How to Land the High Notes!
It is a delicate art to consistently land high notes with grace, strength, and ease. The most important thing that you can learn is that it is always a process and each step takes a lot of trial and error. Furthermore, you can’t master all of this in a single week. It is a constant learning process between what is required out of your music and what your body is capable of, even for a professional.
One great way to think about this process is that it’s like training to jump through hoops. Some days you will be on it, and other days it will just seem impossible and the hoop too high because you are out of shape for some reason. Its best to stay humorous about the process and any strange sounds you may make.
Step 1) Get over being afraid of cracking! When you are learning high notes you are inevitably going to crack. Rather than fearing and apologizing for this occurrence, learn to accept and even understand what it feels like to crack. In fact, learning to crack on command by yodeling helps you to turn a mistake into yet another tool on your belt. As a sound artist every sound you make is a color to add to the palette. It’s only when you become limited in your expressions either mentally or physically, that you start to run into trouble.
Step 2) Don’t carry weight from your lower notes up into your higher notes. Keep it down low where it belongs! As you are using scales to sing higher and higher, imagine that you are sinking down into your belly and lower back. You will feel these areas push down and out slightly when you are doing it correctly. Simultaneously you need to feel relaxed and released in your upper body and face. Its great to practice fast exercises that move around and just tap the higher notes to master this balance of forces. High notes feel intense, but they shouldn’t feel heavy! For example, sing stepwise from the scale degree DO to SO back and forth as a moderate pace, all the while you are feeling the physical rhythm of when your body needs to support for high notes and when it can relax for the lower notes. Keep walking up the keyboard this way as high as you feel comfortable.
Step 3) Don’t start a high note with your mouth spread too open at first. Imagine each note is growing from a thin horizontal and shiny string somewhere in the back of your skull. This is a way to explain the sensation of resonance. If you start singing a high note too open, then the jaw can easily over extend and get locked. There is limited help that the jaw can provide and this is a sure way to lose control over your note. Instead, imagine the note starting small and focused and as smoothly as possible opening up with the length of the note.
Step 4) If you feel stuck and it hurts, let it go. There is nothing worse than trying too hard to reach a high note and reinforcing a habit of strain. This creates a stressful and harsh sound in your high notes that can be difficult to get rid of. It is all about muscle memory! If you do badly, then walk away and don’t think about it too much. If you are doing great, then do it again a few times, so your body remembers for next time. It’s important to listen to your body and always respond with patience and gentleness when you hit a tough spot! Less is more!
Step 5) Breathe in the vowel of the high note you are singing. Before you breath you need to consciously visualize where that shiny silvery thread (your resonance) will come from for your high note. Then you breath in with your mouth in the shape of the vowel you will be singing, keeping your focus on the thread. Try singing in intervals of fourths or fifths. When you do this, breathe in with an AH like you are drinking in the air, then start singing with an AYE(maple) at the bottom of the fourth and rise up to an AH(tall) again at the top. Keep the AH (flaw) in a similarly slender place like the AYE (say), but be mindful that your jaw has to swivel open a little bit more as you sing higher. Maintain the low stability(support) of the first note, and float or extend up to the high note that you have been visualizing inside your head. Let the note blossom from this place and good luck!
After a while your high notes should feel disconnected and above the crown of your head! It’s an incredible feeling of release into perfect balance and strength like doing a handstand. My teacher used to tell me to imagine “picking the sound out of the air.” I will add to this imagery “at the same time imagine you are rooting into the earth.” These antagonistic forces create a free space for your throat and the illusion of effortlessness for you as well as the audience. Once your body has learned this, all you have to do is stay focused and in shape by practicing. Just ride the wave and trust your body!