Ask the Expert – How to expand a singer’s vocal range
Here’s Cat White’s third post giving advice on vocalists (the first, on weak and thready voices and the second on singers that run out of puff). This time Cat deals with advice for working with singers that have a very limited vocal range. (One can only do middle C to about D, the other is much higher, about G above middle C to the G an octave above.)
This one is trickier, and is slightly more difficult to fix quickly…
Range is definately affected by nerves, and by self belief. If they don’t think they can sing a note then they won’t get it. I would put money on the fact that both of them have at least a middle C well within their range. It’s just a matter of using it! Working on the lower part of the range for both of them is a must. This is something else that only comes with doing and practising.
Doing vocal exercises that begin on about a G above middle C and work down, and actually using this part of the voice will increase it’s strength. It would be very rare for a woman to not have that C-G span within their range – it’s just a case of discovering it. Sirening exercises working the voice up and down to its confortable limits are good for exploring the voice in a gentle way (these are covered on our vocals warm-up CD and are explained here). The more advanced work-out CD is much more robust – like a boot camp workout. Once they realise that they do in fact have more notes at their disposal, it becomes less scary to try singing them. Doing vocal exercises regularly will increase the range of a voice (if you’re not playing it safe and only doing the ones you find easy) as the vocal strength increases in general and you are working on notes at the edges of your range. As your general vocal strength increases the higher and lower notes will happen more easily. Then, once you have them, by using them, they get stronger and your range will continue to increase…etc etc.
It’s important not to push voices to their limits when not warmed up, or even in many cases in public settings, as this causes extra stress on the vocal apparatus especially when nervous and can cause damage. But to work on these things in private will give you more to play with when it comes to ‘show time’!
Obviously in the meantime picking songs and harmony lines within their perceived limits is important but difficult. As a general rule, congregations cannot handle above about an Eb octave above middle C so changing keys to suit your higher voiced singer is not necessarily a good idea if it means going above this. Playing to the strengths of each singer, layering the song so that one sings verses, the other sings choruses (if that works within their current ranges) and encouraging harmonies that they are comfortable with could be a way of ensuring they can both be used.
I’d suggest investing in vocal warm up cds for these women if they are serious about wanting to improve their voices. However it does require dedication and time and as with anything, the more you work on it the more effective it will be and the quicker you will see (or hear) the results. If looking to invest in something more substantial, disk one of the Vocals series covers basic singing technique (posture, breathing…) which are all things that everyone who is going to be singing should be aware of.
Obviously there is also the complete vocals set, which is more substantial in its coverage of technique and application, and takes the user on a journey of discovery with his/her voice.