You know it’s coming. The note that the whole song depends on. The big emotional climax. Your breathing gets short. Your notes start to thin out as it approaches. Suddenly – oh no! – the note leaps up and… Oh dear.
High notes are tough. No getting around it. The voice has to work harder than at any other point during its day. Every part of the system – the breath support, the vocal folds, the jaw and tongue, gets worked to its maximum capacity. It takes a highly skilled singer to be able to get them. But at VoiceHacker we’ve got an extraordinary, counterintuitive tip to help your body out at those crucial moments. So here goes:
1: Vocal Fold Support
So, what’s actually going on during these high notes? Well, the main pressure comes at vocal fold level. The way that the vocal folds create sound is that they vibrate the airflow created in the larynx. Every note demands a certain amount of vibrations per second, and the higher the note, the more vibrations are needed. For instance, an A3 (below middle C) needs 220 vibrations per second. An A4 (an octave higher) needs 440 per second. It makes sense, therefore, that the vocal folds need to work harder on higher notes, because they’re having to vibrate faster. When you hit a note that is too high, the vocal folds have to work too hard, and the note either goes flat, or breaks completely. Not good. So what can we do to make it easier on the voice?
2: The Painter’s Arm
The vocal folds are tiny muscles – no longer in length than your thumbnail (CHECK THIS). So for them to vibrate as fast as a hummingbird’s wing means that they need some support. But here’s where we step in – the small muscles can rely on larger muscles in the body for support. Think of a painter’s arm – the tiny muscles of the fingers and thumbs that hold the brush do most of the work, right? Sure, but only because they’re supported by the whole rest of the arm, and often the rest of the body. When you see a virtuoso painter, they will be moving their whole body in tandem with the stroke of their brush to be assured of getting the precise movement – the larger muscles of the body are joining in to help out the smaller muscles. The same rule applies in singing. At the moment of those crucial high notes, we can enlist larger muscles in our body to help out our voice. But how? And which muscles?
This is called ‘anchoring’ the sound, and it involves dynamically tensing certain muscles in the body to help out the voice. There are a few different types of anchoring, but we’re going to be focusing on tensing one pair of muscles – the latissimus dorsi. These are the big back muscles that run from nearly the top of your back right down to the pelvis.
- Stand up, and raise your elbows with your arms bent so that they are between 45-90 degrees from your body. You should feel as though you’re about to play an invisible accordion.
- Imagine that you have a melon held under each arm, and put pressure inwards onto these imaginary melons, leading from the elbows. Your arms should not move inwards, but you should feel a sensation of inward pressure.
- You should feel muscles jumping out under the armpits as you squeeze down. These will be the latissimus dorsi (the back muscle) and the pectoralis major (the chest muscle). If you feel this muscular pressure, the anchoring is working. If you don’t, adjust the position and angle of your arms until you find it.
- Make sure that your elbows are level with the front of your body – you shouldn’t feel like you’re crushing a coke can between your shoulder blades.
So what does this do? On high notes, the anchoring acts as the painter’s arm, allowing the small muscles of the vocal fold to vibrate the right amount and hit the note much sweeter. I know – it feels crazy and counter-intuitive, but try it out. Try to aim for your highest note and apply the anchoring as you go higher. The note will get sweeter, purer, and far easier – and you never need worrying about cracking again.