Vocal Range Exceeded

Gags where someone comically tries and fails to sing a note too high or too low for him or her.

Note that straining one's voice too much will result in a sore throat. Doing it to extremes could even necessitate surgery.

Compare Hollywood Tone-Deaf.



Film — Animated

Live-Action TV
  • Very common in talent contest shows like Idol or X Factor. Often happens because the person has never even rehearsed the song they are auditioning with, that is, if they've even sung it before at all. Extremely funny with men who try to sing like female singers, being completely unable to realise the difference in ranges.
  • Frasier has two examples:
    • "Look Before You Leap" sees Frasier determined to sing a live-televised solo rendition of an aria from Rigoletto, but can't hit the high note (his accompanist says the only way he will hit the note is if he is jabbed with a pin at the right moment). He finally gives up just before the show starts, switching back to his staple of "Buttons & Bows"... for which he's forgotten the words, having been concentrating so hard on the other number.
    • In a Christmas episode, Martin is rehearsing "O Holy Night", but is having difficulty hitting the high note, and every time he tries Eddie buries his head.
  • In an episode of Are You Being Served?, Mr. Humphries and Mr. Lucas are trying to sing a very high version of Happy Birthday to You. They are not successful, and Mr. Humphries complain that his braces (suspenders) have broken because of it.
  • An episode of Wings had Roy singing the Star Spangled Banner and being worried about failing to hit the high note on "wave."
  • Regularly used on Svengoolie when his musical director Doug Graves arranges songs for Sven to sing, just a bit higher than Sven can sing.
  • Miss Piggy gets into a vocal range duel on Ride of the Valkyries with a real opera singer (Beverly Sills) at 1:55 in this video. She can't quite hit the high note.

  • Parodied in "The Dooright Family" by Ray Stevens, a song about a fictional gospel singing family. At the end, the bass vocalist is asked to go down an octave, which causes a huge, loud, booming note that makes him explode on stage.
  • While producing The Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg", Norman Whitfield deliberately arranged David Ruffin's lead vocal just above his actual range, requiring numerous takes to get all the high notes right and adding to the mood.
  • Parodied by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in his composition A Musical Joke not with vocals, but the violin. At the end of the violin solo near the end of the 3rd movement, the soloist plays ascending scales, slowing down and playing a whole-tone scale at the higher registers. This was to imitate a clumsy violinist floundering with high notes. The solo can be heard here. The ascending scale happens at 15:30.
  • David Gilmour admitted he had trouble reaching a high note in Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine", so they resorted to recording that note a semitone lower and then playing it back at the right pitch. Roger Waters, on the other hand, famously exceeds his range on "The Post-War Dream" off The Final Cut. No correction involved.
  • Non-comedy example: Neil Young's "Mellow My Mind", where he's simply too tired, too drunk and too sad to reach the highest notes. The effect is rather heartbreaking.
  • A part of "Alto's Lament". "Although I've got a great high C... (cue this trope)"
  • Dave Mustaine's risible attempt at singing Led Zeppelin's "Out On The Tiles" is a good example of this. It was a Japanese bonus track on United Abominations.
  • Non-Comedic Example: On the Metallica album "Reload", James' voice was clearly sped up in parts of some songs (most noticeably "Attitude"), because he couldn't hit some of the high notes with his normal voice.
  • This is one of the most prevalent turn-offs for potential listeners of Neutral Milk Hotel.
  • It's common to hear Bono strain to hit notes in U2's songs: listen to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" again. It seems to work in their songs, however.
    • This seems to have gotten worse as Bono has aged. "When I Look at the World" on All That You Can't Leave Behind is one example. Though this doesn't stop him from belting out the old hits and fan favorites in concert.
  • Sara Evans obviously strains her voice a lot on "Fool, I'm a Woman" (e.g. "Did I say that I'd never leave you behind / Well, just keep treating me unkind"). This is particularly strange, as many of her songs before and after it have her hitting higher notes with no trouble.
  • Blue County's vocalists also show a lot of strain on the chorus to "Firecrackers and Ferris Wheels", thus causing them to sound like they have sore throats.
  • Rascal Flatts on the last chorus of "Summer Nights". Even though Gary LeVox's voice is extremely high, the Truck Driver's Gear Change still has him straining noticeably at the end.
  • The 1987 Live Album Live In Australia With The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra by Elton John was recorded in late 1986 at the end of a grueling world tour for the artist, at a time when he was straining his voice from overuse, drug abuse and bulimia. He very clearly was having vocal problems, including difficulty reaching his falsetto range, and the recording shows it. By the end of the year, non-cancerous, career-threatening nodules would be found on his vocal cords, requiring him to have surgery. The surgery was successful, but after a year of rest (his rendition of "Candle In The Wind" from the album would be a surprise hit), he would emerge in 1988 as a baritone.
  • Stan Freberg's parody of the Les Paul/Mary Ford cover of "The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise" has the Self-Backing Vocalist complain when the multi-tracked close harmony rises high into the falsetto range and keeps on rising.
  • Not-intentionally-comedic examples can occur whenever people try to sing the American national anthem. The Star-Spangled Banner spans one-and-a-half octaves. Your typical citizen, untrained in singing, can manage one-and-a-quarter.
  • Ozzy clearly can't hit the low notes on the final track of Black Sabbath's debut album: "Just a little bit too strong"
  • JAM Project had problems hitting two high notes in the song GONG, the theme to Super Robot Wars Alpha 3. While they got it for the soundtrack, they won't do it when they sing it in concert.
  • Garth Brooks has the vocal range of over two octaves necessary to sing Friends in Low Places correctly. Many who try to cover the song... don't.
  • "Open Sesame Seeds" from P.D.Q. Bach's oratorio The Seasonings gives the bass a ridiculous melisma that descends lower than he can actually sing.
  • In Richard Harris's original version of "MacArthur Park", the last notes are sung by a female backup singer, due to being beyond his range.

Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy
  • Anna Russell's coloratura aria parodies "Canto dolciamente Pipo" and "O gentle bird with feathered breast" end with cadenzas that are obviously going to end on notes high above the staff, except that, after a few seconds of breathing (and, in the case of "Pipo", with an audible mutter of "Oh, the heck with it"), she instead sings her final note two or three octaves lower.
  • Danny Bhoy discusses these in one of his comedy routines, saying that when they started off singing the hymns in church they'd all start off singing too high and run into trouble when they were required to sing higher, and then compensating by singing too low and running into the opposite problem in reverse.

  • At the end of "Do, Re, Mi" from The Sound of Music, Maria sings a scale starting "do, ti, la" from middle C, and can't quite make the final "do". (This gag was not used in the movie version, where Julie Andrews concludes the number more conventionally on a high note.)
  • Spamalot does it in "The Song that Goes Like This".
    Galahad: (squeakily) Now we're into E!
    (clears throat) That's awfully high for me
    Lady of the Lake: As everyone can see
    We should have stayed in D...
  • Gilbert and Sullivan's penultimate collaboration, Utopia Limited, features the character of Captain Fitzbattleaxe, a comic exaggeration of operatic tenors who opens the second act with the song "A tenor, all singers above". In the introduction to the song, he sings, "Ah, do not laugh at my attempted C!" where the C in question is an octave above middle C and either at the very top of or beyond the range of most tenors. Depending on the production (and the talents of the singer cast in the role), he may (deliberately or otherwise) fail miserably at hitting the high C or render it in a falsetto voice for comic effect.

Video Games
  • This is entirely possible when playing vocals in Rock Band, to the amusement of anyone else in the room.

Web Original
  • Oancitizen does this in his musical review of The Man Who Fell to Earth: "A man, a man from MA- God damn that's high!"
  • Todd in the Shadows notes that this tends to embarrass to anyone who tries to sing Ah-Ha's "Take On Me" on Karaoke night, since few can match Morten Harket's high notes.

Western Animation
  • In "Long-Haired Hare", Bugs Bunny directs pompous opera singer Giovanni Jones to sing a note far below his vocal range.
  • An early South Park episode, "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride" has a bomb that is supposed to go off at a football game at half-time when the singer sings the high-F in "Lovin' You". Unfortunately, the singer is Richard Stamos (John Stamos' brother), who falls into this trope. Later, however, he is able to hit it with predictable consequences.

  • Common advice to people learning Arabic in pronouncing the letter `Ayn is to "sing the lowest note you can, then one lower." This leads to all kinds of amusing sounds until the student finally gets it right.
  • Pretty much any time "Take On Me" comes up for karaoke, you can be sure this trope will hit in the chorus.