It can be challenging to sing high notes consistently. Sometimes we find that we can hit high notes when we are doing warm ups, but we can’t hit those same high notes when we are singing a song in our repertoire.
Here are some tips on how to sing high notes when performing your repertoire:
1. Change the vowel
Some vowels are easier to sing high notes on than others, and that is because some are more open and some are more closed. Personally, I find “oo” easiest to sing high on. You can experiment with exercises to see which vowels you are comfortable with singing highest on. Much of the time, you can get away with changing the vowel on a high note to suit you as it won’t hugely transform the way the word is heard, and it is far better to have a clear, crisp bang-on-centre high note than to have a perfectly articulated word with a terrible squawk or strained and flattened note.
2. Continue on the same breath
I find that when you have to lurch up to a high note from another note as we often have to, it’s very important not to breathe right before attacking the high note! Use the same breath as you use on the note before it to smoothly transition up. You will find it much easier. I first discovered this on the soprano line of Mendelssohn’s Elijah in the phrase “HE WATCHING OVER ISRAEL SLUMBERS NOT NOR SLEEPS“. The “slu” of “slumbers” is on an F5 and the jump up is a 5th from an A5, which I personally found difficult and and I think others did too by the sounds of it. Now, my original instinct was to go for a new breath for slumbers, but I found that using the same breath allowed the F5 to come out cleanly.
3. Sing from the diaphragm
Tension in the throat seems to be the biggest enemy of singing high notes. I can often find that tension can build as you sing a movement from a piece. To take Mendelssohn’s Elijah as an example again, on the soprano line, he (Mendelssohn) tends to keep the sopranos above a D5 most of the time, so you can be around E5 to G5 quite a lot and he will ask you to hit an A6 a couple of times as well. He doesnt allow you much of a chance to get down to an A5 where you would get a release of the tension building up. This is where choral singing can be taxing, and therefore we really need to use the techniques employed by professional classical singers.
One of these techniques is diaphragmatic breathing and singing. You can be taught this method by a singing teacher or look it up in a book. It’s quite simple and actually the correct way to breathe. You will find if you are lying on your back, or if you stretch your arms above your head, you will naturally breathe from the diaphragm and this is what you need to do when singing. Your throat needs to be in a kind of passive, relaxed and open position and the tension needs to be in your core for the release of the air rather than in your throat. A professional countertenor that we did a workshop with told us “After singing, your core muscles should feel worked out, not your throat”.
4. Place your tongue to make an ‘ng’ sound
I was taught one trick by a singing teacher that may not be foolproof in all instances but could help some of you. This is to place the back of the tongue against the soft palette to create the ‘ng’ sound of ‘thing’ for example and use that to sing the high note.
5. Keep your tongue forward and don’t let it curl back
It’s really important that the tongue doesn’t curl back when you sing high notes and that the larynx doesn’t ride up. This is again a matter of tension, this is the physical manifestation of tension in the wrong part of your body as a singer. You might not even know that you are doing this, so sing in a mirror, stick your tongue out of your mouth and do some standard vocal warm ups going up the scale, watch to see if your tongue moves or quivers. If it does, there is tension and your tongue is probably riding back when you sing. This can be helped by (a) doing vocal exercises with your tongue out of your mouth like in the test you just did, and (b) by consciously keeping your tongue forward touching the back of your bottom teeth and keeping it consciously flat while singing.
I hope these tips help, let me know how you get on in the comments section and if you have any other tips for your fellow choristers on how to hit high notes when signing. Hit the subscribe button to get updates from me if you find this information helpful.
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