How to Sing High Notes Without Causing Strain

Posted on 9th August 2014 in Learn to sing, Vocal range

Singing High Notes

girl singing high notesWouldn’t it be nice to be able to pull off a few high notes like Steve Perry or Ariana Grande? Two incredible singing ranges.

Learning how to sing higher can be a real challenge for many.

Have you spent a considerable amount of time and work trying to expand your range in order to hit those higher notes with little or no success?

Maybe you can reach a note or two but you can’t sustain them for very long.

Or maybe there’s a particular song you’re attempting to sing that has a series of high notes (as opposed to simply hitting one or two and coming right back down), it won’t take long before your voice becomes fatigued.

In either case, your issue could be due to what is called your tessitura.

Tessitura is the range you are most comfortable with, in which you are able to sing the notes consistently, on-pitch, and while avoiding any strain. This term can also be used to describe the average pitch range of a song or choral part.

The good news is that if you are willing to safely and skillfully move beyond your comfort zone, you will indeed higher notes to the limits of your physiology will take you.

Before we discuss our tessitura, let’s first examine the causes of voice break when attempting to sing higher notes.


High Notes And Voice Breaks

The truth is…You Need To Lose Weight!

Don’t worry, you won’t need to go on a diet.

We are referring to when you are carrying too much vocal weight.

A common cause of vocal breaks and the reason many singers struggle to hit high notes.


What is Vocal Weight?

man straining his singing voiceVocal weight refers to the description of whether there is a heaviness or lightness to a singing voice.

When utilizing too much of the thicker parts of your vocal mass in an attempt to produce higher pitches. Likely moving beyond the most appropriate register for that particular pitch.

The idea is to balance your registration as best as possible.

In this case, it would be necessary to drop the weight when proceeding to a higher pitch.

The following is a little trick to help you to release some vocal weight.

Practice Exercise: Try yodeling between registers. Start at the bottom of your vocal range all the way to the top. Working through the chest, middle, and head voices.



Controlling The Larynx

diagram of vocal cords

Earlier we discussed the Head Voice and Chest Voice.

Within each of these areas, your muscles are arranged in your head, neck, and vocal cords in order to create the pitch and tone you are after.

For instance, when you are attempting to hit lower notes within your chest voice, your vocal cords will tend to be more relaxed, vibrating slower creating a thicker sound.

Try it now:  Begin singing the lowest notes you can sing, we’re talking deep into the lower throat and chest.

Remember that “it’s all about the bass..bout the treble!”

Seriously, can you sense how relaxed and open your throat, neck and larynx feel?

Now, the challenge lies when you start moving up the various registers until you notice your larynx beginning to lift.

Caution: when you feel it lifting, you are beginning to fatigue and strain your cords to maintain the notes.


The Head Voice & High Notes

cartoon girl singing high notes

You’ve probably already guessed that high notes in part spring forth from the Head Voice.

We rarely take the time to develop this voice as we generally rely on our speech voice.

This voice, in fact, unlocks our singing voice and our ability to hit higher notes.

Learn how to move from speech voice to here.


Hint: If you would like to try an exercise to find your head voice and chest voice, view our page on singing tone. Under the subheading “Your Singing Tone & Resonance.” click the link provided to continue.


Your Tessitura & High Notes

tessitura and high notes

Your tessitura as mentioned earlier is your most comfortable singing range for a given singer.

This is your starting point, your foundation, or benchmark in which to stretch your range.

For example, many mezzo-sopranos may occasionally sing a high C at the very peak of their range.

However, when it comes to their tessitura, they would likely be an octave to half an octave below that: likely ranging from the A above middle C to the second A above middle C.

For a better explanation of these please visit our page on voice types.

Now suppose you are attempting to sing a song where your tessitura is from high G to high C, especially trying to maintain those notes, you will cause fatigue and cause severe strain to your vocal cords.

Simply put: knowing where your own tessitura is will get you on the right track.

In the beginning, you want to choose songs that within your comfortable range.

Even though you can sing higher than your natural tessitura, you again will run the risk of straining your voice.

You may be wondering if or how it is possible to raise your tessitura?

You can, but it’s going to take some work. It will greatly depend on breath support combined with upper resonance.

Incorporating your mixed voice or middle register is also vital to singing high notes.

Your mixed voice employs just the “right” amount of compression.

Not too much that you’re straining or pushing for higher notes.

Not too little, so that you’re allowing for the sound to be connected, not airy and weak.




How to Sing Higher Using Breath Support

breath support and singing higher notes

The fact is, that it takes a considerable amount breathe energy to sing higher notes than lower notes.

It doesn’t mean putting pressure on the vocal cords, but rather the proper resistance of airflow using your diaphragm.

This will require you to engage the necessary muscles that support your breathing

including your diaphragm, abdominals, spinal, and intercostal—allowing a full expansion of your midsection with every inhalation.

It cannot be emphasized enough, the importance of breath support when singing.

Especially when attempting to reach higher notes.

Keep in mind:

Too little airflow will sound powerless and flat.

Too much air creates too much pressure causing strain on your vocal cords.

The key is maintaining a consistent airflow and control through all of your range.

As you build your diaphragmatic breathing skills, you will become more aware of this control.


Vocal Exercises For Singing High Notes With Ease

Below are 7 suggestions on how to hit high notes:

 1. Keep everything expanded when exhaling with the exception your abs, which you use to control the rate of exhalation.

 2. Focus on your upper resonance, better known as your “head voice”. Imagine that the tone is vertical rather than horizontal, and visualize the sound you are creating, coming from your forehead and the top of your head.

To illustrate: it’s the same as riding in an elevator, as you go up, your breath is the mechanism that makes the elevator ascend.

Feeling the vibration in your sinuses and the roof of your mouth (soft palate) is very important.

 3. Shape your mouth so that it is horizontally narrow but vertically tall inside. Some like to think of it as someone trying to swallow something unpleasant while opening your throat just enough to allow whatever it is to go down without touching the sides. Yawn while dropping your jaw.

 4. Start with yawn-slides or the vocal sirens. The yawn-slide is fairly simple. Start by inhaling and opening your mouth like you are trying to yawn.

When you go to exhale, make a “hoo” or “hee” sound. Beginning with the top of your range, then slide rapidly to the bottom of your range.

Each time you try, you continue to progress one a bit higher.

 5. Vocal sirens are similar to the above, with the exception of starting at the bottom of your range and moving up. It’s much easier to do it as a hum at first.

Gradually your breath support will become stronger as you do the siren up and down several times on one breathe.

 6. Try scale climbing by rapidly ascending and descending a five-tone scale. Begin in the middle of your range, using either a buzzing (also known as a lip roll or bubble lips) or a vowel sound, like “oo” or “ah”.

Do you remember the famous song from The Sound of Music, Do-Re-MI? Well, we use a similar pattern as that, only we go from do-re-mi-fa-so-fa-mi-re-do.

Basically, you start the second pattern a half-step above the first and continue in the same fashion. It’s important to have good breath support.

 7. Sing staccato, meaning that you sing shorter and lighter (less weight), the notes you wish to sing higher. Keep your neck completely still in order for your larynx to remain steady.

It’s important to discover all the little muscles involved in creating these types of sounds. Remember to use less pressure when hitting those high notes, thus avoiding strain.

Clarity is key, so start with a longer note, progressively singing notes that become shorter in order to hold that clarity.

Never forget to consider the 3 main factors that are going to affect your ability to singer higher or lower:

 1.The use of energy which is consumed and exercised for the purpose of creating sound by means of the use of our full body.

This capacity to use our breath support by utilizing the muscles which enable us to breathe in and out (like our diaphragm) gives us this ability to adjust our intake and exhalation appropriate to the amount of breath pressure needed to be passed across our vocal folds. and their resistance to that pressure finally making a sound.

 2. How much depth. Referring to your instinctive quality of “know” how to create a great depth of tone, but can also be understood to mean the “depth of feeling and emotion you are able to generate from the body.

 3. Spacing. We are speaking of the space on the inside of your mouth including things like the position of your palate and larynx. The rule is that the wider the opening, the higher you can sing.

This is why it is no surprise that most vocal trainers and pedagogists will recommend yawning exercises in order to position your soft palate and larynx to widen and relax your throat.

Contrary to popular opinion – straining your voice is not how to hit high notes but learning to relax is.

By grasping and developing the mechanics of your voice, you can improve your use of it through practice.

Putting Into Practice


By remaining patient, persistent, realistic, and allowing for some time and effort, you will be on your way to hitting higher and higher notes.

All without straining your voice or using falsetto.

Review the specific points discussed in learning how to sing notes and set aside time for practice and further instruction.

Before long you will be singing higher notes more comfortably and easily.

For more free singing tips, like learning to find your vocal range. Follow the link provided.

Also, remember to download your free copy of  Ultimate Guide “90 Days to Becoming A Better Singer”.

Check out Brett Manning’s complete learn to sing course that focusses on many aspects of the singing voice including warm up exercises, improving tone, learning to properly sing high notes and much more. Follow the link below for more details.