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So, I sing to myself a lot, and one thing that really frustrates me is that I cannot even reliably hit a middle C. (I'm male.) This is basically unacceptable to me even for ordinary shower-singing. Now after I'm a little warmed up, the highest note I've ever convinced myself I actually got was an Eb4. Now I see a lot of websites saying that you can damage your voice permanently (scary!) by straining too much. I think I might be doing this, since typically it hurts a little after any amount of time around middle C. Is there any way to determine if my voice is already damaged? One thing: if I'm ever able to reach, say, D4, it's only if I have a lot of breath and sing it loudly; it'll never come out if I try it soft.

When I search "how to sing higher" the most common advice is to 1) avoid falsetto and 2) avoid straining. That's like teaching someone to jump higher by telling them to 1) avoid cheats, like trampolines and 2) avoid jumping harder than you normally would; just jump naturally. Well, gee, I don't think I'll get any higher then! Any help?

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You haven't mentioned how old you are. For men, their voices keep maturing across a long period of time—well into their late 20's or early 30's. Moreover, just because you don't know how to sing high doesn't mean you can't. It may be a matter of training, or it just might mean you're really a "power bass." –  aeismail Apr 28 '12 at 17:13
    
@aeismail By "mature", do you mean "just keep getting lower"? –  JohnJamesSmith May 8 '12 at 0:59
    
No, I mean "develops," with changes at both ends possible. My own range expanded by a fourth upward and a third downward during that time span. Other professional singers have talked about their range expanding over time as well, on both ends. –  aeismail May 8 '12 at 4:27
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8 Answers

Simple advice is to take singing lessons. We here cannot know what you're doing and what you're doing wrong just by reading. You have to have a professional coaching you how to use your body in another way than you do now.

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+1 Even if you can't afford to take lessons long-term, a few lessons for diagnostics and some of the basics will serve you well. –  Monica Cellio Apr 24 '12 at 14:44
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As Thomas Bryla said in another answer, there's really no substitute for working with someone who can hear what you're doing and observe your posture while you're doing it. But here are some things I have learned from years of casual choral singing as a low female voice trying to do better (I usually sing tenor):

  1. Breath support makes a big difference. If you're feeling that straining in your throat, then you're not supporting the notes and you'll hurt yourself. When you breathe in you should feel your diaphragm expand; as you sing you should feel it deflate. This is hard to teach in writing.

  2. Practice rising scales: start on a note, sing 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 on open vowels, then take the starting note up half a step and do it again. (You can do the reverse going down too, to work on lower range.) It's easier to approach the extremes of your range gradually and gently. Once you're warmed up on that you can take in thirds. (In both cases, make sure each note is crisp -- no slurring the pitch.) Exercises are boring compared to singing the songs you like, but over time they'll get you there. I've finally managed to smooth out an awkward break in my range doing this, and I can now produce a D5 if I have to (though I'm not happy about it; I'm really not comfortable much above B4).

  3. When it hurts, stop for a while. Don't wait for it to get bad.

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You can definitely enhance your range a little with tuition. However, professional singers, like the rest of us, sing with what nature gave them. That's why there are some men who have the most wonderful rich, pure voices very low down. Singing high is just not important compared to singing well without strain, and a teacher can help you do both. You can always sing your favourite songs on a starting note of your choice if unaccompanied, or sing down an octave or harmonise if accompanied. Again, you might like some musicianship training for this to make it easier. If you've not yet done so, how about looking up the ranges used for bass, tenor etc to see where you fall in the spectrum. You are not alone!

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"Professional singers . . . sing with what nature gave them." This is a factually misleading statement: some of the most famous singers of our time, including Placido Domingo, "built" their voice. (Domingo, for instance, was originally a baritone!) Nature may have given people a lot more talent than they know. –  aeismail Apr 28 '12 at 10:34
    
Interesting point about Domingo. Do you think think bodes well for JohnJamesSmith? –  Marian Apr 29 '12 at 18:08
    
Good question. I don't think I'd expect a tenor voice to emerge, but from my own experience—going from a chest voice upper limit of E♭4 to nearly A4 during my 20s, I think a solid baritone range could be possible. But, as I said, he could just as easily be a power bass that can't really have the upper range. It depends a lot on how old JJS is, what kind of sound profile he has, and how important it is for him to extend his range upward. –  aeismail Apr 29 '12 at 18:24
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There's a lot of people that seem to tell you that you're not built to sing high but that's not exactly the truth. When i first went through puberty around 12 i couldn't sing middle c either but as i got vocal training i can now sing up to an A and feel no strain. It's a matter of how to learn to use your upper register.

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It sounds like you are a bass. I'm a tenor. I can sing higher than you, but I bet you can sing way lower than me.

Some men are born to sing bass, some to sing baritone, and some to sing tenor. It's determined by your physiology, and that you cannot change.

Get some singing lessons from a professional voice teacher and learn what your natural range is, and how to work with the range you've got.

If you're a bass, then look for some songs to sing that were written for a bass and not for a tenor.

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It seems though that with practice and proper technique, you could expand your range somewhat. –  American Luke Apr 25 '12 at 17:17
    
That's what I said. Identify what your natural voice type is, and how to work with the range you've got. A person who is a bass can never sing tenor. A person who is a tenor can never sing bass. But you can learn to expand the range of notes you can sing based on your voice type: bass, baritone or tenor. –  Wheat Williams Apr 26 '12 at 1:53
    
@WheatWilliams: Luke said that it's possible to expand your range some though, so that even a bass could still grow to be able to sing a bit higher over time. –  Ullallulloo Apr 28 '12 at 3:56
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@WheatWilliams: Voices develop over time. A bass might not be able to sing tenor right now, but that doesn't mean he will never be able to sing tenor. (I've moved up from high baritone to first tenor in the last few years, so I know it's possible!) –  aeismail Apr 28 '12 at 17:16
    
First off, I really want to know if JohnJamesSmith is indeed a bass, and only a lesson or two with a professional voice teacher will answer that question for him. Second, I have to disagree with aeismail because his experience is unique to baritones. Some lucky baritones can also sing tenor with a good deal of training. Baritones have the widest range of all male voices. But a real tenor can never sing bass, and a real bass can never sing tenor. My point is "know thyself" and then start working on expanding your range within the context of the voice part you were born to have. –  Wheat Williams Apr 28 '12 at 17:59
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I've been training for about 4 years. So I've developed my voice to give myself a solid range. I'm a 21yo male, if it matters. Like said above, you could just be a bass singer. An untrained bass would struggle with Eb4 as a trained bass' limit is generally around an E4-F4. Now you didn't state an age.... But I was 17 when I started singing and I found notes higher than a middle C tricky back then too. But I enjoyed singing and kept working at it, just because I wanted to. With the vocal training I've had, by definition, I'm a bass-baritone. (like most men) I have a chest voice range spanning from roughly F2-G#4. G#4 being raised from the same limit of the OP. It's very true that you have to build your voice. You don't just have one.... Singing is a way of life. It's what I've noticed over the past 4 years. The only way to develop your voice is to treat it like a job. Now to the advanced stuff... Everyone has a chest voice range and a falsetto range. But not many people know that you can actually combine the two together and use them at the same time to form a 'mixed' voice. It's very difficult to master. I'm in the process of it myself. But it virtually eliminates 'vocal range' and voice categories like baritone and Tenor. It's very elusive and difficult to master, but it's how the rock band singers sing their songs. But for anyone struggling with limited range, is why I posted here. Research the 'mixed' voice. There are tutorials on Youtube but it's taken me about 6 months to actually work out how to use it myself (illusive). I said I'm a baritone but can easily hit a Tenor high C using this technique. I just need to actually get good at it, and work on the technique and tone of notes once so illusive to me and make sure I'm doing it correctly. Go to Youtube and listen to "Roy Kahn". I don't think there's a better master of the mixed voice, personally.

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@Luke, that's just an approximation of the upper limit. –  NReilingh Nov 4 '12 at 2:32
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I've been singing for 7 years, and I think that anyone can definitely learn to sing higher. Obviously everyone has a maximum range, so there will come a point where you can't sing a higher note without losing tonality and possibly hurting yourself. I do not know why anyone would advise avoiding falsetto. Falsetto is an excellent technique that can not only allow you to sing in a higher range, but it can also sound great and provide an alternate tone for your singing when in the upper range.

It would be a good idea for you to master the range that you're most comfortable with, but it's great to try to expand your range and step outside of your comfort zone. Just make sure it does not hurt when you're singing notes that are higher than you normally sing. If it hurts try it in falsetto. If it hurts in falsetto, then it might be higher than you should sing. However, with proper practice and vocal exercises you may be able to hit those once hard to hit notes and possibly even go higher.

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There is always the question what you are expecting to do with an extended range. I can produce sound over about 4 octaves, but people would not be interested in hearing more than about 3 of those (when I transitioned from tenor to alto/bass, I had choir concerts where I had to change my place between tenor for the old repertoire, alto for baroque and earlier repertoire, and bass for romantic and newer stuff where a male alto would have been out of style).

To those who say "don't use falsetto", my advice is "go screw your own voice". Falsetto is the base material for developing a good downward reaching head voice. When done correctly, it delivers a rather pure tone that is pleasant to hear and blends well with other voices. Yes, you are "out of style" in a group of "tenors" straining their baritonal chest voice into the tenor range, but a smooth falsetto will blend even better with three strained quasi-tenor chest voices than a fourth strained quasi-tenor chest voice.

Strained voices blend badly. You can hear out every one of them. True tenors (those with a naturally high-reaching chest voice not requiring force) are rare. Work the ranges you can reach comfortably with the best register and voice type you can employ. While it takes years of practice to connect disjoint registers into smooth and controlled transitions and mixed voice types, working on the connection when you don't have the basic styles at the end points well under control on their own will not be feasible.

The mixed rein is really tricky and it makes sense bridging it from two solid shores.

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