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What's with this obsession with high notes?

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Whenever one or more singers gather, invariably their thoughts turn to high notes. Why are people so obsessed with singing out of their comfort range? What's the point of singing "High Z" if it can't be musical, or at least interesting? Sort of reminds me of boys in a school yard fighting over who has the longest pencil. Wouldn't time be better spent finding ways of being more in tune, more in time, and more in touch with their listeners? Personally I like to keep it simple, what do you think?

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I think that if people wish to sing songs based on their influences (and those influences sing in a higher register than ones "pencil" allows), then we do what any other musician would do - try to get there! Of course the other stuff is important, and anyone trying to reach and sing high notes knows this. Why so grumpy? ;)

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Keith, you're right...it does sound pretty grumpy, doesn't it? I suppose I've had one too many students walk in this week with songs that were simply in the wrong key -- too high for them to do anything with the song but fret about the high notes. I agree with you that we should always keep exploring the upper range. Perhaps a more equitable division of attention would soothe my grumpiness? Thanks

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If you think about human babies, they certainly don't grunt or drum. It might just be natural that we instinctively hear tunes with more falsetto/head influence. But really, i don't know.

And if by High Z you are referring to a whistle note, whistle notes can be musical as any other note! Just like fry's can, or any kinda sound you can muster xD.

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Guilty as charged there too ;> I often find myself forward songs like Nessun Dorma to hear the high notes over and over. There's something mesmorizing about the high notes done right, which for some people would make them forget half the rest of the performance :P

But here's the thing that you start discovering when you get beter at singing: The term high note is so deceptive. For example when I sing the high note on Stars of Les Miserables, its fairly low in my range, but with the correct build up people think I just wailed out the biggest note. It's veeery deceptive. That's why I can appriciate this comment cse it's important to show people that getting the right intensity in your voice mount up at the right time, they will actually achieve these "high notes" alot beter.

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Highnotes sound better/ are cooler to my ears

Singing bon jovi an octave down for example tends to slaughter the songs.

If you want highnotes you have to challenge yourself and dare to sound bad, you won't improve in the comfortzone

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I like certain high (or higher) notes, but I don't sing them. What I do is try to make the best of my range where it is strongest. As for listening to high notes I tend to prefer the clean ones.

But, as Jens said, singing a Bon Jovi song for example, down lower an octave just isn't the same.

I agree and disagree. Singing it unchanged other than the octave would probably not be so good. "BUT" singing it lower and changing the feel of the song and the phrasing a bit, could work. Same for other songs. Take out the high notes but also change the mood otherwise it just sounds wrong; or could.

I have always tried to sing those higher range songs (and still do at times....to myself :D) but have become comfortable now staying in my comfort zone. It's a learning process.

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the song needs to be sung right for your voice. I know certain baritones who can sing songs lower and sound as though they are doing it quite high, simply cse per their voice the intensity mounts up just right. If I'd start equally low it would feel as though my voice never wants to explode or take off on the right moments.

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I think a couple reasons - one stated before people want to sing their favorite songs and lots of times they don't have the range for it.

The other thing is sometimes voices shine the best in the upper range. And you won't hear that shine until you learn how to sing up there. This was the case for me. I personally like my own voice best in the G4 to C5 area, and I used to not be able to sing up there at all. I'm glad I didn't settle for the lower range. I worked hard to gain range and I'm happy I did.

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Some people think that higher notes often sound more dramatic. Much music is sung in the "tenor" and "soprano" ranges. And many student singers want to sing like that, some want to sing exactly like another singer, which is impossible. And some are, especially at the beginning, singing way out of their managable range. They are looking for the magic pill.

I like all the voice ranges. Each one has a color and feel that is wonderful, even if I can't manage those ranges. I totally love the dark sounds of the original role of Caiaphas and I will never manage that. I think the floorboards rattle when Geoff Tate sings the low notes in "Silent Lucidity." And I will never able to do that. So, I have accepted my range and stay within it. But certainly admire others for their ranges, big and small.

I agree, better to be pitch accurate and dynamic in the range that you have.

Bob Seger will never sing a G5. And he is an icon. With a tone all his own. Rik Emmett can't even think an E2. And his performances are timeless. Tone Loc never got above C3 but I totally love "Wild Thing" and "Funky Cold Medina," and you could never accuse him of having an operatic voice.

All that being said, there are people who large ranges. And more power to them. It might get boring if we all sounded the same.

And I totally agree with Tommy. Make the song your own, though we all, including Tommy, are guilty of comparing to the original, even as we applaud personal varitions on the song.

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The main reason for the obsession with high notes is the ability to gain freedom in an area of your voice that you had not been comfortable with since before puberty. To gain that freedom and expressiveness back after struggling to access the head voice is a great feeling and a great demonstration of hard work and dedication especially if the voice is a heavier voice that after formal training had gone from a bass to baritone, baritone to dramatic tenor, Spinto tenor to lyric leggero tenor. Amazing!

The more comfortable you are using a lighter mass level during the super high notes the more comfortable you will be using a meatier fold mass in the passagio because you will know that your vocal folds are capable of singing that pitch with a certain level of function.

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Ronws, Bob Seger never used a G5 in any of his music but I bet he could probably hit it or get very close. He sings a C#5 in Old Time Rock N' Roll. Of course by "could", I mean decades ago. He's lost his upper range due to heavy smoking.

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Great Remy, thanks for the clarification. I never heard in that song a C#5 but I will take your word for it.

My question for Renee would be, of the students you have, how many would consider, even at this early stage, to be baritones trying to sing as tenors? By that, I mean expecting to have similar adduction and resonating properties. I am not saying baritones cannot sing tenor notes. But they will sound tonally different and I think they might approach it differently. Or not. I am not a vocal expert anything.

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Well, to do almost any repertoire, you will need to use at least some head voice notes. Just because you could get away doing some stuff using a brute force approach, it does not mean that its correct or that you will last long doing it, specially when untrainned, because you will probably have to make up for the lack of projection.

Still, I agree that when I see the usuall threads around here where people are trying to achieve super high notes, when they can barely follow timming/melody, I wonder what is the purpose and what they think that would happen if they sang the new super sonic guiness record.

High notes on their own do not make up for a poorly developed chest voice, lack of interpretation line or lack of projection. If you take something that is not sounding nice and add a piercing F5 on top of it, even if done well, it will look/sound like a circus. Funny to see and laugh, but is this the objective?

Besides, its not hard to "hit" high notes, Im quite sure that if that was the objective, 3 or 4 sessions would be enough to get someone to "hit" some notes on the limit of head register. But to control the voice, maintainning legatto, dinamic choices, tonal consistency and comfort around D3-A3 (D4-A4) using chest/head where it should, thats a whole different world. The first step is to understand exactly what is needed to do, and then train. Train a lot. Once that is solved, high notes becomes a piece of cake. Passagio is the hard part.

Tonal changes of a half step are usefull. It does not make a difference for the audience and can help avoid wondering too much around the passagio, if half step down or up helps in this context. Go for it. But a half step will never make up for untrainned head voice, maybe it will allow you to sing it using only chest, which will work doing a 5 minutes song. Use the same approach on 3 or 4 hour gigs, and in 6 months you will develop a permanent problem on your larynx.

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What happens when you hear a song like Seven Bridges Road by the Eagle and the singer hits an Insane High note?? You get goosebumps. Why?? I dont know but there something about high notes people like. We were just created that way.

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correct, ringing, strong, high notes (those relative to the singer) are to me indicative of the skill and finesse that makes a singer a singer in my book.

maybe it's a g4 for one and an f5 for another, but high note capability must be in the arsenal of every professional singer.

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High notes are an important part of the emotional vocabulary of the human voice.

Melodies mimic the up and down modulation of human speech, and in music we are usually telling a story. Often that story carries an emotional delivery, and touches that part of us that resonates and communicates in a way that no other method can do.

That's why some songs lose their effectiveness when we change the key to acommodate our own vocal range. Drop an emotionally-charged song down a couple of steps to dodge the higher notes, and that song could suddenly just lay there. The song no longer has the same emotional impact when it does not hit the same resonances. This can vary with the individual voice, but still there is an element of truth to this phenomenon.

Listen to someone in real life crying their heart out... Pleading with their lover to give them one more chance... Their voice modulates into and out of ranges that our hearts and brains interpret as true, pure emotion.

"Singing with Feeling" is what most vocalists strive for. Sometimes that seems more elusive than perhaps it should be. If you want to cry your heart out into a microphone, or move your listeners emotionally, you need a voice that is able to reproduce those frequencies, timbres, dynamics, and yes, feelings and do so on a regular and consistent basis. The same thing is happening with shouting or screaming vocals, it's just another emotion... rage, anger, defiance, you name it.

This includes all ranges of the voice, but without the ability to select the appropriate note for the moment leaves us without the full range of colors on our pallet. That's why we're all working on adding more notes and sounds to our vocal toolbox.

Most of us don't choke up when we attempt to sound out on lower chest notes or midrange. Nearing and beyond the passagio and mixed voice tends to be the area of most desireable development. Ultra-high also has its place in the full gamut of storytelling and impact.

Guys especially have to work at this. It's our area of greatest vocal vulnerability. A stronger, chestier high range is what most male singers struggle to achieve, as opposed to a weaker falsetto tone.

That's why all the emphasis on high notes.

Bob H.

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I once had a thread about how low you can go. I started it again, recently. Even less response than the last one. No one is interested in going low. Or, many people can already sing low and see no need. The thread has died a quiet death, passing silently into the night.

Evidently, people just like high notes. It be that way, sometimes.

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Ronws, I once heard an analogy that I think holds true: In an ensemble (choir, a capella group, barbershop quartet, etc) the bass singers are the offensive linemen. They don't get the glory that the quarterbacks, receivers, and running backs get, but they provide an essential function to the team. Women's ensembles (tend to, though not always) sound rather shrill even if the singers are good, because they don't have people who can hit those low bass notes.

In a rock band it's really the same thing, except rather than a bass singer you have a bass player. Concert-goers consciously believe they are coming to hear the singer hit those awesome high notes, but if they didn't have a bassist, guitar player, and drummer, I don't think the concert-goers would be returning.

Occasionally you get someone like Johnny Cash who makes a gig out of putting the low notes front and center. But for the most part, they serve to prop up the ensemble rather than be the focal point.

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There are a lot of good ideas here and many are part of the story with the obsession with singing high notes, it is an interesting question. I think it has to do with the following:

1). An increase in pitch, creates an increase in emotional energy. As phonations become higher and higher, they take on a "scream-like" aesthetic to them. The Scream aesthetic reaches to our primitive sensibilities for "emergency", "excitement", "shouting out/to proclaim", etc...

2). High notes are far removed from the every day mundane existence of speech mode. When we sing 'extreme' phonations like this, it contrasts against the normal vocal sounds most people can make and hear all day long. The pure magnitude of this contrast, creates a pleasant sensation for listeners. Its "new", Its "exotic", It's "interesting" to the listener.

3). From the perspective of the student of singing, its challenging to learn how to do it and when you finally can, it feels good. It is something worth pursuing for vocal geeks because it is hard and sounds cool... and when you are doing it, its great therapy.

4). Audiences love high notes. Always have, always will... for the same reasons mentioned above.

But similar to this question is... what is the obsession with whistle notes all about? LOL... I mean, its interesting and kind of cool... but almost entirely useless for singing. So I often asked the same question on whistles... why people are so impressed by that? Its like breaking glass with your voice... a very cool trick that is super neat to see... but doesn't really do much for singing... Seems like more younger guys are interested in whistles... Just an observation.

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Great Remy, thanks for the clarification. I never heard in that song a C#5 but I will take your word for it.

My question for Renee would be, of the students you have, how many would consider, even at this early stage, to be baritones trying to sing as tenors? By that, I mean expecting to have similar adduction and resonating properties. I am not saying baritones cannot sing tenor notes. But they will sound tonally different and I think they might approach it differently. Or not. I am not a vocal expert anything.

Ronws Not sure I understand your question. I think it might depend on what kind of tenor sound they were trying to achieve. A baritone would have to take a different approach to get a lyric tenor quality than he would with heldentenor quality in mind. Strange. I always think of Garth Brooks as a baritone, although clearly he is a tenor. He just has a very wide range and a full-toned lower register.

This probably doesn't answer your question. Can you say it another way?

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But similar to this question is... what is the obsession with whistle notes all about? LOL... I mean, its interesting and kind of cool... but almost entirely useless for singing. So I often asked the same question on whistles... why people are so impressed by that? Its like breaking glass with your voice... a very cool trick that is super neat to see... but doesn't really do much for singing... Seems like more younger guys are interested in whistles... Just an observation.

It's just an additional tool in your belt as an artist. You know how people will always find ways to showcase their voice. If Mariah all the suddon decides to key it up a few notches and does a little whistle run, the crowd typically goes equally wild as with a high belt. The same for Adam Lopez.

By your rational of people being attracted by something different then the mundane, I would argue that whistle on men is MUCH more rare then screams or distortions even. Even on females. When I tought one of my soprano friends how to do it, she litterary freaked out from excitement. It's just something very very fun, and if you're able to sneak it in a song, quite good ;>

The first metal singer that would go from a grunt to ending the song w a high whistle would prolly get a standing ovation too, because of the sheer shock value :p

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Ronws Not sure I understand your question. I think it might depend on what kind of tenor sound they were trying to achieve. A baritone would have to take a different approach to get a lyric tenor quality than he would with heldentenor quality in mind. Strange. I always think of Garth Brooks as a baritone, although clearly he is a tenor. He just has a very wide range and a full-toned lower register.

This probably doesn't answer your question. Can you say it another way?

Actually, you answered my question. That any person can sing any range, though I personally think that to sing baritone or bass, one needs a baritone or bass voice to begin with. I think some tenors, such as myself, cannot sing bass. Or even most of baritone. I just don't have the right folds for it. Or would we define range as where you sing most often. Garth might speak in baritone but he sings in tenor but he sings lower than I can.

Just like Axl Rose, who sings bass all the way into tenor range.

But bassos and baritones will always reach for tenor. And they will. It's the place to be. Moreso than any of the low notes. For we just like high notes. Can't change our spots.

I'm gonna sing some high notes today, as well.

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Whistle notes - for men, especially:

I think that in general, people are much more impressed by notes in the G4-E5 range (high but not freakishly high) than whistle notes. If a dude does some whistle runs, many people will simply think it's "too girly". I think that the reason for this is that when men scream or let out some REALLY strong emotion, they're often slightly above the passagio, but almost no man will scream in whistle range - that's like a girl getting caught nude in the shower. People would simply laugh if a man yelled like that.

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