Being able to use an expansive range of notes is one of the most sought after qualities in a skilled singer. A large range allows you to use your best quality tone consistently on a wide range of pieces and genres, allows you to the flexibility to sing low or high voice parts as a member of ensembles, and allows you to be cast in many different types of productions within opera and musical theatre. Rather than stay comfortable within the mid-section of your range like many singers do, why not challenge yourself to keep your voice growing and make yourself more marketable as a musician? Here are 5 steps to get you started on expanding your vocal range:
Believe you can. First and foremost, as with any vocal technique, you must absolutely believe that it is possible for you to expand your range. This sounds simple, but it is surprising how frequently individuals unconsciously limit themselves by labeling their voice as “low” or “high” or “soprano” or “tenor,” simply because it’s easier to describe yourself when using broad labels, or because someone once described your voice that way. There is nothing inherently wrong with using these labels, but problems arise when the singer starts believing it themselves. Once the idea is planted, singers will start saying things like “oh no, I won’t sing that aria, it’s too high for me,” or “oh I couldn’t possibly sing bass, I’ve sung baritone my entire life.” You must start seeing your voice as a completely versatile and trainable medium that will follow the direction of your mind wherever you choose to take it, and in the case of range expansion you are choosing to take your voice higher and/or lower than ever before.
Do a little at a time. Range is a delicate matter, so it is not suggested that a singer dive immediately into hardcore exercises that will tax your instrument and frustrate your patience. Rather, expanding vocal range is like lifting weights: it’s best to add a tiny bit of challenge each week, gradually seeing results over a long period of time. When you warm up, add one half step higher and/or lower to your warm up exercises each week, and drill those daily. Don’t try to force a huge increase of 5 whole steps all at once - all you’ll do is tear up your vocal cords and bruise your ego.
Sing songs that lay within the range you are trying to expand. The best vocal work is done when your mind is slightly distracted, so that a singer is almost unconsciously working through the new range area. Pick out out 2-3 songs you really enjoy that lay within the range you are trying to expand, and sing along with them casually while you do other tasks such as driving, jogging, or housework. Don’t force yourself to sing it perfectly or hit all the new notes, just sing along for fun and allow your vocal muscles to get used to how it feels residing in the new range area for an extended period of time (a 3-4 minute song is considered an extended period for fragile vocal muscles that aren’t yet used to it).
Practice lots of agility exercises containing consecutive note patterns. Agility exercises are meant to create a quick moving, flexible voice that can jump large intervals and navigate easily through difficult transition areas of the voice. Agility exercises are also useful when expanding range, because in order to reach new highs or lows, the instrument needs to be agile and move easily. Include lots of scales, 5-note runs, and chromatic passages in your exercise routine. For example, a soprano wanting to expand her range upward might warm up with 8-note scales such as this: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Take that pattern up a half step and repeat, and so on. For additional vocal exercises, subscribe to receive email updates, and you'll receive a FREE set of vocal warm ups!
Set realistic expectations, repeat often, and have patience! It normally takes weeks or months of diligent practice to see noticeable range expansion, and even then, results are usually just a matter of 3-4 half steps gained at best. There is some truth to the idea that you are born with a unique instrument that will always be most comfortable within a certain area of your range, and that’s perfectly okay, so long as you are able to expand further into higher or lower areas occasionally as needed to meet your musical goals. Singers desiring range expansion need to be drilling exercises regularly, and putting themselves into situations where they will have the opportunity to use new parts of their range frequently, such as volunteering to sing an alternative voice part in a choir or actively working on higher or lower repetoire with an instructor.
After you've started expanding your range, you'll be off and running, and excited to audition for new ensembles and roles that your voice wasn't fit previously fit for! For more tips on how to rock your auditions and meet your performance goals, check out our Guide to Audition Success.
Also, read a related post on singing in your upper range with excellent tone quality.