue trills, raspberries and sirens, also known as semi-occluded vocal tract (SOVT) exercises, that go across your whole range are just some of the great vocal exercises that can get you moving across and blending your registers smoothly. Again... pull up and back as you 
  • Try to make the top of your chest voice sound just like the bottom of your head voice. To do this (it may sound weird), pull your head voice notes through your mouth zone, pull your chest voice through your mask zone. Mix up where the bottom and top go!
  • Learn the "pull" method of sounding your voice, which will balance you breath support/control and give you just the right amount of breath to go across your registers without breaking. It will also open your throat and allow your notes to go where they resonate the best.

How much range is enough? 

The answer can depend on genre-specific norms. The better question is... what should your USABLE vocal range be?

Here is the way I like to answer... As big as is necessary to singing what you wish to sing without strain. Your lowest notes can be confident and rich, not hooty or muddy, and the top of your range will never have to hurt! (What a concept!)

Need help? Book a lesson or buy a course in Power, Path and Performance vocal training. Then practice your vocal exercises!

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  • At October 27, 2015 at 1:42 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Phil Bayley use a great reinforced falsetto, very extended up to the sixth octave, but in Reasons I hear a soft but evident break when he hand it back to his full voice in the middle of the fourth octave. Good thing is his sixth octave is surprisingly strong and doesn't seem to break in whistle. Probably he uses little twang so he has no compression.
    Then I think about Jason Derulo, he also has a disconnected falsetto in the end of fourth octave, which gets more strong and engaged in the 5th, surprisingly full and belty in the F - G#5 area! It's not falsetto anymore but head voice, almost soul-bluesy like, I think it's because his low falsetto is airier and more shrill than Bayley's and airy falsetto becomes pushy and strained if taken over C5, head voice is actually easier there! So he's forced to twang and enter into full resonance fullish voice around E5.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAEqu2PyFUY listen from 4:45, sounds like legit light head voice, although that's not live.

  • At October 27, 2015 at 5:38 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Wow what a cool link, Anto - and that G#5 is wild. Makes sense he's done work with Pentatonix, which makes me believe he can actually hit the notes without relying (at least completely) on autotune. I hope some master vocal coach is watching over him, because this kind of vocal athleticism is vulnerable to strain at the slightest dropping of good technique. Thanks for the comment, and the link to the Jason Derulo video meld!

  • At January 17, 2022 at 8:54 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Thanks! You are such a blessing <3

  • At January 17, 2022 at 10:08 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Thank you for the kind words! Glad you enjoy the read


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