Today I’m focusing on finding easy top notes in a young male voice
Interesting lesson today with a young singer songwriter about to go to LA on contract. He’s 19, writing good material, and his voice wasn’t doing quite what he wanted from his writing. Could I help?
We had a single Skype vocal coaching session the day before he flew out. He’d sent me a Youtube video of one of his songs, and I could hear that he wasn’t completely comfortable. He did not have easy top notes.
The issue (and he didn’t realise this himself) was that he was writing songs and particularly choruses that sat right on his gear change. The chorus we were working on sat up on E above middle C. Now that isn’t particularly high for a man’s voice, but it IS high if your writing stays there all the time. The human voice doesn’t work well when it has to sing a repeated phrase around a gear change or break with no letup. So the more he sang it, the more tired he got. We had to fix it and fast.
Where is your vocal gear change?
The first thing I needed to check was exactly where his natural vocal break was. Male voices don’t finish settling until up to 27 years old, so it was possible he was still developing. I used sliding fifths up and down in semitones from the middle of his range until we hit the voice “crack point” into his falsetto. He very sensibly asked me if I wanted him to be active in preventing the crack or not, so we did both versions: allowing the crack to happen, and working actively to avoid it.
It was where I thought it might be – around Eb above middle C – and I suspect that his voice is still settling. But the really interesting part of the exercise came when he showed me how he actively worked to avoid it. He was keeping the “texture” and thickness of the vocal folds the same, maintaining the volume, and pushing with his abdominal wall for strength. This was making his throat close up – his false vocal folds were tightening and coming in to “help” and were making his voice tight. This was making him vocally tired.
Now there are two things you can do – temporary and permanent. The temporary thing is to lower the key slightly so he can stay in his comfortable range most of the time. The permanent thing is slightly more complex but would allow him to write wherever he wanted in his voice.
He had to learn to stretch his vocal folds.
Stretching your vocal folds
Stretched vocal folds can vibrate faster. And vocal folds vibrating faster means you can go higher in your range.
If you want an active chest voice sound (as opposed to a falsetto-based sound) you NEED to know how to stretch and thin your vocal folds and stay in a chest-voice mix. It’s quite normal for a young guy not to know how to sing higher. During adolescence the vocal folds grow exponentially, and in a very short space of time you end up with something much bigger and thicker than you’re used to, which can be difficult to manoeuvre (stop sniggering at the back).
So how do you learn to stretch your vocal folds in one Skype vocal coaching session? Here’s how I did it.
I asked him to speak the lyrics to find out where his normal speaking voice sat (around the A a tenth below middle C). Then I showed him how to speak the lyrics using a loud-moaning-type sound. Loud moaning helps the vocal folds to stretch while staying relatively thick. This sounds ridiculous the first time you do it, but there’s a good reason for sticking with the instruction. That slight stretch means they will sit more comfortably on a higher pitch without too much extra effort.
Then I got him to speak slightly higher while keeping the moany setup, and moved his speaking voice pitch higher while still staying in that moany chest voice mix. Within seconds he was speaking up on the pitches he was writing. Then when I then got him to play guitar and sing the lyrics with the same moany chest mix he went straight to the right sound at the right pitch, and couldn’t believe how easy it was.
After only a few minutes he was finding his easy top notes quickly and without any extra effort. He was accessing a much more flexible voice.
Rebalancing your voice and breathing
The next thing was to “rebalance” his voice to accommodate the more flexible vocal folds.
Before, he’d been using abdominal strength and breath force to blast his way up, so we need to rework his breathing slightly. Stretched vocal folds need less air to vibrate well. If you think about it, that makes sense – a big bulky structure is going to need a stronger airflow to make it move than a thinner structure. So I reminded him to keep the moany chest voice mix and told him to back off the air pressure slightly.
Immediately his voice sounded as if it had just shifted up a third, and the previously difficult high chorus wasn’t difficult and didn’t even sound as high as before. Instant easy top notes!
Now he’s happy flying off to meetings and songwriting sessions tomorrow, and he knows that he can Skype me for an online vocal technique lesson any time from LA.