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TimR
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Well, that's not completely true. I've added some new skills since finding this forum, and learned a litle bit about a huge number of concepts I'd never heard of before.

I did not know I had a head voice, for example, and my attempts at falsetto had gone nowhere. I've been able to sing sirens an octave above what I thought I could do, and sing in head voice along with the radio. I don't have a serious daily workout, but I do some exercises from youtube (aussie, robert, phil) each morning and sing in the car on my commute each day.

But this has not seemed to affect the Sunday hymn singing at all. In church I'm a baritone with a range of G2 to C4. C4 and above tires me out very quickly, as does any hymn with 3 or more verses. During the choir season I'm singing the bass part and the endurance problem doesn't show, but in the summer I'm required to do melody. I don't seem to have increased my range or endurance yet.

I suspect I'm working on things that are nice to do but don't directly apply to what I need most. That's fine, but then how do I fix the other stuff?

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No, I'm in decent shape for an old geezer in my 60s. I never run out of air. (My main instrument is trombone, and I play at least an hour a day).

But my throat feels tired after a while and it becomes harder and harder to sing the higher notes.

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Hi, TimR,

I suspect that your breath management in your upper range is what's causing you to wear out quickly. Weak breath support means that good tension in your breath management system transfers into bad tension in your throat as you singing mechanism attempts to compensate for what the breath is not doing. I'm a horn player, so I can tell you that breath management playing a brass instrument is different from breath management in singing. In my mind, it almost feels like the concepts are opposite. When you play a brass instrument, you have the mouthpiece to offer the resistance to help from running out of air. When you sing, there is no resistance.

Try this as an exercise to learn about breath management for singing. Take a deep breath and try these two different ways to hold your breath:

1. Hold your breath by closing your vocal cords. When you purposefully close your vocal cords, they keep the air from coming out.

2. Now, hold your breath by keeping your vocal cords open but not letting any air escape. What it feels like to me is that I feel like I'm continually inhaling in order to keep the air from escaping. This is the type of breath management that you need to have a well supported sound when you are singing high.

You need to engage the lower rib muscles, lower abs and lower back muscles. When you sing in the upper part of your range, you need to think of keeping that lower suspension. When you take a deep breath and the lower muscles expand, sing while trying to keep the lower muscles engaged and expanded. As you sing higher and higher, keep thinking lower and lower engagement. This will be especially helpful in keeping tension out of your throat as you may try to tighten up and strain to reach the higher notes.

Here is my blog post on extending your range: http://www.theaspiringsinger.com/extendyourrange/

And here is my blog post on improving breath support: http://www.theaspiringsinger.com/betterbreathsupport/

Also too, as a male singer, when you approach the bridge into your head voice, you should modify your vowels to smooth the transition. If you can think about the shape of your vowels inside your mouth on your lower notes, in general, you want to have your top and bottom molars closer together but still with good space in your mouth. This should feel like a flat and wide space. As you approach the bridge, the shape of the vowel in your mouth should get skinnier and taller. Try to feel the difference between the "ih" vowel and the "ee" vowel without altering the space between your molars. When you sing lower, you should want a more "ih" shape. As you approach the bridge, you want a more "ee" shape. On actual words, the alteration is much more subtle, but try to get the sensation on neutral syllables before you put them on real words. Be careful that, as you ascend, you are not introducing tension in the throat and tongue as you attempt to modify your vowels.

I hope these tips help! Let me know if you have success with my exercises.

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aspiring, you just became my atlanta ga. brotha...i totally agree with everything you said.

great post.

i'm a huge advocate of breath support/management being "built up" to higher levels than just good.

tim, i'm 60 years young..here's a great tip for you that has helped me immeasurably.

try to imagine the high notes as something you descend onto rather than a note you go up to. mentally see the note in your mind and try to imagine it dropping down into your vocal folds from above.

take in a low breath, and configure into the beginning of a yawn or as if you had to adjust to bite into an apple. when you do that without tensing you will create space in the back of your throat.

to sing a high note you need to create space and maintain space which will vary according to the vowels you are needing to sing.

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And I am 50 miles on the lost highway, the highway to hell. But I do know that managing the breath is important. And I wonder if breath management for singing is different than breath management for trombone. I don't know, not having played a brass instrument.

In school, I played the recorder for one year. In electrical work, I have "trumpeted" with a 1/2" ten foot EMT conduit but the breath for that is way different than for singing because, then, I am using my lips to vibrate a sound.

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Breathing can be problem, but it also FAILS to address actual technique. Before I illustrate the technique aspect, many singers can screw up everything with bad breathing. Basically, put your hands on your upper abdomen and hold your breath. you will feel your upper abdomen move. now.. breathing in singing is like that, but instead of holding your breath you're holding a note.

Now to the actual technique part which is the *most important* here. There can be only 2 technique problems here if you are having trouble going over C4.

1. too much mouth tension

or

2. relying too heavily on the vocal cords natural phonation and not engaging other key muscles

the first one is fixed by keeping your mouth still between each pitch while singing a scale, and the second one is fixed by modifying an "oh" vowel to allow the other muscles to start contracting rather than just the vocal cords. However, the 1st problem has to be overcome before the second! If you can't sing a comfortable scale without keeping your mouth very very still, you have to keep trying that until you can.

the reason 'oh' is used for the other problem, is because it's a very deep vowel that will kickstart the other muslces. Do not think of it as a cure all by any means, it's just a jumpstarter for basic coordination.

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1. too much mouth tension

or

2. relying too heavily on the vocal cords natural phonation and not contracting other muscles

the first one is fixed by keeping your mouth still between each pitch while singing a scale, and the second one is fixed by modifying an "oh" vowel to allow the other muscles to start contracting rather than just the vocal cords. However, the 1st problem has to be overcome before the second! If you can't sing a comfortable scale without keeping your mouth very very still, you have to keep trying that until you can.

the reason 'oh' is used for the other problem, is because it's a very deep vowel that will kickstart the other muslces. Do not think of it as a cure all by any means, it's just a jumpstarter for basic coordination.

ChumelsVanCogle I would love to learn more about what you're saying here. Just clarifying: are you saying that keeping your mouth still on the scale is the desired outcome? And which muscles are the ones that should be contracting?

I'm not challenging anything that you're saying. I would just love further explanation so that I always continue to expand my own understanding. Thanks!

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ChumelsVanCogle I would love to learn more about what you're saying here. Just clarifying: are you saying that keeping your mouth still on the scale is the desired outcome? And which muscles are the ones that should be contracting?

I'm not challenging anything that you're saying. I would just love further explanation so that I always continue to expand my own understanding. Thanks!

For men who have very dominant thyroarytenoid muscles, it can be completely natural for the mouth to add excess tensions to basic notes and detract from air flow/relaxation. by keeping the mouth from flexing after each consecutive pitch, the muscles can relax and pitches are choosen in a proper manner. Too much mouth tension can easily inhibit finding notes above C4, or even any notes above G3 (above the 1st octave).

For the second part, it's also not uncommon for muscles to naturally resist the act of lowering the larynx. By using the "oh" sound, it allows for the adjustment so that the larynx and thyroarytenoid + arytenoid muscles can achieve a slight downard force, eventually preparing the voice so that it can actually work on laryngeal dampening.

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TimR, I felt the exact same way back when I was only learning from forums and the internet and not one on one with a real coach.

I hate to be "that guy who says you need lessons" (the type that everyone on this forum seems to hate?) and actually in this case I will modify that - investing in a good vocal program or book could help you a lot too.

But I refuse to hide you all from the reality of how learning ANY skill works.

If you start at a very basic level without much natural talent (talking just about range specifically here - straining above C4 is pretty much square one in terms of range) you are going to need invest a lot of time and money, or if not money then simply a lot MORE time, in order to get better.

My range started as straining above Eb4 and after two years of the best training (PLUS this forum PLUS vocal programs and books) I can find I still strain on a full voice G4 sometimes. Doesn't mean that is my full range - I can do a connected siren from about F2 to G#5, but this issue of straining in the lower 4th octave and only when I have to hold out powerful notes for a long time, really comes down to, for me personally, reducing neck/jaw/upper body tension, accessing head resonance from a full voiced coordination, and advanced breath support - all very tough skills to train!

No magic words of advice will help you unlock more PERFORMANCE range in an instant, it's a BIG process to learn how to sing high with power and reliability but without strain. And that's really what we need to become better singers, not how high can you hit a note in whistle voice.

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I absolutely agree I need lessons. I have proven numerous times on other instruments that there is no exercise I cannot figure a way to do incorrectly. They will have to wait a bit while my main focus is trombone (yes I do take lessons). I do intend to get around to it. But I am learning a lot lurking here, and enjoying the struggle.

A curious thing though. I was watching one of phil's videos yesterday and singing along. Man, I sounded good! No problem with range either! but only when singing along with someone else who knows what he's doing.

Mouth tension is an idea that would never have occurred to me. There is a lot of overlap between how I approach singing and playing a brass instrument, and it's very likely I'm tensing the lip muscles to sing much like I would to play the same note. (especially since - this may be weird but - every morning i get up at 0530 and play half an hour of trombone before work. I sing every exercise after I play it, now that I've discovered head voice and can get up there)

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Hi, TimR,

I suspect that your breath management in your upper range is what's causing you to wear out quickly. Weak breath support means that good tension in your breath management system transfers into bad tension in your throat as you singing mechanism attempts to compensate for what the breath is not doing. I'm a horn player, so I can tell you that breath management playing a brass instrument is different from breath management in singing. In my mind, it almost feels like the concepts are opposite. When you play a brass instrument, you have the mouthpiece to offer the resistance to help from running out of air. When you sing, there is no resistance.

Try this as an exercise to learn about breath management for singing. Take a deep breath and try these two different ways to hold your breath:

1. Hold your breath by closing your vocal cords. When you purposefully close your vocal cords, they keep the air from coming out.

2. Now, hold your breath by keeping your vocal cords open but not letting any air escape. What it feels like to me is that I feel like I'm continually inhaling in order to keep the air from escaping. This is the type of breath management that you need to have a well supported sound when you are singing high.

You need to engage the lower rib muscles, lower abs and lower back muscles. When you sing in the upper part of your range, you need to think of keeping that lower suspension. When you take a deep breath and the lower muscles expand, sing while trying to keep the lower muscles engaged and expanded. As you sing higher and higher, keep thinking lower and lower engagement. This will be especially helpful in keeping tension out of your throat as you may try to tighten up and strain to reach the higher notes.

Here is my blog post on extending your range: http://www.theaspiringsinger.com/extendyourrange/

And here is my blog post on improving breath support: http://www.theaspiringsinger.com/betterbreathsupport/

Also too, as a male singer, when you approach the bridge into your head voice, you should modify your vowels to smooth the transition. If you can think about the shape of your vowels inside your mouth on your lower notes, in general, you want to have your top and bottom molars closer together but still with good space in your mouth. This should feel like a flat and wide space. As you approach the bridge, the shape of the vowel in your mouth should get skinnier and taller. Try to feel the difference between the "ih" vowel and the "ee" vowel without altering the space between your molars. When you sing lower, you should want a more "ih" shape. As you approach the bridge, you want a more "ee" shape. On actual words, the alteration is much more subtle, but try to get the sensation on neutral syllables before you put them on real words. Be careful that, as you ascend, you are not introducing tension in the throat and tongue as you attempt to modify your vowels.

I hope these tips help! Let me know if you have success with my exercises.

This post should be read by everyone. Very helpful tips!

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If you find yourself singing better when singing along with recordings of others, keep doing that.

That's how the best singers built their instrument. Find a singer who has a similar voice to yours and sounds like they have decent technique (for baritones, I'd say Elvis would be a great option) and SING WITH THEM. Pick a song you can sing every note in and put it on loop. You'll improve. A lot.

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  • 2 weeks later...

It sounds like you have the good old tongue retroflexing problem. In that range, the base of your tongue is pulling down on your larynx. I'd recommend spending some time having the tip of your tongue lightly against the back of your bottom teeth while pushing the rest of your tongue out as far as possible, and just holding that position for as long as possible, and once that gets easy, start sirening and humming that way. This will take time and daily work, but it should make a very big difference!

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It sounds like you have the good old tongue retroflexing problem. In that range, the base of your tongue is pulling down on your larynx. I'd recommend spending some time having the tip of your tongue lightly against the back of your bottom teeth while pushing the rest of your tongue out as far as possible, and just holding that position for as long as possible, and once that gets easy, start sirening and humming that way. This will take time and daily work, but it should make a very big difference!

I'd strongly say that the whole "tongue" problem is rooted in the problem of mouth tension. only altering the tongue will not fix the mouth tension.

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