3 Exercises to Expand Vocal Range
One of the biggest reasons singers take voice lessons is to expand vocal range. People have done lots of research on singers like Axl Rose and Mariah Carey and have found that they have a tremendous range. Understanding your vocal range is an incredibly important first step in understanding your voice.
The best part is that for most, the vocal range of singers is not set and can be expanded. First let’s understand how to increase vocal range, then I’ll give you 3 exercises to sing higher notes.
What is My Vocal Range?
The first step in understanding how to expand vocal range is to learn which voice type you are. I’ve written another article on the different voice types. Take a look at it so you know what to expect from your voice.
To sum of the contents of the article, I’ve learned from experience that most singers are some kind of tenor (for males) OR some kind of soprano (for females).
That’s not to say that basses and altos don’t exist. Just that those vocal ranges for males and females are rare. And we shouldn’t let these labels dictate how high we think we can sing.
The fact is that most singers between the ages of 20 and 60 can expand vocal range to some degree. While we may not increase everyone’s range by octaves, there’s usually a noticeable improvement.
How Does Range Work?
You may have a lower or higher voice than others, but some of the principles of range are true for everyone.
The vocal mechanism expands vocal range by thinning and lengthening the vocal folds.
This is similar to the strings on your guitar. As the size of the string gets smaller, the speed of the vibrations increase. This increases the vibrations per second (also known as hertz) which results in a higher pitch.
The opposite is also true. The thicker the guitar string, the slower the vibrations and the lower pitch you hear.
Your voice works in the same way. In the larynx (or voice box), the vocal folds stretch and thin. This makes them vibrate faster and the pitch increases. The vocal cords can also shorten and thicken which would create a lower pitch.
Hit High Notes (without Falsetto)
With vocal range extension, the trick is to allow the cords to stretch in a safe and gradual way so they don’t thin too quickly. If the vocal cords thin too fast, they lose the ability to resist airflow and you may flip or disconnect to falsetto. I’ve also written an article discussing falsetto with several listening examples.
This is the flutey, breathy sound we hear when someone has not built up their ability to hit high notes without too much airflow.
How to Improve Voice Range
The best way to increase voice range is by working with exercises that allow the vocal folds to stretch while still maintaining their ability to resist the air.
The vocal folds resist air like a door that opens and closes.
If the door is made of paper, I can very easily run right through it. This is what happens when the vocal folds are too thin. They can’t resist the air from the lungs and the result is a breathy falsetto.
However, if the doors are made of a sturdy material like wood, I will encounter resistance when I hit the door.
So in order to achieve a strong sound at the top of my voice, I must have resistance at the vocal folds so that I’m not just singing air on the top.
It’s very important that we have both stretch and resistance at the vocal folds in order to increase our range. Just one won’t do it. You need both.
All 3 of these vocal range exercises will help you hit higher notes without the breathy falsetto sound.
3 Exercises to Expand Vocal Range
1. The Lip Trill
Ah, the lip trill. There has never been a more powerful, yet safe exercise to help you expand vocal range.
Let your lips flop together while you sing the vowel “uh”.
In this exercise the vocal folds are in a close, safe environment. This decreases the threshold force needed to get the vocal folds to vibrate.
The lip trill is the vocal equivalent of lifting weights in outer space. By reducing the force necessary to do work, the vocal folds can resist the air coming from the lungs easily.
The lip trill also promotes resistance and stretching of the vocal folds. This way, you can sing to the very top of your range without disconnecting to falsetto.
2. The “Gee”
Let’s open things up a bit.
Open your mouth and sing the bright, forward “Gee” (as in “Geese”).
By opening your mouth to sing, we lose the advantage of the lower threshold we got from the lip trill.
But we’ve got two things going for us. The “ee” vowel promotes stretch in the vocal folds. And the “G” consonant brings the vocal folds together. Just try saying “Guh Guh Guh” and you’ll see what I mean. The feeling you get when singing that glottal “G” consonant is the sensation of the vocal folds closing.
This combo of the “G” consonant with the “ee” vowel will allow you to hit some very high notes in your voice without disconnecting to falsetto.
3. The Bratty “Nay”
Pretend you’re a little brat on the playground and sing a bratty, teasing “Nay”.
This is even wider than the “Gee” we just did, thus increasing the chances we might flip as we sing higher.
However, the bright, bratty sound we’re using will help thin the vocal folds while keeping them together.
With this exercise, the “ay” vowel is narrow enough to discourage flipping in the passage. And the “N” consonant is excellent at resisting the air from your lungs.
A Few Things to Note
It’s important to remember that all of these exercises are temporary steps to get you singing higher notes in your range. While it would be amazing if you could expand your range by an octave with just these exercises, the end goal is to sing well on songs.
Also, please don’t read this and think that all you have to do is make a bratty sound or blow your lips together and all your notes will sound beautiful. They won’t.
These exercises simply allow the vocal folds to stretch while resisting the air from your lungs.
If you train your body to achieve this difficult task, it will be much easier to sing that way in a song.
If you’d like to learn to sing high notes in a song without falsetto, consider booking a trial free voice lesson to get started.