For the beginner singer, it is essential to understand WHY we want to develop proper singing techniques. Depending on the student and where they might be in their vocal journey, generally, these are some great "Top Five" go-to vocal techniques that will help singers understand and develop balanced, coordinated singing.
1) Sing and Set Good Intentions
So to start, I say SING! There is no better time than now to explore your voice and learn new vocal techniques. No matter what your preferred style of music is, whether that is pop music, classical music, rock music, musical theatre, or if you are interested in a variety of singing styles, establishing your basic techniques and putting them into practice will allow you to stretch your range and capabilities.
Learning the aspects of singing is just the beginning and solidifying these techniques comes from spending time with your voice and singing.
Set time aside each day to practice, listen carefully to your voice, record your practice sessions and be open to trying new vocal sounds.
Learning how to practice effectively and with positivity is a skill in itself.
Always listen to what your body is telling you; for instance, if you feel strain in your voice or if it feels tired, rest or re-evaluate your previous exercises. If you feel pain, stop and seek out advice from a specialist if it does not resolve within a short amount of time.
Incorporating good vocal health practices along with the proper technique is a must for every singer as well. Drink plenty of water, try to get good sleep, eat healthily (not too late at night), and manage everyday stress with things like meditation and exercise.
2) Matching Pitch
Matching pitch is arguably one of the most important skills and an essential technique to learn for good singing.
Some people come by the ability to match pitch more easily, but everyone can learn this skill. I have come across people who have claimed they are "tone-deaf," but true tone-deafness is extremely rare. So if you have worried about this, fret not, as you are completely capable of singing in pitch if you are willing to put some time into it.
Start by playing random notes on a piano, guitar, or phone app that generates tones, and try matching these pitches with your voice. Be sure to start with notes in your lower register or a comfortable range that is easy to sing. If you are having trouble matching pitch with higher notes, that could be because of other vocal technique issues that are causing problems, so start matching pitch with your easier notes first.
The trick is to mentally hear the note in your mind before you sing the note. Simply play the note, try to "hear" it first, then sing it on an "Ah" sound. Then, move randomly to other notes, continuing this process. I recommend spending two minutes in the morning and two minutes in the evening practicing this skill.
Another great beginner exercise to match pitch and recognize notes is the Sol-fa scale. Again, this is not just a singing exercise for kids, but beginner adults can also gain a good foundation of ear training.
With all the available apps for smartphones these days, it is easy to find tone or piano note generators at your fingertips to play the notes and then sing back the note matching the pitch.
I also recommend recording yourself as you sing back the notes to see where you match the notes and where you may be sharp (slightly above the pitch) or flat (slightly below the pitch.)
Ear training is like any training - it takes time. So spend a little bit of time each day matching notes, and in no time, you will feel confident about being able to sing on pitch.
3) Breathing for Singing
Think of breathing techniques as the "support" to your singing. Being able to control this flow of air will be one of the pieces of the puzzle to balanced singing.
We need to send air "in coordination" to the vocal cords, and we need to do this with a smooth, efficient flow.
- Too much air pressure and not enough cord closure = breathy singing.
- Too much cord closure with not enough breath pressure moving through vocal folds = pressed phonation (sounding forced.)
- Balanced air flow combined with balanced cord closure = a balanced sound and easy singing.
Try this exercise to establish a proper posture for singing: Stand up straight; imagine being held by a string from your chest plate like a marionette and with relaxed shoulders and ribs expanded; take a breath in, and feel your belly come out. Then make a hissing or "sss" sound and keep the "sss" sound steady (not too pressed or not too fast with the release of air). Practice this by holding the steady "sss" for more extended periods of time. Remember, the goal is to keep the flow steady. Correct posture will help the breathing mechanism supply air to the cords efficiently.
Along with breath control, we need to take air into our lungs in an efficient way. Think of keeping a relaxed throat and mouth when taking a breath in.
Lip trill exercises are not only great for warming up the voice, but they are excellent for practicing steady breath pressure.
Vocal resonance happens when the sound wave created at the vocal folds is amplified due to how it vibrates through and reacts to the resonance chambers (or resonating cavities) in your vocal tract, mainly the throat and mouth.
Think of a guitar. When you strum the strings, they vibrate, and that vibration is sent through the body (resonance chamber) of the guitar, where the sound gets amplified and takes on a particular tone, depending on the size and materials of the guitar.
The same thing happens with our voices being amplified through our own resonators, and what is so amazing about the human voice is we can adjust our resonators to shape the vocal tone.
For example, changing the size and shape of the tongue, lips, jaw, or larynx will change the size and shape of the resonant cavities in the vocal tract, which then affects how the sound waves bounce around. The result of these adjustments is a change in the resulting resonant sound. Combined with breath support, your resonators can be adjusted to amplify loudness and change tone color in your singing voice.
Try making an "Ah" sound at a moderate volume, first with your mouth barely open. Then keep the same sound and open your mouth as wide as possible. What happens to the sound? Not only might you notice a change in amplification, but maybe you noticed a change in the actual sound you made. For example, did the tone production sound brighter the wider you opened your mouth?
Practice making different sounds like humming sounds first and then sing notes through your range, changing the vowel sounds. For example, start on an "oo," then go to an "ee," then an "ah" sound. How does the sound change depending on the vowel tone you sing?
Your resonance chambers amplify the sound coming from your vocal folds, and that resonated sound goes out your mouth to the listener's ear. So not only is that energy and sound coming out, but when you have a well-balanced and boosted resonant tone, this energy also creates back pressure that goes back to the vocal folds. What this backpressure does, is help to control the air at the vocal folds with less muscle and effort - ultimately helping you to sing with more ease and to hit higher notes effortlessly.
Sustain is the ability to "hold" or maintain a note or tone for an extended period of time.
To sustain a note for a longer period of time, you will need air efficiency. It is important to try to keep the onset of the sound/note and the offset of the sound as even as possible when practicing sustains. This is more important than how long you hold the note in the beginning.
If you are unsure what to sing, pick any note in an easy range and focus on keeping the sound even from start to finish, then start to try holding the note longer and longer. When that is comfortable, move on to another note moving up in your vocal range, and as you get more comfortable with each note, practice holding it for a longer time. Again, coordinating your breath support is very important for sustains. This is a good example of how other techniques build on each other and how one technique might not work well without the other.
Practicing sustain exercises helps you develop muscle memory, which allows you to develop vocal control to sustain a note for a longer period without losing the pitch as you move through your vocal registers. Vocal registration refers to different parts of the voice based on how high or low you are singing.
No matter what your voice type is or the style of singing you like to sing, working on these fundamental techniques will help you develop your vocal instrument and expand your natural range. Also, working with a vocal coach can help you in many ways, as quite often, as a beginner singer, even simple techniques might not make sense if you have not developed an ear to hear the difference when practicing vocal exercises correctly. This is where a voice teacher can really help you speed up your development and help you with a deeper understanding of more difficult techniques.
If you would like to learn more about vocal techniques for the beginner singer, my latest book, "Beginning Singing" is available in digital, audio, and paperback versions, and it also comes with free bonus video lessons. If you are interested in online vocal lessons, please reach out to our front desk at [email protected].