Reach the Top Notes Every Time.

Although you’ve worked hard and expanded your range to sing higher notes, you may find that you can’t sustain them. Or if you’re singing a piece that has a lot of high notes (as opposed to simply hitting one and coming back down), your voice may get very fatigued.

In both of these scenarios, your problem isn’t range: it’s tessitura. Tessitura is your comfortable range, in which you can sing the notes consistently, on-pitch, and without strain. The term is also used to describe the average pitch range of a song or choral part.

Many mezzo-sopranos, for example, can sing an occasional high C at the extreme of their range. But their tessitura is probably an octave to half an octave below that: perhaps from the A above middle C to the second A above middle C. If they’re trying to sing a piece in which the tessitura is from high G to high C, they will experience vocal strain and fatigue.

The key is knowing where your own tessitura is, so you can choose  songs within that range. You may be able to sing higher than your natural tessitura, but you run the risk of straining your voice.

So, is it possible to raise your tessitura? Yes, but it takes work. The key is breath support, combined with upper resonance. If you try to sing higher notes from your throat without adequate breath support, the result is vocal strain. Over an extended period of time, you could cause lasting damage.

It takes more breath energy to sing higher notes than lower ones. You need to use all of your breath muscles–diaphragm, abdominals, spinals, and intercostals–and fully expand your midsection with each inhalation. As you exhale, keep everything expanded except your abdominals, which will control the rate of breath flow.

Once you are breathing properly, focus on your upper resonance, or “head voice”. Think of the tone as being vertical rather than horizontal, and imagine the sound coming from your forehead and the top of your head. Think of it as riding up in an elevator, with your breath as the mechanism that makes the elevator ascend.

You should feel the vibration in your sinuses and the roof of your mouth (soft palate). Keep your mouth horizontally narrow but vertically tall inside. One voice teacher tells her students to imagine trying to swallow something unpleasant, opening the throat enough so that whatever it is won’t touch the sides.

Keep your tone light; don’t try to force anything. Start with the yawn-slide or the vocal siren. For the yawn-slide, inhale and open your mouth as if to yawn, then exhale on “hoo” or “hee”, starting at the top of your range and sliding rapidly all the way to the bottom. Try to start each successive one a bit higher.

The vocal siren is similar, except that it starts at the bottom of your range and goes up. Do it on a hum. As your breath support gets stronger, do the siren up and down several times on the same breath.

Another good exercise is the rapidly ascending and descending five-tone scale. Start in the middle of your range and use either the buzz (also called lip roll or bubble lips) or a vowel sound, such as “oo” or “ah”. The pattern is do-re-mi-fa-so-fa-mi-re-do. Start the second pattern a half-step above the first and continue in that manner. Be sure to use good breath support.

With time and effort, you can raise your tessitura and sing higher notes more comfortably and easily. Just be patient, persistent, and realistic.

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