Top 7 Vocal Hacks for Challenging Christmas Carols

Yes, Christmas songs are lovely, but many are tricky to sing—am I right?! Lots of lyrics to remember + octave jumps galore = challenging times! So try out these 7 tips as you practice—and hopefully you’ll experience more freedom (and enjoyment) as you sing!

CHALLENGING LYRIC #1 (from “O Holy Night”):
“Oh night di-VIIIIIIINE!”

You know the one. The big octave jump to the high note near the end of the song… oh the feelings of dread!

Here’s what to do…

Find where that top note sits (in whatever key you’re doing it in) and sing GUH GUH VUH VUH VAHN (all on that one note) with a slightly narrow mouth shape and dropped jaw, then go straight into the octave-jumping melody of DI-VINE. 

So, GUH GUH VUH VUH VAHN (high) → DI-VINE (low to high). Feel how the exercise helps your voice find that top note WAY more easily! 

CHALLENGING LYRIC #2 (from “Joy to the World”): 
“… heaven and heaven…” 

The octave jump on that first “heaven”. Scooping, trembling, pitchy end of the word “heaven”—anybody been there?! 

Here’s what to do… 

First, sing an edgy staccato EH-EH-EH-EH-EH on the octave-jumping melody of “heaven”. Don’t push or force your voice into the edgy coordination (that’s unhealthy)—let it be relaxed and free (edge coordination exercises, when done in a relaxed, healthy way, build so much strength and stamina in the voice)!

Then, sing HEH-EHVN on that melody (and finish out the line), with an edgy onset on the “EH” as you jump up. 

Then, sing the lyric and feel how your voice finds more pitch accuracy and less strain on that top note! 

CHALLENGING LYRIC #3 (from “Hark the Herald”):
“Hail the heav’n born prince of peace, hail the son…” 

All. Those. H’s. They make us go breathy and lose stability! 

Here’s what to do… 

Replace the lyrics with a nasally pharyngeal NEH NEH NEH and sing each of those melodic phrases—first the exercise, then the lyrics back-to-back. 


NEH NEH NEH NEH NEH NEH NEH → Hail the heav’n born prince of peace
NEH NEH NEH NEH NEH NEH NEH → Hail the son of righteousness

As you sing the lyrics, focus on getting past the “H” and into the vowel sound as quickly as possible and in a similar resonant quality to the NEH. Feel how your voice navigates those H’s with way more clarity and freedom! 

CHALLENGING LYRIC #4 (from “Angels from the Realms of Glory”): “Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn king.” 

The melody that just. Keeps. Moving. Up. We push and strain because we think every note higher is harder (hint: it’s not… we just need to find the right resonant placement)

Here’s what to do… 

Replace the lyrics with any mix voice exercise that helps you find freedom in your mix! Sing each of those melodic phrases—first the exercise, then the lyrics back-to-back. If in doubt, use a nasally, crybaby NAY or WAH, or if you’re familiar with the low-larynx mix voice technique (that I teach in my “Master Your Voice” course), try a low larynx BUH (like the word “book”). 

WAH WAH WAH WAH → Come and worship
BUH BUH BUH BUH → Come and worship 

Feel how your voice finds those high notes way more easily… no more pushing up chest voice or going into a weak head voice! 

CHALLENGING LYRIC #5 (from “O Come All Ye Faithful”): “Oh come let us adore Him, Oh come let us adore Him, Oh come let us adore Him…” 

It’s so easy to get out of breath by the time you get to the word “Him”, and there’s not much space to take a breath in between the lines, so by the end of the chorus, you’re toast! 

Here’s what to do… 

Firstly, practice diaphragmatic breathing—put your hands on your stomach and inhale, focusing on filling up NOT just in your upper chest but lower down in your abdomen area (check out my “Breathing” lesson in the “Master Your Voice” course if this is new for you!). Your stomach should go OUT as you inhale, and IN as you exhale. Those are the kinds of breaths we need to take in between each line—we can’t get by with just shallow chest breaths!

Secondly, make sure you’re singing in a clear tone in this chorus, not a breathy tone. Any excess breathiness means the vocal cords are letting out too much air (like a leaky tire or balloon) and you won’t be able to last until the end of the phrase. Try singing the first line of the chorus in a pointed, clear-tone YEAH YEAH YEAH exercise (to tell your voice what you want it to do!), then put the lyrics back in and feel how your voice finds more clarity and power! 

CHALLENGING LYRIC #6 (from “Silent Night”): 
“Sleep in heavenly peace…” 

Going up to those high notes in a light, beautiful, peaceful tone can be VERY challenging—so often it sounds breathy, clunky and unstable (not very peaceful)!

Here’s what to do… 

Replace the lyrics with a clear, head voice GEE GEE GEE exercise—allowing the “G” consonant to help your voice find clarity and strength in your head resonance (the “G” gives us natural grip!), then sing the lyrics back-to-back with the exercise.

GEE GEE GEE GEE GEE → Sleep in heavenly
GEE GEE → peace

Feel how the exercise helps your voice find those higher notes with more stability and ease!

CHALLENGING LYRIC #7 (from “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”): “oh tidings of comfort and joy…” 

You know—the one that moves up and up and up at the end of the chorus… we push and strain and it goes off-pitch! 

Here’s what to do… 

Find the top note (where “of” sits) and sing a GUH exercise starting there and then moving down note by note (on GUH) until you get to the first note of the phrase. Then, do the same thing on ZUH. Then, sing the lyrics immediately after singing the descending GUH and ZUH scales—and when you get to the top note, sing ZUHV instead of “of”… “oh tiding ZUHV comfort and joy!” Feel how your voice finds stability and freedom on that top note!

What do you think? How did these tips work for you? Is there another line from a Christmas carol you’re having trouble with? Let me know in the comments! 

Now, none of these tips take the place of a good vocal warmup, and of just being smart and putting the song in a good key for your range… so please, please do those things. And if you want to see actual breakthrough and more consistency in your voice, there’s no substitute for training the voice diligently with vocal workouts designed to build good technique. As vocal coach Brett Manning says… “tricks are quick; training is sustaining!” But the reality is… sometimes we need a trick, and we need it fast! So hopefully these tips and techniques will help you nail these challenging phrases! Let me know how it goes! 


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    1. You even included video demos! Of course you did!!
      I’ve just started to think about December services and Christmas, so this will be helpful in the upcoming months in preparation for some of these songs!

    2. I’ve put it in my calendar to revisit this around Oct/Nov to put it into practice for our Christmas services. Have also shared it with our choir director! Love the reminder that nothing beats a healthy, warmed up and trained voice, plus the wisdom of picking appropriate song keys!

    3. I am definitely revisiting this again when its Christmas time. I was on the struggle bus when I had to lead Oh Holy Night. It’s easy to just use a trick to get through the season since we only do these song once a year so maybe I will try to work on a few of these before Christmas 😉

    4. Thank you for fitting intricate parts of carols to exercises! I am inspired by the different syllables you chose, related to the mix voice.

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