If you want to extend your vocal range you may need to create a disciplined
practice of the many exercises natural voice practitioners use in their
work. Then practice them every day - even when you don't feel like
it. Here are a few ideas from our workshops:
a) The lift Cage - using this image, as your voice ascends higher,
think down and vice versa. Being aware of both the cage and the weight
that makes the lift work. Using your arms and body to facilitate this.
b) Using alternatively fff fff ooo, fff fff ohh, fff fff aw, ah ah
ah ah ah ah ah ah ah and different scales to engage the diaphragm and
to release the larynx and stetch the vocal cords. Add walking as you
c) Using creative imagery to 'see' your voice extending
while doing the voice exercises.
d) Sirens. Allow your voice to siren up and down on different vowels.
e) Smiling while you sing to lift the soft palate and the 'chubbies.'
f) Singing scales using words and phrases like Rimini, She sells sea
shells on the sea shore, I rattled my bottles (rising a semitone each
time), or Sandra Kerr's wonderful Everybody, verybody,
erybody, rybody, ybody,
g) Practicing singing through the break in your voice so you lose the
h) Using different archetypes to access higher and lower voices - like
the maiden, the child, the hermit, and the crone (although you may
need to work with Frankie Armstrong on these for a clearer and more
If you're really motivated to free up your voice can I recommend
a book by Kristin Linklater (a voice teacher living in the Orkneys)
called Freeing the Natural Voice.
She believes that the natural voice
doesn't need to be trained, but released - often by releasing the physical
blocks which inhibit free breathing - in other words, when the diaphragm
moves freely downwards towards the abdomen and other muscles in the
body are not holding, or inhibiting this free movement.
Although she worked mostly with actors in universities in the USA
and elsewhere before retiring, her understanding
of the voice is fundamental to the natural voice as used in singing.
Another book on a similar theme which you might find useful is The
Right To Speak by a UK voice teacher Patsy Rodenburg.
Personally I don't believe there is such a thing as 'tone deafness'.
If it does exist it's very rare. The British voice
teacher Frankie Armstrong believes that what many people suffer from
is a translation
problem - translating one timbre (the quality of sound or voice) into
Many kids in school are asked to sing what the teacher is singing
- which if it is a man will be in a different octave -
a much lower sound than they would be used to, certainly very different
the sound of the voice they hear in their own heads. Many singing teachers
also use vibrato - where the voice vibrates around a note, again
alien to most children. A piano or other instrument also sounds very
unlike the human voice. Failing to match the pitch, they are then told
they can't sing and believing it, they stop even trying. Their vocal
cords become partially
atrophied, and losing their natural elasticity, are even more unable
to stretch and move in the way a good singing voice needs to.
Belief is a very powerful too. Until Captain Webb swam the English
Channel it was widely believed that it was impossible - that the human
body was unable to withstand the strain. Now every year many adults
and children do the swim - some of them even swim both ways - because
they believe they can.
Likewise with singing. First of all know that you can sing. I suspect
that you probably sing in the bath, or in the car, or along with football
supporters, or in a church, or carols at christmas, or in the pub ....
or wherever. Occasionally, maybe when others can't hear you.
Also I suspect it's highly unlikely that you talk in a monotone. There
will be some modulation in your voice - it might get higher or lower
when you are experiencing different emotions like anger or fear or
love or excitement. Singing just takes those modulations and extends
them - some people call it "joined up talking".
When people are learning to paint it's very common for them to play
with paint in a non-critical environment. No one expects them to paint
masterpieces the minute they pick up the brush.
Likewise with singing - you might need to find a place where you can
play with your voice in a non-critical place (shame is a powerful binding
emotion which can stop you doing anything - another useful book: "Freeing
the Shame that Binds" by John Bradshaw).
I find it helps to ask people in my voice groups to think of what comes
out of their mouths as interesting rather than right or wrong. The
Newcastle Jazz singer Katherine Zesserson says: "Every mistake
is a new style".
Find out what your voice can do and what works for you before you
do the more complicated business of making it do what other people
want it to do. This is what happens when someone hands you
a sheet of paper with dots all over it and expects your voice to conform
ideas (there are many political considerations here and we could -
and I hope we shall - have some very interesting discussions). Being
to have a free voice and also one which is controlled is a real balancing
First things first - find your own voice, let it be free, before bending
to the dictates of others.
Some children do seem to find it easier to sing than others - often
because they have parents who sing, or they're used to making those
translations in the home from an instrument. But they learnt somewhere
and so can anyone.
Training the ear to notice the difference between a high note and a
low note is not difficult, though may take a little time and practice
(you'll appreciate the rewards more if you give something of yourself).
Nobody who was learning to play the violin would think twice about
the need to practice their instrument - your voice is your instrument,
the more you practice with it the better it will play.
When in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland cycling and walking
through the mountains and wild landscape I was reminded of Goethe's
saying: "The outward form of the mountain can be seen by anyone,
but it's inner beauty can only be appreciated by those who have contributed
a part of themselves". Singing is like that too - what you
give of yourself will dictate how much you get out of it.
Also learning to 'pitch match' - where someone makes
one or more notes with their voice and you match it - is not hard to
Frankie Armstrong - with whom I was apprenticed when I first started
working with the voice, and who has inspired thousands of people to
find their voice and enjoy singing - often gets people to move while
they mirror back sounds.
Her 'lief motif' as a voice worker is where a group will
pretend to be hoeing, swinging back and forth at the same time. She
will call something out in time to the hoeing and everyone calls back;
then others do the same.
Incidently, Frankie often points out that the demise of singing in
our culture may have something to do with the lack of rhythmic work
- sailors, farmers, marching soldiers, women in Barra dunking
their tweed in huge vats, all used the rhythm of their work to help
their singing (and vice versa).
Also post-industrial society believes in specialisation - we have
one person driving the fork lift truck, another working the lathe etc.
So we get into the mindset where some people are singers and others
OK - there'll always be some great singers (in Stornaway at the end
of May there's a singing competition in Gaelic where some will sound
better than others) - but everyone can sing, it is our birthright.
I hope your journey into singing is a pleasurable one - don't let the
dreadful musac which blares out of every shop and station and cafe
drown you out.
Add your voice to the millions around the world who let singing be
their celebration of life, and their release for everyday emotion,
and a catharsis for those times of crises.
I don't know where you live but if you are in the North of England
you are very welcome to join one of my classes at the Brewery Arts
Centre in Kendal or my harmony singing group in Sedbergh. I also run
weekend groups for people like yourself who want to free their voices.
In Kristin Linklater's book, Freeing the Natural Voice there is a chapter
called "Breathing - the source of sound". In it she says: "the
involuntary nervous system does it best".
The main controls of the breath
are thoughts and feelings - so she says that instead of sending active
messages to yourself such as 'breathe in' and 'breathe
out' you should send passive messages such as 'allow the
breath to replace' and 'let the breath release' and 'let
the breath drop in'.
She's big on physical relaxation and
awareness and exploring the spine and developing the ability to observe
the breath without controlling it.
Patsy Rodenburg in The Right to Speak also writes about breath and
voice. In her section on breathing exercises she lists five principles
of breath for voice work:
1. To place the breath, and allow it to find its natural position.
2. To open the entire ribcage around the centre of the body - and especially
3. To allow the diaphragm to move freely up and down, creating a release
of muscles above the waist and into the abdommen.
4. To activiate all the muscles that support the outward breath.
5. To build breath capacity.
Finally the Cumbrian dancer and Alexander teacher Miranda Tufnell says "The
breath is the means by which the inside of the body knows the outside".
Her book Body Space Image is full of similar gems and good pictures
Many community choirs around the country do not stop people who have never
sung before from joining and this could be a good way for you to try out
your voice. Singing alongside someone who is more confident can be a great
help - like the way some toddlers learn to walk by being held by a parent
until they can do it themselves. To find one near you visit the Natural
Voice Practitioners' Network www.naturalvoice.net and
click on choirs. Close the NaturalVoice window when you have finished to
return to this page.
Until then can I please encourage you to sing as much as you can - on the
hills, on your bike, in your car, on the bus, in bed, making food, in places
where there is echo (like corridors and caves - our voice group loves the
Rydal Caves in the Lake District) or where your voice adds the best of what
is human to the nature around us. There is a poem by the Australian cartoonist
Michale Lunig on this theme.