THE SOPRANO VOICE
The soprano voice is, generally speaking, the highest vocal range in women
As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve been teaching singing (and performance) for the past seventeen years. In all of that time, I’ve obviously had a lot of girls and women coming for lessons. It may, therefore, be a surprise to some to learn that practically every single one of them, when asked, has said that they think their vocal range is that of an alto (contralto). In every case, they've actually been sopranos. I need to make a couple of things clear here:
• About 90% of all women’s voices are in the soprano range (whether they realise this or not); true altos are rare - about 1 in 1,000 women. If you’re old enough to remember the Carry On films, do you remember the cross-eyed Fenella Fielding? She had a really, really low speaking voice; she was probably an alto. Similarly, Mariella Frostrup has a pretty low speaking voice too – she may be an alto too. You can basically tell roughly where somebody’s voice lies by listening to their speaking voice.
• Secondly, smoking will lower your voice over time by damaging it (and obviously lots of other things in your body too – don’t do it!). If you start out as a soprano, you WILL end up as an alto in about 15-20 years of smoking, but obviously this is damage, it’s not a natural thing to happen.
• If you continuously speak or sing using only the lower part of your voice, which sadly quite a lot of women (and increasingly, children) do, especially women who speak in public etc. then you will gradually over-develop that part of your voice – much like Margaret Thatcher did on purpose to make her sound more scary (and masculine)!!
The best thing you can do, therefore, is find out what your vocal range really is (and you may need a properly trained singing teacher to help you find out) and learn to develop it properly – if you do that, you will extend your range. I haven’t met one single person coming for singing lessons who doesn’t want to be able to sing higher.
I’ve taught quite a lot of singers from classical choirs over the years, as well as singers from various bands and they’ve all avoided the tops of their voices, which is a shame because it’s not going to do your voice any good – it will strain it, and possibly worse over time. I remember hearing one student of mine some years ago who was obviously a soprano, and who then joined a covers band as its lead singer. She sang everything in the keys given (rather than what suited her vocal range - quite a common thing sadly) and ended up over-developing the lower part of her voice - probably losing the top in the process.
People are generally a bit (no, actually quite a lot) scared of the tops of their voices. Reaching high notes is like climbing Mount Everest to most women and so they generally avoid it. So, how do you sing high notes comfortably? Well, there are two things that untrained singers don’t do which make all the difference. They are:
• having enough breath to support the voice whilst singing high notes;
• and secondly, dropping the jaw. It never ceases to amaze me how people are taught to smile whilst singing, which literally squashes any opportunity for resonance in the voice (and high notes in particular require the maximum amount of space for the notes to resonate properly). In order to get good high notes you MUST drop the jaw and I mean drop it as far as it will comfortably go - as well as having enough breath to support the notes.
The number one reason singers think they can’t reach high notes is lack of breath. Couple sufficient breath with a dropped jaw and you will instantly access about half an octave more than you could before.
I stress you need to learn how to do this under supervision – there’s no point trying to do it without this as bad habits will win out every time!