Practicing high notes make me cringe. What can I do?
Updated: Jun 4, 2021
I hear you. It’s not easy to listen to those cracking high notes while your kiddo is practicing. The voice sounds strained and pitchy. It looks/sounds like it's painful. There's a very important reason that the voice is sounding like this reaching for those high notes.
They haven’t figured out how to appreciate the importance of their head voice.
This is message is for everyone struggling to listen to or sing with their head voice.
So often students of all ages come to their first lesson looking to expand their range and power. It's the top 2 goals of 99% of my vocal students. I tell them that we will have to build new lifestyle habits and these that will take time to settle, they won't happen over night. And if you want to expand your higher range, we have to gain confidence in that head voice; use it, don't shy away from it. The first thing they do is cringe. They tell me how weird they think they sound. That their head voice is weak, too airy and mouse like. And I respond, of course it is because you never use it. How will it grow and get stronger if you don't work at it. In order to gain that range to your upper register (high notes) you have to be willing to step into the unknown, the uncomfortable and stay there.
What you are hearing and using now isn’t the head voice. It's the comfortable register, the speaking/mid-range voice being carried up into a place where the voice can't support the weight of the sound.
For example: When students try to sing up high they reach for the notes by raising their throat, usually raising their chin following these high notes and cutting off space for the sound to come out. This is very typical of a lot of untrained or young singers, especially under 13. Carrying all this heavy sound, vocal weight from their mid and low registers to higher notes that need to be placed differently and supported.
Finding that placement is like trying to find a light switch in a pitch dark room that you've never been in before. It takes a lot of patience and being willing to feel around and try new things, fail big and feel uncomfortable. Again, developing new registers in folks of any age takes patience, consistent work and time. With young folks, sometimes not until they go through puberty will you hear that their voice has had a big break through. But! Working on good habits of how to sing healthy in different registers is the most important part for anyone taking voice lessons.
From teaching for over 20 years, I've discovered that most young people (specifically ages 8-13) will either have one of 3 voices: a very airy high, sometimes squeaky head voice, a straight toned belt in a mid to low register OR very pitchy, no volume and might not sound in tune. Of course there will always be exceptions but this is the majority of young students I've worked with.
I believe these ages are the most important for building confidence in the voice they currently have along with healthy habits for the voice they will be growing into. The vocal confidence and lifestyle habits we build now can have a lasting effect into their adulthood.
The 2 main things we as their support system can do to help:
1. Have patience for their practice. Make space for them to try out new vocal sounds without judgement in order to discover what they are capable of. This should be fun and not a chore.
2. Keep encouraging them to think about how they are supporting their body and voice, not just when they are singing. Breathing well and how we use our breath energy is the most important part to vocal growth. Conscience breathing needs to be a 24/7 habit in everything we do. We can retrain ourselves to breath from a more grounded place. In order to do this you need to make this kind of breathing a habit. (Watch for a new blog about this)
One more side note: When they are singing along, remind them to not raise her chin to sing the high notes. Instead keep their head level so that her tummy muscles can learn to do all the heavy lifting.
I hope this helps. I understand the process of hearing them (or yourself) work through this isn’t the easiest. But think about if a student took horn or violin lessons for the first year or 2 it’s a lot of squeaks and sounds that know one likes to listen to. With patience, consistency and time they do get better at making a stronger and beautiful tone; the voice goes through this too.
The light bulb will come on but they have to keep searching for it.
New blog soon!! "Take a BREATH"