Great singers know how to use their voice, and they know how to use it well. Yet, good vocal range is not limited to a select few professionals. The sound of each person’s voice is entirely unique. Because of that, along with many other factors, singers can learn to project sound in certain ways so that their voice resonates with greater strength and clarity. Vocal Technique Instructor Karyn O’Connor explains how – with the right amount of time and dedication and with proper training on how to develop good vocal technique – the average singer can learn to increase their vocal range.
I want to increase my range, but I don’t know how to do so without hurting myself. Every time that I attempt to sing really high or low notes, I feel my voice straining and my throat gets sore.
The key to safely and comfortably increasing your singing range is developing proper technique. (I can’t emphasize this enough.) With proper technique – from pure, non-airy vowel sounds to correct use of the resonating areas of your body – you will be able to sing those high and low notes with ease, comfort and confidence. This is where the feedback and direction of a vocal teacher are vital.
Voice lessons with an experienced, knowledgeable instructor are the safest environment in which to expand your vocal range over time. Trained singers typically have significantly broader vocal ranges than untrained singers do, so it makes sense to seek out a professional who will guide you in the right ways and give you practical techniques for increasing your range safely.
I have had many students, from beginner through advanced, successfully and comfortably add several semitones onto the top and bottom of their ranges each week simply by applying the technique that I am teaching them. It’s not a magic trick. It is simply proper singing technique.
Once good technique is established, range is then gradually and methodically increased, one note (i.e., semitone) at a time, typically through short, simple exercises that use a very small range and intervals of only one half or full step at a time. It is usually best to allow each new note to be perfected – it should feel comfortable, be well supported and sound pleasant – before attempting to add another note. Although it may be possible for a student of voice to sing a few notes higher or lower yet, he or she should always focus on the notes immediately above or below until they are consistently well produced, and he or she should never sing notes if the voice feels strained in any way.
Having an extended range is of little use if the uppermost and lowermost notes of that range sound or feel terrible. Once the tone begins to fall apart or the voice begins to break, singing those notes is pointless – they won’t be improved by repeatedly singing them incorrectly – and it is important to go back down (or up) in the scale and stop at the first note that begins to sound less controlled or feels uncomfortable. A student and teacher team should then examine the reasons for this loss of good, steady tone and attempt to make adjustments and improvements in the student’s technical execution of that note before moving on. Otherwise, the remainder of the scale will do nothing but deteriorate in quality, and the singer make risk vocal injury. Patience is necessary, as many singers want to develop their ranges quickly and may have unrealistic expectations or timetables.
Although extending one’s vocal range is always a noble goal, the student of voice must also understand and accept that his or her body – in which lies the vocal instrument – has certain physical boundaries or limitations unique to that individual. For example, a bass singer should never expect himself to be able to hit the highest notes of the tenor range because his physical instrument is simply not designed to do so. Similarly, a soprano will likely never be able to extend her range to bottommost notes of an alto.
There is likely to be some overlapping in range between voice types, but a higher instrument will always be more limited at the lower part of the range than a lower instrument will be. These limitations may be a source of frustration to many singers, especially when their voice types and ranges don’t fit with or get them cast for desired roles or gigs, but, unfortunately, it is an unavoidable fact of nature. All that a singer can do is make the most of the type of voice that he or she has been given.