Monday, November 16, 2015

Why can’t I sing low notes with more power and volume?

Many men (and some women) complain about not having much vocal power on low notes.

double bass
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If you have good power, control and volume in the rest of your range then there’s an easy explanation.

I often get asked by men why they don’t have much power on the low notes. It’s usually men because the stereotype is that a manly voice is a low voice. But lots of women also find that they lack power on their low notes.

If you have plenty of volume and power in the rest of your range, then the answer is very simple: the notes are too low for you.

We all have the ability to sing from low to high. The exact range will differ from person to person.

We know immediately where our upper limit is: tension creeps in and we start to strain, producing the note takes a lot of effort and doesn’t come easily, and the quality of the sound is a bit screechy.

We also know when we’ve hit our lowest note: the volume drops dramatically, we feel like we’re forcing it, the sound is very weak and breathy.

Those are our absolute limits. With practice we might be able to extend these limits slightly, but at some point we will come up against the limitations of how we’re physically built.

Just because we can reach a note doesn’t mean that we should sing it!

Our sing-able range lies between these two extremes. There is even a posh name for it: tessitura. It’s basically our sweet spot. Where we sing notes with ease and the tone is very pleasing. That’s the range we have to play with.

The trouble is, we are put into boxes like ‘tenor’ or ‘bass’ or ‘alto’ and expected to be able to deal with a prescribed range.

The reality is that most of us don’t fit exactly into these boxes. So we will often come across a note that is too high or too low for us. Because we can’t hit that note with any power or volume we think it’s a problem with us and we try to fix it. But the problem lies with the part we’ve been given which doesn’t match our tessitura.

  • If you’re singing by yourself, then you may have to accept that you can’t hit the notes that your singing idol can.
  • If you’re singing in a small group, make sure that your harmony arrangements suit all the singers.
  • If you’re part of a choir, make sure you’re in the part that suits your range (see But I can’t sing that high!) and pray that your musical director chooses song arrangements that are suitable for human beings (see Fit the song arrangement to your singers and not the other way round).
Sing to your strengths and don’t try to be someone you’re not!

Chris Rowbury



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Chris Rowbury


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