All singers have a natural vocal range; that is, they have a series of notes that they feel most comfortable singing. For some, this is a range of low notes. Others can sing higher notes without difficulty.
Do you know what your vocal range is? Do you want to expand it? There are ways to measure your vocal range and techniques you can use to master the notes above and below your range.
Measuring Your Vocal Range
Unless you have the help of an instructor, you will need some sort of tuning guide to help you measure your range. This could be a piano, organ, guitar, or a tuning software program.
First, make sure the instrument is properly tuned. Then play a middle ‘C’. Match your voice to the note that the instrument plays. Then play up the C chromatic scale (C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C) and match your voice to each note in succession.
Keep going up the scale until you switch from your chest voice to your head voice. This natural shift is called your ‘vocal break’. The chest voice is deeper and resonates lower in your throat. The head voice is thinner and resonates at the back of your soft palate.
The highest note you can comfortably sing without straining is the top of your vocal range. This will change over time; singing exercises and regular practice can help you sing higher, and factors like age and tobacco use can deepen the voice.
After you’ve found the upper limit of your vocal range, play down the scale (C, B, Bb, A, Ab, G, Gb, F, E, Eb, D, Db, C) to find the lowest note you can comfortably sing. This is the bottom of your range.
Expanding Your Vocal Range
It takes time and practice to develop a wider vocal range, but vocalists do it all the time. To start, practice singing the notes near the top of your range. You might notice that you have some difficulty singing them with good quality and control, but that will improve over time.
Begin by adding 1 to 3 notes to the top of your vocal range. These might be notes that transcend your vocal break. If so, you will need to develop a mixed voice that combines your chest and head voices in order to sing these notes smoothly.
When you learn to sing in a mixed voice and produce seamless notes that cross your vocal break, this is known as ‘bridging the gap’. The better you can sing the notes around your vocal break, the smoother your vocal performances will be – and the higher you can comfortably sing.
Vocal Range Extremes
Most people sing in the middle vocal ranges, with a much smaller number having very high natural singing voices (sopranos), or very low singing voices (basses). Women typically sing mezzo-soprano, alto, or tenor. Men typically sing contralto, tenor or baritone.
While most people can learn to sing high notes well above their natural range, it’s important to recognize the difference between your head voice and a falsetto voice.
The head voice is slightly airy, lacking the deep resonance of the chest voice (which is closer in tone and quality to the speaking voice). With practice, you can give your head voice a richer sound with more power behind your notes.
Falsetto is a range above your head voice. The easiest way to tell when you’ve switched to falsetto is to press your fingers against your throat as you sing. As you produce progressively higher notes, you will notice that the notes vibrate higher in your throat and in the roof of your mouth. When you switch to falsetto, your vocal chords will not vibrate at all when you sing.
No matter your starting point, regular daily practice will help you expand your range and improve the quality of all the notes you sing, high and low.