Steve Ericson’s Tips for Singing (Part II – Extending the Range)
previously at ChoirSinger.com – Extending the range – higher
Republished with permission
One of the best Basses I’ve ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.
One of the biggest challenges facing most singers is the high end of the voice: those notes which are at or slightly above the range where singing is comfortable. Often that part of the voice sounds strained, or if abused too often becomes permanently strident.
This is not good.
As a young bass, my voice coaches often despaired of my ever being able to sing above the staff – anything above a B-flat for me was a real struggle. Looking back on it now, I can see what I was doing wrong (and where they missed some chances to help).
I’ll stick with my side of things. For too long I tried to muscle my voice up to the high notes. What I really needed to do was back off the pressure and tension I was putting on my throat and free up the vocal mechanism. More importantly, I had to learn to place the voice up into the big resonating chamber of the head. (Note: placing the voice in the head is a conceptual process, not a physical one. More on the mechanics shortly.)
If you are having trouble with the top of your range, try using a more gentle approach to singing. Relax the neck and shoulders. Lift the ribs and take a comfortable breath. Open your mouth tall, not wide, and imagine your voice floating above your head. Then gently sing a note that you know is higher than you are normally comfortable with. Don’t worry about the exact pitch, the idea here is to see how effortless it can be, and notes can get in the way at this point.
If you can grasp this idea, listen to the quality of the note you just sang. It may sound nothing like your regular singing voice at this point. That’s OK. There will be time to develop that sound later. It is important not to rush this process, as you can hurt yourself trying to do too much too soon.
When you achieve this free-floating high, light sound (not falsetto) you should feel a “buzz” up in your nose, behind the eyes, and along the brow ridge. That is because your sinuses carry most of the resonance in that range. With the relaxed neck and open mouth you are actually lifting the soft palate and giving your voice more room.
Once you have discovered the buzz you should work on bringing it down into the middle part of your voice as well. A real benefit of discovering and exercising this part of your voice range is the fact that it adds depth to the rest of your voice by opening up the overtones of your voice and giving it a vibrant resonance. With consistent practice you should find yourself singing notes you had previously given up on with relative ease.
formerly at ChoirSinger.com – Extending the Range – lower
I am often asked how I sing so low. (I am a bass.) The short answer is that I just open my mouth and sing the notes.
Of course, there is a bit more to it than that. A naturally low voice helps, but my normal range is not that much lower than most good basses. I sing a comfortable D below the bass clef most days, but there are a few choral pieces which demand lower notes. Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil (Vespers) has B-flats and Cs in most of the movements, for example, and a handful of the basses in our choir were able to work down to that range for performances a couple of years ago.
So, how did we do it?
The first thing we had to do was get over the idea that those notes are going to sound pretty. Much of the “pretty” sound of a sung note is its resonance, and unless you have an unusually shaped head (and a large one) the chances are you won’t have the resonance needed to make those notes sound as nice as something in the middle of your range.
With that in mind, we can approach the extremely low notes with a new freedom. Now, just because they aren’t pretty doesn’t mean you don’t have to sing the notes in tune, but we’ll see how that’s done, too.
A common term for the very low notes in the male voice is fry-tones. That’s because they sound like bacon frying on a hot skillet – a controlled series of pops from the vocal cords. To achieve that sound you need to place the voice very far forward – go for a bright AH sound – and completely relax the jaw, tongue, and throat.
A good exercise for placing the voice is to do some downward glissandos. Start on a comfortable note, say a D in the middle of the clef, and slide down a fifth to the G on the bottom line. You want to start the top note on a bright EEE sound and end it on the AH sound, still bright and forward. Then go back and do it again, this time starting on the C-sharp and ending on F-sharp. Repeat this pattern until you can’t go any lower, then do one more.
The more you practice this exercise, the stronger your lower notes will become. And, as you practice this, listen carefully to the sound you are making. Work on tuning it with the piano so you learn to hear the intonation in that range. One word of caution, though. Don’t push it. Don’t expect your range to increase dramatically in just one or two sessions. This takes some time, usually a period of several weeks to achieve noticeable changes in your range.
Now here’s one of the great things about this. If you can sing the note in tune with the rest of the choir they will supply the resonance and make it sound like a beautiful low pipe on an organ.
This technique can be applied to all the voices, though the effectiveness is not as great with the other voice parts as it is for the low basses. Still, next time your choir director asks you to sing something really low you can just open your mouth and sing it.