Question from a Blog Reader: Both my daughter and I have a problem: After we sing for a time in our highest range (we’re both sopranos), we can no longer reach our lower notes. Is there something we’re doing wrong? Thanks.
Vocal Coach Answer: This is a very, very common problem and I’ve got some solutions I think you’ll like.
Common Scenario: You “kind of” warm up . . . though not all the time . . . and even then often while doing other things. As you begin a rehearsal, or performance your voice gets stronger. Because most songs don’t start on their highest notes, everything continues to feel good . . . for a while. Then it’s time to move into some higher notes for a while AND THEN SUDDENLY sing some lower notes. The same notes that were strong and easy when you started. How hard could that be?
Plenty hard if you don’t regularly exercise through your full range, from top to bottom. And the more casual you are about maintaining your voice the more likely you will encounter this situation. Does the above scenario describe your experience? If so, a great solution can be easily explained.
First Some Background
Understand that there are 19 muscles busily adjusting so that just the right length and thickness of the vocal folds (vocal cords) are able to vibrate. As the sub-glottal breath comes up from the lungs, the vibrating leading edges of the folds produce a specific pitch, or frequency. Faster vibrations result in a higher pitch; slower vibrations, a lower pitch. The many adjustments that make this all happen can be quite effortless and automatic if, and only if you have trained and prepared your voice. It’s all about muscle memory and what your voice has memorized, be it good, or bad.
Here’s Your Course of Action
- Review your own concept and process of warming up your voice. If you’ve been too casual about it you can change that.
- Determine to never do much singing without first warming up. Even if you’re singing in the shower or the car, a few minutes of humming and lip-trills can go a long way. Often, the biggest offenders are trained singers who manage to “get away with” no warm-ups. But, it will catch up, and there is danger of slowly wearing away your vocal health without even knowing it . . . until it’s too late. An obvious parallel is the trained athlete. The good ones always, warm and stretch the muscles to minimize the risk of injury and maximize the performance potential. It’s no different for singers. Either you are treating your voice well, or you’re not. The proof is in how well, and how consistently your voice performs.
- Schedule times to warm-up and workout your voice. Be creative, but find a time and place that allows you to focus and analyze the feedback you’re getting from your voice. Just singing doesn’t make you a better singer.
- Plan your warm-ups. In addition to the many helpful tips on this site and at vocalcoach.com try this pattern: Start in a comfortable “speaking” range, humming five-tone scales on a light Hooo. Start going up by half or whole steps. Then, come back down to where you started. Next, go lower, then back to the starting range, back up, down to the starting area, down lower, etc. The goal is to always exercise both extremes of your range every time you warm up. Just preparing the higher range can leave you vulnerable when those lower notes are needed, and it’s unhealthy for the vocal mechanism. Another athletic parallel: Good physical trainers always have you work both the biceps and triceps, not just one or the other. They also have you strengthen the abdominal and back muscles. It’s the only way to have a structurally sound and functional body.
- Respect your voice and it will always be there.
- Never sing harder or higher than your voice is ready for.
- Use technology. Carry warm-up CD’s in your car or on your phone or iPod.
- Anticipate the particular challenges of the songs you’ll be singing and prepare for those challenges. That means not only systematic warm-ups, but also getting enough rest, eating well and getting some exercise. Remember: You are a vocal athlete.
You now have one more reason to care for your voice. As you do, you and your listeners will hear the results and you will be a happy singer.
Let me know your thoughts or questions in the “comments” section below.