High notes—yup, we’re going there.
(Made you cringe, didn’t I? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.)
High notes are the #1 concern for most of the singers I work with. The good news? It doesn’t have to be. And get this: with a little reframing, high notes can often become fun, easy even, something to look forward to rather than gloss over or avoid.
Often, all that’s required is a softening—and then a flip of the mental script.
First up, relax. This is the #1 tip to great high notes! Tension is the main source of voice cracks and strained, squeezed notes. To sing our best, we need to be relaxed in our body and in our mind. Do a few stretches (head rolls, shoulder rolls) and choose better thoughts (bye, bye inner critic). Unscrunch your face. Drop your shoulders. Be mindful of your posture, fluid and loose (a clenched butt is ok though).
And hey, laugh a little: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXMskKTw3Bc
Are you relaxed now? Good, let’s keep going.
The following tips ‘n tricks will further assist you in soaring to high altitudes. Back pack these onto your #1 tip (aka. Relax!) and find which one(s) most resonate.
(And yeah, I’m totally going to nerd out! Would you expect anything less?)
HIGH NOTES TIPS ‘N TRICKS:
- The Upside Down: Take a lesson from Netflix’s Stranger Things and pretend everything is backwards: down=up, up=down. Think down or point down on those high notes.
- The Goal Score: You know, that thing when you score a goal and you pull your fist in for a “Yesssssssss!!!” Do that for the high note.
- Bend over: Gradually hinge from your torso on the ascending line so you’re looking at the floor on the highest note and then gradually return to upright position as you descend. (Watch those head rushes; sitting down makes this easier)
- Bend & Pray: Standing upright, bring your hands together in prayer position and bend at the knees like you’re about to sit. Torso upright, looking forward.
- Pose like a rockstar (aka the knee drop): You familiar with the knee drop? Elvis and James Brown got this in the bag. Right before the high note, kneel down on one knee, look at the floor and let ‘er out, being mindful not to scrunch those ribs. (And hey, if you’re really lucky maybe someone will “cape” you!). For a good visual check out 4:20 to the end: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXMskKTw3Bc
- Left to Right: Think left for low notes, right for high notes, like a piano. Swaying optional.
- Take away its special-ness: Pretend the note right before the highest note is the most important note.
- Phrase it: Think of the entire line like a sentence. Mundane, everyday, nothing special here. Plus, sentences aren’t scary! Here we’re focusing on your breath only; the notes just happen.
- Use lyrics: Often sheet music can reinforce up-and-down thinking up for high notes. (We don’t want this. It encourages the larynx and other body parts to jump up with the note, thereby cutting off the notes resonance, among other things.) Lyrics are neutral, without up-down visuals.
- The Little Engine that Could: “I think I can, I think I can.” In essence, pysch yourself up to do great things. Getting your mind on board is crucial. It’s your greatest ally.
- Fog the mirror: A common mistake singers make is pushing too hard with their breath on high notes, not to mention taking GIANT breath before hand. We don’t need more breath for high notes—in fact, we need less. What we need is more breath support. Different story. Imagine the inhale-exhale relationship like a wave, circle or ferris wheel. Relaxed. Then on the exhale, think fogging the mirror instead of blowing out the candle, while keeping all tension in your belly. (see “Sucker Punch”). Thinking more about your breath and less about the pitch will help as well. Sara Bareilles nails this one; she makes it look soooo easy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EX7ZB15y1tc
- Drop Anchor: Ever notice when you hit those high notes that your whole body jumps up too? We get in trouble with high notes when our voicebox goes up to help us. Relax. Don’t force or push or pull. Anchor that voicebox by envisioning a literal anchor holding everything in place.
- Honk: This one helps us to resist the urge to “gear up ‘n blast.” Imagine the back of your mouth makes a “C” shape, and imagine the note pops out around your nose/mustache, like a “honk”. Weird—but it works. Think Bee Gees, or Celine Dion (Kinda sounds like a honk, but in a good way): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8HOfcYWZoo “Cuz I’m your lady!”
- Cry it (or Talk it): This is a cool one. We’re going to “cry” the note, like a baby cry “weh.” Joss Stone does a good job of this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1sa1t3M_4E
- Sucker Punch: Keep all the tension in your belly, right above your belly button as if bracing for a sucker punch. Sounds odd, but it keeps the tension away from the throat, placing it near the diaphragm, which allows the throat to be free and the note to pop.
- Tighten your gluts: Yup, clenching your butt helps with those high notes. Don’t judge it till you try it.
- Stop Comparing: Our favorite singers can be great fuel to our singing fire. Don’t let their gift trump your gift. Every snowflake is unique.
- Give your mind a bone. Think about watermelon, dogs, pizza, anything but “high” or “I can’t.” The mind-body connection is well documented. In essence, your body responds to your thoughts.
- Any others? Hey, the world is full of possibility. Come up with your own doozie—and be sure to share it with me!
Omg, that’s a lot –and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a bunch too! But you get the idea.
In a nutshell, when you’re hitting the high notes, RELAX and think ANYTHING but UP.
Here’s to you. SHINE!!