Episode 124 – How to Make Rapid Singing Improvement

The voice is an incredibly tricky instrument, and there are periods when our improvement can seem to stall or even go in the opposite direction.

In this episode, John discusses how to create a routine that can help propel your voice to the next levels.

Episode Transcript

Episode 124 – How to Make Rapid Singing Improvement

Hey there, this is John Henny welcome back to another episode of the intelligent vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me. Alright, it is October starting to feel kind of like fall, although that never really happens here in Los Angeles. It takes a little while. October can still be quite warm, but little hints of it here and there. Cooler evenings. It’s always a nice time of the year, getting into that period where there is much festivities and also demands on our time. And it’s a time of year where singing can often take a back seat. Very often our schedules get thrown in these holiday periods and while it is important to take a break and to spend time with family, you don’t want to let the habit of continuous vocal improvement get away from you. It doesn’t take too long until something’s not a habit anymore. 

And with that in mind, I wanted to talk about rapid vocal improvement or basically, rapid vocal improvement in your voice. Rapid is different for everybody and also depending on your goals etc. but just so that you are making really good progress and really making use of your precious time that clock is always ticking and it’s always ticking down. So don’t leave things until tomorrow. Get started today if you don’t have a vocal regimen of continuous improvement, I urge you, this is the day to get started. Just do it and you will start to improve by leaps and bounds. Now my best tips for rapid improvement, well the first one’s a rather obvious one, especially since I’m a voice teacher, but you really should be committed to weekly lessons and it’s not just the lesson itself, but it is a date a regular date on your calendar that you have to prepare for. 

And knowing that lesson is coming and knowing that you have assignments and you don’t want to be the student that spends the first five minutes of your lesson with all the excuses of why you didn’t practice. This is going to keep you on the straight and narrow. This is going to keep you focused. This is going to make you practice on those days where you don’t feel like it. It’s going to force you to set aside that time in your schedule to work on your voice. It’s almost like what do they call it those responsibility coaches where they just stay on top of you and you have to contact them and let them know that you’ve done these tasks. Your weekly lesson is going to serve the same function and even better if it’s a really good teacher you’re with because you will make faster improvement with a good teacher than you will on your own. 

That’s not to say you can’t learn to sing on your own. It’s not impossible, but it’s really hard to do and a great teacher is a fantastic shortcut. It’s going to get you to your singing goals that much faster and it’s going to eliminate the wasted time of trying things the wrong way and getting bad technique and bad habits into your voice that you do not want. The other thing is your daily practice session. Make that an appointment on the calendar. I keep a journal and I have specific things that I do every day and then I check those of  and one of the things I do, I’ve talked about it before, it’s called a pomodoro and it’s just a timing technique for productivity. You essentially take a timer you set it for 25 minutes and for those 25 minutes you do nothing but work. 

You do nothing but practice. You don’t check your phone. In fact, your phone should not be in the room. If it is, it should only be there for you to look up lyrics or to record yourself and hear it back. Otherwise the phone should be out of the room. At very least, all the notifications turned off and for these 25 minutes, you do nothing but work on your voice. Then you take a five-minute break and then you can do another 25 minutes. Although I will tell you, if you can just do 25 minutes of an uninterrupted focused practice, that’s a lot. That’s going to take you quite a ways. You can do that six days a week if you can. I’m sure you can find a half hour a day and you basically have  3 hours at the end of the week that you’ve truly focused on your voice. 

So just get that habit after you do it for a little while, after you’ve done it for a couple of weeks, that is going to be a habit and you’re going to actually be stressed if you miss a practice day. So you can get that consistency going and then in the practice session itself, just don’t start singing, have specific goals that you are going to be working on. What you can do is just spend the first few minutes warming up just some scale, some of those semi-aquatic vocal tract exercises, which is a fancy way for partially blocked, whether it’s singing through the straw or phonating through the straw, those lip bubbles bbbbb bbbbb. You can do ’em on a tongue trills rrrrr rrrrr, Z sounds, T H ththth they just provide some extra resistance for the vocal folds to help them warm up. Then you can have different objectives for that day. 

A key one is just registration. I’ve just going through the range of your voice and making sure that your registers are balancing out as you leave the lower register or chest voice and you go into that middle voice that there’s not a sudden change in vocal quality that you’re not straining or breaking and you’re able to blend that up into your upper register and back down again. Registration is something we need to work on constantly. The rest of our singing lives. It’s really a fine tuned balance that we always need to be on top of range is always a good one. And you always want to a few times a week, really push your range, not push in terms of strain, but just really touch those upper notes and just stretch out the voice, see how high it can go and then working on that balance through sustains. Sustains are wonderful ways of getting that cemented. 

So going into that middle voice. So in the male voice, if you’re just sitting on F sharps, the F sharp four, which is the F sharp above middle C sitting sustains on that F sharp, those G’s for female singers, the B flat above that, the B holding those sustains, getting your vibrato going, tuning vowels, practicing on vowel adjustments, all the different shades and colors of each particular vowel. Agility, just working speed, quicker passages, quicker scales, even working things like a vocal riffs. A great thing to do is a break down riffs of your favorite singers and their software where you can slow it down. Audacity will do that. It’s a free program. You can look that up and download it and you just slow those down and just work them note by note and then start speeding it up and getting them up to tempo and just start working on agility dynamics starting softer. 

Crescendoing to louder, back to soft again working on material and there’s different reasons to work material. Sometimes it’s because you have to sing it, whether it’s an audition or it’s a gig. Sometimes it’s because you want to sing it. It’s just fun and I encourage you to sing songs that are fun that maybe don’t necessarily work your voice and other times it’s a song that you’re not going to perform and maybe you don’t even necessarily enjoy the song to sit and listen to, but boy does it work your voice in a really precise way and those are great songs to do do as well, usually a ballads that are sitting in that vocal break area can be fantastic. Some of those contemporary musical theater ballads are really good for working the voice. The reason being is they like to climax in that vocal break area in that transition. 

Lots of nice long sustains, usually a bit longer than what we get in pop these days and it’s just a wonderful way to get that nailed in your voice. Don’t just work exercises. Exercises are isolated sounds that do a great job of getting you into the right place. But when you go to a song, you may find that there is a lag and the balance and coordination that you are finding in the exercises are not carrying over to the songs. And the reason being is now suddenly you have all types of vowel sounds and consonants and funny melodic skips as well as emotional energy that starts to come into the song and you start to get musical with it and that can definitely knock you out of what you found on the exercises. The exercises absolutely have their place and I wouldn’t just work material either. 

You need to work both, but don’t think just doing exercises is ultimately going to get you where you want to be. People want to hear you sing songs not mum, mum, mum. So material is very, very important and then end it with a cooldown and a cooldown can just be your warm up again. I kind of do my warmup in reverse. I usually start my warm up with a lip bubble and then maybe I’ll go to some hoody heady sounds like an Ooh or de, de, de, de just to get the voice going and then maybe some slightly more open sounds. I just take that in reverse going from maybe a no sound to a then a hoodie ooh or eeh and then two lip bubbles. And that’s you just don’t want those muscles after you’ve done a lot of singing to just sit there. You want to cool that down and stretch them because the idea is we don’t want them tightening up on us after we’ve done a lot of singing. 

Now that takes care of the practice room, but there are a couple of other elements that you need to introduce to really kick in this rapid improvement. And for some of you, this is stepping outside of a comfort zone. You need to perform and the first time you perform singing can be a little intimidating, a little scary. So you can find some low stress situations, maybe get together with a musician friend for some rehearsals, a guitarist, you know they would have fun accompanying you, maybe doing duets so that you’re actually working with other musicians. You can go to karaoke nights or open mic nights to step your way in. Karaoke can be a really good icebreaker because you’ll be around some. Sometimes, some very good singers and very often some rather poor singers who are just having a good time. But so the expectations are low and it gets you in front of an audience gets you on a mic and even if you don’t do spectacularly well, even if you fail spectacularly which I did when I first started performing singing, it’s there really are no repercussions for that. 

People are just, they’re having a good time. What’s going to happen is when you perform and the stress of performance, it’s going to be trial by fire of the skills that you have been accumulating. And it is really going to make your nervous system start to cement these in and it’s also going to make you sing under a certain amount of stress and elite singers sing under stress all the time and there will be a period where you will not be as good in performance as you are in rehearsal. That’s quite often a lot of the time. But as you get used to those stresses and as you see that your nervousness is basically the same energy as excitement and that you don’t find yourself in this cycle of trying to make the nervousness going away, go away which also makes you more nervous, but you can embrace what it is that you’re feeling and feel it as excitement and feel it as your nervous system getting ready to go out and communicate with other humans. 

And you can go out there and utilize that energy and it can give your voice a freedom and intensity and an emotional connection that you’re just never going to feel in the practice room. My best singing has never been in the practice room. It’s always been in performance, but I’m usually more consistent in the practice room. Performance can have its stresses and to do it at a high level, you need to be doing it a lot. But I want to encourage you to get out there and start doing it. The other thing is record yourself and not record yourself on your voice memo on your phone, but actually get a song. If you can have a friend lay down a track to accompany you even better, but even if you just use a karaoke track, record yourself. If you know how to use Garageband, do that even better. 

Go to somebody who has a studio and spend a little money and get in a studio and experience what it’s like to be under that microscope. It’s a very intense feeling to be standing in the vocal booth and everyone else is behind glass and they say, “okay go” and it’s just silence on your end and you’re just staring at this microphone that’s going to pick up everything you do. And when you get the music in your headphones and you send your performance, then to go back in and just take it note by note and start constructing a track that is good that you can be proud of and at first it can be a little painful because you won’t have that precision. You need to learn to be studio precise and that’s different from performance. Performance is about that emotional connection in the audience and being in the moment. In the studio you were still connecting but there’s a level of, I’m not gonna say perfection but certainly this dissecting of note by note. Because this one performance will live on, it will be listened to many times over. 

Your performance on the stage is just once, unless of course someone’s recorded it, but your intention is this is just for the moment, but in the studio, this is now a performance that’s going to have to stand the test of time and I’ve been in the studio and there’s been little things in my performance where I’ve thought like, Oh I don’t know if I’m happy with that and everyone else says no. It sounds fine and then that note’s always bugged me. So don’t be afraid to get in there and really be microscopic with it. It’s a great learning experience. It will really help you understand your voice and where you want to work. 

Even if it’s a little painful, I wouldn’t do more than one or two songs the first time. It’s going to be a little overwhelming. Just take that one song and really learn from the experience and it’s going to give you a whole lot that you’re going to work, want to work on. I can promise you that and finally, don’t get discouraged. You will get better. You’re going to have good days. You’re gonna have bad days. But the thing is being consistent. If you feel a little discouraged, just begin again. Even in the practice session. Sometimes I’ll just stop. I’ll take a deep breath and I’ll say, alright let’s begin again. 

And I’ll imagine this is the very first moment of my practice session to re energize it to let go of the maybe bad energy I started to build up because I was frustrated with something you just need to stay out it and stay focused and I’m telling you twenty five minutes a day you will really see the difference in. If you can build that up to two pomodoros or two of those 25 minute uninterrupted segments per day, six days a week, look out you’re, you’re going to improve immensely. 

And then you combine that with performance and recording and getting out of your comfort zone. It’s, you’ll be surprised six months from now, 12 months from now, and then if you can start singing with real musicians and good musicians, oh my world, you’re, you’re going to really advance as a musician yourself and learning to hear outside of yourself and listening to what the other musicians are doing and you’re all reacting to each other and creating this unified event together. It’s absolutely beautiful. It really is you. You can’t replace great musicians. 

Hey, if you want to know more about me and what I do, go to Johnhenny.com if you’re interested in any of my courses, you can just click on the menu at the top where it says courses. I have a free straw warm up course that you can get. Just click on the courses, you’ll see it there, and that will give you the ins and outs of why warming up, phonating through a straw works, and some of my favorite warm ups and exercises. It really is the rage and until next time, to better singing. Thank you so much. Bye bye.