How to Sing Long Notes
4 challenges and how to conquer them
How to sing long notes: contents.
When we speak we hardly ever think of the length of the words we say. We just say them and usually they’re short. When we sing this is so different: notes can be very long. The length of a note can be predefined, because it’s written in the sheet music. The length can also be improvised longer. It can be a real challenge to sing longer notes when you’re not used to it.
Long notes are there in two types:
- On one pitch, all the way through
- One long word or sentence on multiple pitches that gives you a problem with your breath.
In this blog I focus mostly on the first type of long notes, but many exercises are beneficial for long notes or phrases without breathing in general.
In this explanation I will give you tips on how to sing long notes without pressing them. I will give you a technical and a musical path. Both paths reinforce each other.
What’s so hard about singing longer notes?
Here are the four challenges of how to sing long notes:
- First of all, you need to control your breath and your support very well to be able to sustain the note.
- Second, once you started the note in a wrong way, breath-wise or tightened in the throat, it’s hard to fix it in the meantime.
- Third, you can hear yourself very clearly for a longer period and if you don’t like what you hear the note becomes a torture.
- And forth, all the way through the note it has to sound interesting, not like a machine starting to work and suddenly stopping. The note has to have a direction.
Let’s get through all the challenges and see how you can overcome them.
1. Control your breath support
In my videos about the breath I already explained what breath support is. In short: you want to control the amount of air flowing out to fit the tone your singing (Figure 1.). This means you have to balance the airflow: the air shouldn’t flow out in a big sigh, nor should you keep in your lungs by giving a lot of pressure from your abdominals. Check out my video for a more detailed explanation.
In Figure 2 you can see the points where you can feel the breath support. This is good to remember when you’re doing the next exercises.
Figure 1 The right amount of airflow vs breath pressure
Figure 2 The places where you can feel the breath support
Exercise 1: Phonation on liptrill, rolling ‘rrr’ or ‘vvv’. (Phonation means that your voice sounds.)
- You don’t need to pick a tone yet, but stay around your speaking pitch. Try the liptrill and keep it as long as possible, keep it steady. Think of it as a rolling engine in the same speed. If liptrill is very hard for you, practice it and try a rolling ‘rrr’ or on ‘vvv’ for now. Make sure you keep your jaw relaxed.
- Try to go up and down in pitch while you sing on the liptrill.
- Try to get a specific pitch and sing it on a liptrill. Keep the pitch steady.
Exercise 2: Train the muscles of support
There are a lot of exercises for training the muscles of the support, but I will give one here that’s specifically beneficial for long notes.
- Variation 1: grab an open door with both on the handles on both sides, lean back and bend your knees. Breath in calmly by letting go of your abdominals and sing on ‘ooo’ as long as possible.
- Variation 2: warm the finger. Put your finger in front of your mouth as though you want to say: “ssst”. Stand with your legs wider, breathe in again calmly. Sing an ‘ooo’ very quietly. Go down in a squad slowly and bend forwards, until your down.
Listen carefully if you hear air escaping while you sing. You should hear a clear tone, not ‘hhhhh’ in the background.
2. All is well that starts well
The way you prepare for your singing is crucial. You have to train your body to be ready for the specific part you want to sing. Especially if you’re going to sing longer notes, because once you started of in a bad position, it’s harder to fix it. The position includes:
- The starting pitch you have in your mind has to be the right one. If you prepare yourself for the wrong pitch, you still have to fix everything after. FOR POP SINGERS: avoid the pop slide to the tone, directly hit the pitch. Later you can add the slide as an ornament.
- The breath support: it has to be ready before you start.
- The position of your jaw and tongue: the jaw has to be relaxed in the stupid position and the tongue shouldn’t press back and down on your larynx.
Take an example from sports: they would never start a game without the right starting position!
Exercise 3: Simply Holding a Tone
In this exercise we’re going to hold a tone for a longer period. Making sure we’re prepared for it. Only start with step 4 once you did the first three steps.
- Think of the pitch you’re going to sing.
- Get in the right position: head not too much up or down, jaw relaxed and tongue in front.
- Get your support ready.
- Start on a comfortable pitch and sing it for about 5 -10 seconds. Keep it steady, keep the support.
- Only once you stopped, let go of the support.
- Repeat going up and down in pitch.
You can do this exercise both in head voice and in chest voice, but choose beforehand in which mode you do the whole exercise. In the head voice you can use any vowel in the chest voice stay with ‘e’ and ‘a’. Hard to choose a vowel? Take ‘a’.
Pop singers: You can also do this exercise completely twangy.
Exercise 4: Start from impulse
To avoid we will only think of positions of the mouth and breath, we will practice a more impulsive way to start notes.
- Think of the pitch you’re going to sing.
- Think of a sob.
- Start on a comfortable pitch and sing your sob it for about 5 -10 seconds. Keep thinking of the sob
- Only once you stopped, stop also your mental sob.
- Repeat going up and down in pitch.
Do the same while thinking of a laugh, a sigh, or a whine. When singing higher in the chest voice, use also a yell.
3. When long notes don't start well and you still have to continue
Of course it happens that you start a note and you think: “Make it stop”. It doesn’t feel right and it doesn’t sound right. Many people stop then, deciding the note is hopeless. But you can’t learn how to sing if you stop all the time. From now on, you’re going to continue the note and try to adjust it. This is also a mental game: try not to punish yourself when it’s wrong. Tell yourself what you could do to make it better. The following exercise is ONLY when you start out wrong and you feel uncomfortable singing on.
Exercise 5: Fix your note on the go
You can for example do this if exercise 3 went wrong.
- Define what’s wrong and try to improve it:
- If the pitch isn’t right, fix the pitch.
- How is your posture? Aren’t you looking up to the ceiling because you happen to sing a higher note? Did you lock your knees?
- Check if your breath it locked (too much tension, too little airflow) -> release some tension in your abdominals.
- Check if your support is too weak (too little tension, too much airflow) -> Give a little bit of extra tension from the xiphoid up.
- Check if your jaw is stuck -> release jaw.
- Check if your tongue isn’t pressing on your larynx. You feel it on the bottom of your chin. -> stick out your tongue and pull it back in your mouth relaxedly.
- Pop singers: do you have the right amount of twang?
- Repeat the exercise, part of the piece trying to prepare for the one thing that went wrong before you sing.
You don’t need to check all the points in one note, you can always repeat it. If you get stuck, use exercise 4 to find the flow of your tone again without thinking too much.
4. Keep the long note interesting for yourself and for your audience.
A long note is a continuation of the sound and the music. It doesn’t have a start button from which you hear a long beep that only stops when you hear hit the button again. It flows with the music and so there will always be a direction.
Here are some tips for helping you to keep your long note interesting for yourself and your listeners:
Tips for beautiful long notes
- Listen to the music underneath your voice and move with it. You can even do this literally.
- Play around with dynamics. For example:
Give a crescendo (get louder).
Give a decrescendo (get softer)
get louder, suddenly softer.
- Repeat the vowel of your note in your mind over and over ‘a a a a’
- Blend in vibrato
- Go from more heady sound to chest sound or other way around
- Add extra twang.
- Slightly change the vowel (open up or close)
- Keep the vowel longer or shorter. This is possible only on voiced consonants that you can keep for a longer period, like mmm/nnnn. With consonants like ‘p’ or ‘b’ the note stops immediately.
- Make ornaments.
- Follow the meaning of the text while singing. The note is usually sung on a word, so take advantage of that.
- Keep your energy throughout the note, even if it gets softer. The end is just as important as the start.
Exercise 6: Crescendo/decrescendo
Practicing crescendo and decrescendo on long notes will give you more interesting notes and it will help you to get even more control over your breath flow.
- Start with a comfortable pitch. Sing a long note on ‘a’ and gradually get louder.
- Start with a comfortable pitch. Sing a long note on ‘a’ and gradually get softer.
- Start with a comfortable pitch. Sing a long note on ‘a’ and gradually get louder and back again softer in one note.
- Change the pitch up and down
How to sing long notes in the music?
In the end, it’s about the music you’re singing, whatever the style is. You can use all these exercises in your music. So if you get stuck in a long note in a piece, think why this can be and what can help you. The exercises are a starting point. In any case: quit stopping your notes before they should be finished because you don’t like them. Let your voice sound!
How to sing long notes: videos!
I have also videos available with the text of this blog. In these videos I also show you the exercises. Access the playlist HERE or click on the separate videos below.