The Secrets To Singing High Notes

July 10, 2010 by  
Filed under Singing Articles

In this article I am going to show you how to sing high notes without straining your voice or suffering embarrassing breaks.  I struggled for a very long time when I was developing my voice.  I can now sing in a much wider range and I actually look forward to singing high notes!  I am going to show you the Do’s and Don’ts and take you through a system that you can apply to develop your own voice.

The Major Reasons Why You Can’t Sing High

  • Wrong Information
  • Too Much Weight In Your Voice
  • Using The Wrong Amount Of Air
  • Fear

There is a lot of information available online from a variety of teachers that promise to show you how to sing high.  Private singing teachers are also a great source of expertise in this very specific singing topic.  Unfortunately while there is a lot of great and useful information there is also a lot of bad advice and teaching in the industry.  Unfortunately I didn’t get the right information and teaching early on in my development.  I actually lost range in the higher part of my voice because of the techniques my teacher taught me.  The title of singing teacher or vocal coach brings with it an expectation of trust.  My advice to you is don’t blindly trust a teacher or expert.  Experiment with techniques and ideas and find what works for you.

Carrying too much weight into the higher part of your voice is another major reason why singers struggle to sing high.  So what is vocal weight? The lower part of your voice (chest voice) has a different vocal structure than the higher part of your voice (head voice).  When you are singing low notes your vocal cords a quite “slack” which allows vibration over most of the vocal cord.  This gives it a “meatier” tone.  There are “singing muscles” which co-ordinate this vocal cord position.  The problem that I had and many other singers have is trying to maintain this vocal cord position into the higher part of the voice.  The muscles and cords cannot maintain this position for long without resorting to raising the larynx.  The larynx is the bump you can see in your neck.  You are carrying too much weight up if you see the larynx rise when singing higher notes.

The wrong amount of air can make it very hard to sing high notes.  Too little air and your voice will sound weak and unsupported.  Too much air will cause your vocal cords to be put under too much pressure and strain will occur.  Many coaches advise that you don’t need as much air when you sing higher because there isn’t as much vocal cord surface to vibrate.  This is only partly true.  When a student hears this advice the first reaction is too cut the amount of air that they usually sing a note with.  This usually results in a weak head voice, or a flip into falsetto.  While it is true that high notes require less air to pass over the cords to create sound, this is not something that you need to control. It will happen automatically.  You need to maintain the same amount of air throughout your entire range. The vocal cords will naturally “zip up” limiting the amount of air that can pass through.  By maintaining the same amount of air you will create the right amount of pressure behind the cords to allow a bigger and more focused sound in the head voice.  Here’s a tip:

Do a series of strong “SHHHH” sounds before you attempt to sing a high note.

Are you afraid of heights? I know I certainly am.  This fear is also very  prominent in singing.  This fear of singing high usually comes from past experiences which we use as reference points.  Perhaps you feel strain every time you sing high.  Maybe your voice breaks as soon as you sing high.  Does your voice end up sore after singing high notes? I know I have certainly experienced all of those painful moments.  What happens if you continue to struggle with these problems is you develop a fear of singing high notes.  Basically you will start to tense up as soon as you know that “high note” is coming, giving yourself no chance of hitting the note.  I see this problem on a daily basis.  The earlier you can get over this fear the better.  You need to give yourself new reference points to reprogram your brain.  You can do this by doing specific exercises which I will share in this article.

How To Sing High Notes

Okay so we have now determined what has been holding you back.  You know the wrong things to do, so now let’s discuss the right things to do. The secret to singing high tension free notes is accessing the head voice.

What Is The Head Voice?

The head voice is one of your vocal registers.  You have three main ones:

  1. Chest Voice (Lower notes)
  2. Mixed Voice (Middle part of your voice)
  3. Head Voice (High Notes)

It is called the head voice because the sound vibrates (resonates) in the cavities of your head and nose.  It is the most foreign part of your voice to develop and experience because it is rarely used in speech.  When we speak we do so using the chest voice and occasionally the mixed voice.  This is also the reason why most singers drag the chest voice up too high.  It is a familiar part of the voice and the brain sends signals to take it higher.

How To Access Head Voice.

Experiment 1: Imagine you are at an amusement park with a child, or playing with a small child.  Think of the sound you make when going down a slide for example.  “WEEEEEE”. Now I’ll bet that you have done this at least once in your life and not even thought about it in terms of “a high note” but that is essentially what it is.  You are accessing head voice.

Experiment 2: Imitate someone (possibly a woman if you are a guy) calling out to someone they know.  “YOU HOOOOOO”.  See if you can make that sound in a feminine “hooty” way.  This example again accesses your head voice.

At this stage you may be thinking that the sound is not very impressive but that can be developed with some experimenting with resonance.

What Is Resonance?

Resonance is a fancy word for describing where the sound vibrates in your body.  There are 3 major resonating areas:

  1. Chest
  2. Throat
  3. Head

These areas can be isolated or combined to change the tone in every part of your range.  You can get a brighter/lighter chest voice by adding some head resonance.  You can also get a bigger/meatier head voice by adding some throat resonance.  I am going to share with you some exercises on adding “oomph” to your head voice shortly.

3 Secrets For Developing Head Voice

  1. Moving Through Your Mix
  2. A Low Larynx
  3. Relaxation

Your mixed voice is the gateway to your high notes. Establishing vocal cord connection during your transition into mixed voice will allow you to continue up into head voice.  This is a complete article in itself so I will include a link at the end of this article for singers wanting to know more.

Keeping your larynx low as you ascend will help you transfer into head voice. A rising larynx is a head voice killer!  As I have already discussed, this will cause your voice to become incredibly heavy.  I’m sure you have experienced the “break” or “flip” into falsetto as a result of this.  To maintain a low larynx you must practice singing in front of a mirror.  This will give you a visual aid.  The exercises I suggest next will help your voice re-coordinate to allow a rested low larynx.

Relaxation is so important when you sing, not just when singing high notes but singing in any part of your range.  Muscle strain will cause you many problems in your quest to sing high notes.  The muscles in your neck, face, and abdomen all work together to create your voice and also limit its potential.  Some areas to watch for tension:

  • Abdomen
  • Shoulders
  • Neck
  • Jaw
  • Tongue
  • Lips

How to discover and release this tension is the topic for another article.  Again, using a mirror will help you become aware of your tension areas.

Exercises To Develop Head Voice

The following exercises are recommended for discovering and developing your head voice.  I suggest you start with:

  • Liproll arpeggios

This will help you drop the weight from your voice.  A liproll is a silly sound.  Imagine making the “BRRRR” sound when you are cold and adding a dopey “UH” sound at the same time.

  • Liproll to Vowel Arpeggios

This will help you drop the weight and help with muscle coordination as you sing a vowel directly after the liproll.  Your muscles have memory and will learn the new position.

  • Exercises on “GI” “GO” and “WI”

These exercises help with keeping the voice connected as you ascend.  They are also very effective for keeping your larynx low.

  • Nasality exercises “NAY” “NYA”

Nasality is a great way to add some focus and brightness to your head voice.  These specific exercises incorporate some throat resonance which changes the tone from “Hooty” to “Edgy”.

You can learn more about Head Voice in my FREE MINI COURSE

By learning how to sing high notes by discovering and developing your head voice you will be able to eliminate strain, drop the weight from your voice and lose the fear of singing that plagues so many singers.

Ian Castle

To download this article as a pdf right click here and choose “save as”.

Learn about mixed voice here.

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19 Responses to “The Secrets To Singing High Notes”
  1. epifanio says:

    Hi coach Ian,

    Am so glad and much enlightened with your lesson/article “The Secret To Singing High Notes”. It clarify all the hesitations and fear I have every time I sing high notes. I am now on my way up to practicing high notes patterned from your words. Thanks a lot and more power to you and your program.

  2. Dave Leathers says:

    Just great Ian! thanks so much for your time and all! that you share with us.
    dave frm n.h.

  3. admin says:

    You’re welcome guys. Glad to help.


  4. Toni Koskinen says:

    Hi Ian,

    thanks for the nice article. I wish I had read this 6 months ago when I was trying to find out about head voice. Last year, I took 8 months of singing lessons and for some reason my teacher didn’t tell me anything about using head voice. So far, I was just using light chest voice in the high notes (at bridge area).
    In one of the final lessons I asked her “what about using falsetto”? And I gave an example by asking her to play a high note from piano (half an octave higher than we ever had at lessons). And I sung a nice clear heady note and she was astonished. She said “that’s not falsetto, that’s a really nice head voice, I didn’t know you could do that!”
    I always thought that sound was falsetto and not usable in singing…

    Anyway, I would like to add that using vocal fry is a good way to find your headvoice or distinguish it from falsetto (breathy head sound). I usually do it when I’m unsure about some sound if it’s head voice or falsetto by making a low groggy (morning voice) sound and sliding it up slowly to the head with a really light volume. When you are in the head with that soft high pitchy sound, then you can increase some volume and add resonance to it to make a “chesty” head voice.


  5. Aussie Vocal Coach says:

    Hi Toni,

    Excellent comment. It’s frustrating when a teacher doesn’t cover the really important aspects of singing. I had this experience as a student as well. Vocal fry is a great tool to test for head voice vs falsetto. It was one of the techniques I used to discover my head voice.


  6. Corey says:

    Thank you so much Ian! The information you share with us is the best I have seen on the internet, and I really appreciate your time in helping all of us! ROCK ON!

  7. Aussie Vocal Coach says:

    Hey Corey,

    Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate it! :)


  8. Steve says:

    Thanks for the lessons, since taking them and getting better at singing high notes through my head instead of straining my vocal chords, I am able to reach higher notes without the discomfort of my old method.
    Keep up the good work.

  9. Aussie Vocal Coach says:

    Hey Steve,

    Great to hear you are making progress with your voice.

    Talk soon :)


  10. james says:

    Hey Aussie

    Im in high school juniors, Im a glee club member and soloist and i was given a song of by queen Bohemian Rhapsody at practice when its my solo part it was going smoothly and great until the high head note part i ended up use my whistle tone and ending it in second voice in front of are whole school but thank fully it can a hit while im using my whistle note they kept singing the song the school went wild ,then after that are vocal coach and other members said why did i take a risk and alter the end of the song i replied i was not sure if i can that hit that high note so i whistle it as i last alternative they did not believe me but they was very happy that we had impress the school . pls give me a advice

  11. Aussie Vocal Coach says:

    Hey James,

    Firstly congrats on being a soloist for your glee club and for having the guts to sing a really hard song like “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The fact that the crowd went wild sounds like you nailed the whistle note! It can be risky changing at the last moment but I think you showed great courage and creativity to sing it like you did. Courage and Creativity are two things that are nearly impossible to teach so never lose them ok!


  12. Aussie Vocal Coach says:

    Oh and by the way I’d love to hear you sing. Can you send me an mp3 or video so I can have a listen?

  13. Steven says:

    Hey Ian,

    I have a question. Who inspires you and who are your influences?

  14. Aussie Vocal Coach says:

    Hi Steven,

    Great question. I get inspiration from a lot of sources. I have a very close family so I get a lot of inspiration from them. I get inspired by the area I live in, beautiful beaches and a relaxed coastal atmosphere. On a musical level I feel inspired when I listen to singers like Anthony Warlow (amazing Australian performer). I guess those who have influenced my own style are the great singer/piano players like Elton John, Billy Joel, Peter Allen (who I recently portrayed in the musical “The Boy From Oz). I love nothing more than to sit at a piano and sing amazing ballads.


  15. Natasha Ejaz says:

    Hey Ian,

    I am taking your course and absolutely loving it.

    Question about high notes: I can seem to “activate” my mask resonance when I hum in a higher register, but somehow when I sing words, the resonance is not there anymore. However, I do still feel a distinct ring in my ears in that register. I didn’t feel this prior to this course. Is that good or bad? Am I suppose to feel a resonance with each and every kind of consonant and vowel?

    Regards and many thanks.

  16. Aussie Vocal Coach says:

    Hey Natasha,

    In my experience the ringing in your ears is a good thing, especially if you are singing higher notes. It is an indication that your sound is resonating in your head. You should always feel resonance no matter what you are singing. My teacher at university had a saying “Every note must have vibrancy”. Certain vowels like “ee”, “ay” and “ah” will naturally have more resonance than “oh” and “oo”.

    If you can maintain resonance on a hum try humming on the pitch of the word you are singing a few times, then sing the word with the same sensation. You can also try going from a hum to the vowel contained in the word.

    I hope that is clear enough :)


  17. Natasha Ejaz says:

    Hey Ian

    You said it best, some vowels tend to have more natural vibrancy than others.

    Thank you, I will soon post a video of my singing for you to see what I have learnt :)



  18. Peter says:

    Hi Ian,

    my question is: Has the tongue trill and lips roll the same influence to vocal cords? The tongue trill is much easier to me because I speak Slovak and very clear trilling (resonated) R is part of my language (similar to Italian, Czech, Polish…).



  19. Aussie Vocal Coach says:

    Hi Peter,

    Yes they do the same thing (airflow and relaxed throat muscles).

    Ian :)

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