Monday, January 16, 2023

What not to do with your head when singing very high or very low notes

It is human nature for our heads to go up and down as we sing extreme notes.

photo by jaime.silva

If a note is very high, we tilt our head up to reach for it. If a note is very low, we tip our head down. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help us to reach those notes. In fact it makes things worse.

Head nodding whilst singing is particularly noticeable in the Bass section. This is because Bass parts often jump between widely spaced notes which makes it easier to see. But pretty much all singers do it.

A little minor head nodding is nothing much to worry about. It can even help relax singers and help to release tension in necks and throats.

The trouble arises when heads are tilted a lot when singers try to reach very high or very low notes.

“I wanna sing down low”

When a note is very low, there is a tendency to literally reach for the depths by tilting your head down and putting your chin on your chest.

The problem with this is that it restricts pretty much all of your vocal mechanism and creates tension at the back of the neck. It also makes it harder to breathe freely.

One way around this is to employ visual imagery.

I like to draw on the idea of statues from the era of Soviet socialist realism. You know the kind of thing: “Progress” or “The proletariat rise up.”

It’s usually a figure looking up and out, often with arms stretched out pointing towards a glorious future.

I ask singers to strike one of these cheesy poses when a really low note comes along (especially if it is sustained for a while). This stops chins going down onto chests, helps to fill the note with resonance, and gives the singer a sense of pride and of being (literally) upstanding.

Another idea is to use in the warm up when singing something like “I wanna sing down low” on a descending scale 5 4 3 2 1.

Imagine that you are a tiny person in a land of giants, or that your audience is on a small hill. You are singing a beautiful song to show off your talents and you want them to hear it — especially the final note. So you need to sing loud and proud and to send the sound out to your audience with outstretched arms.

Again, this counters the tendency to lower the chin to the chest.

hitting those high notes

Perhaps more common is when singers tilt their heads back when trying to reach particularly high notes. Again, tension is introduced restricting your vocal mechanism and also making it hard to breathe easily.

Again, I employ visual imagery.

Imagine that you are on a small hill and a huge, appreciative audience are spread out in front of you, waiting expectantly for you to hit those glorious high notes.

When the high note comes along, send the sound out with a broad gesture and a smile, singing slightly down towards your adoring audience, keeping your neck long.

Another idea is to use in the warm up when you’re singing any kind of upward scale-based vocalese. As you approach the highest note, take a large, elaborate bow to your audience. Keep your head in the same relationship to your body (I.e. don’t tilt your head), but bow deeply from the waist.

This will counter the tendency to reach up for the high notes.


Chris Rowbury


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