Whether you are a beginner singer or an established professional vocalist, this topic will come up throughout one's vocal journey: "How to get better at singing."
Putting all of the pieces together, such as vocal technique, voice science knowledge, vocal health, and relaxation, is what can help to make great singing voices and successful singers.
Here are some suggested areas of study that can be helpful to any level of singer to improve their singing technique.
The Nuts and Bolts of Singing and Vocal Health
Ultimately, as a singer, you want to be able to sing with ease in a healthy singing voice and have a long singing career, whether that is as a professional singer or for amateur singers alike.
We all want to develop and enjoy our voices our whole lives, so understanding how the voice and body work is a great benefit to any vocalist, not only for better singing but also for long-term vocal health.
Understanding the basic science behind singing can also help you as a singer understand the sensations you may be feeling while singing, and to then know when you need to take action to correct problems or continue with techniques that are helping your voice develop.
Vocal pathway of singing: A simplified way to look at this pathway is "Air, Cords, and Vowel." But let me explain.
When we talk about the “air” part of the vocal pathway, we are talking about the airflow that moves from the lungs, through the vocal cords, and out the mouth and nose. This air pressure needs to be steady, consistent, and balanced for optimal singing.
When referring to "vowel," this is referring to the resonators, mostly in the throat and mouth, where the sound waves bounce around and are amplified. We can use different techniques to make adjustments, like using wider or narrower vowels that change the size and shape of our resonators, and changing tongue placement to amplify or change the sound.
Sound is created in the larynx, also known as the "voice box." The larynx is made up of cartilage, muscle tissue, and ligaments, and it is where the vocal cords/vocal folds live. When air passes through the vocal cords, the cords open and close rapidly, creating vibrations and sound waves that are transmitted through the mouth cavity and out to the listener's ears.
Resonance: Resonance is the ability of the vocal tract to amplify sounds. Your resonance is affected by many things, including the size and shape of your mouth, tongue, throat, jaw, and lips. This individuality with the way each of us is built gives us our own unique voice. But you can increase your resonance and change your tone by changing your mouth shape (vowels), using more breath support, changing tongue placement, and engaging the vocal cords more or less.
Hydration: The body needs water to function properly. The same goes for the voice. If you don't drink enough water, it can cause dryness, leading to cracking, sore throats, hoarseness, and other issues. Therefore, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water during the day is important, especially before and after singing. Always moderate dehydrating beverages such as coffee and alcohol.
Sleep: Sleep plays an important role in maintaining vocal health. During sleep, the laryngeal muscles relax, allowing them to rest and recover. If you do not get enough sleep, your laryngeal muscles will be tired and less effective at producing clear, strong, and resonant tones. Sleep is a whole science in itself but it is where our whole body and our brain rest and rejuvenate.
Stress: Stress has been shown to affect your voice negatively. Some people experience stress-related symptoms such as headaches, neck pain, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, anxiety, tension, etc. All these factors can contribute to poor-quality singing. Even mild tension can change your voice. To reduce stress, try to stick to a healthy routine with relaxation exercises, meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and eating healthy foods.
Muscle Tension: Muscle tension can occur in different parts of the body, including the head, neck, shoulders, back, arms, hands, legs, feet, abdomen, and even the face. Tension in one part of your body can lead to tension in other areas in your body like your larynx, and muscular tension can make your voice feel tense, and weak and cause limited vocal range and possible vocal strain. Understanding how vocal cords work for singing is very helpful.
Your Practice Routine and Mindset
Your daily singing practice routine will vary depending on your goals and desires. If you are just starting out, then it is best to start small and gradually increase your volume and intensity of practice.
It is recommended that you practice singing for at least 30 minutes per day. However, if you are an experienced singer, you may only need 10-15 minutes per day. Regardless of your experience level, it is always best to set aside some dedicated time each day for regular practice, even if it is just to go through warm-ups and stretch the vocal cords.
As a beginner, I recommend starting with 5-10 minutes of vocal warm-up exercises followed by 15-30 minutes of focused daily practice. You should try to keep your practice sessions short and sweet, and consistent.
As you become more advanced, you can extend your practice session to 20-40 minutes. When you are ready to expand beyond these times, you can add additional techniques or songs.
You should make sure that you have enough rest between practices. Rest allows your voice to recover from the stresses of singing. Just like our bodies when developing a workout routine, it takes time to build strength and time to let the tissues and muscles strengthen and develop.
Therefore, it is essential to take care of your voice. Make sure that you don’t overuse your voice. If you ever feel strain or pain, stop! This is where a good voice teacher can help you as they can guide you through vocal exercises, and they will know when to encourage you further and when to ease off.
You should also make sure that you are getting enough sleep every night. Sleep deprivation has been shown to impact performance and concentration negatively.
A positive mindset is another factor that influences how well you perform and a positive attitude helps us achieve our goals. For example, if we believe that we can learn to play guitar, we will find ways to overcome any obstacles that come along the way. We will not give up because we think we cannot learn to play guitar. Instead, we will stay motivated and continue to practice. The same goes for learning to sing. If you believe that you can learn to sing better, you will find ways and vocal training to overcome the challenges. You will not get discouraged because you think that you are not talented enough to sing. Instead, you will stay committed to the journey and continue to practice.
Comparing yourself to others is a common mistake that many singers make. In fact, comparing yourself to other people is one of the biggest reasons why people fail to reach their full potential. There are no perfect singers. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. There is nothing wrong with being inspired by a talented singer. But, if you compare yourself to them, you will never be happy with your own performance. So, instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on improving your skills and talents.
Your voice is unique and no two voices sound exactly alike. Therefore, it is difficult to compare your voice to anyone else's anyway. However, this does not mean that you cannot improve your voice. By practicing and developing your ear, you will be able to hear the differences in your voice. Once you identify the areas that need improvement, you can start working on those specific areas.
Don't be afraid to explore different styles and genres of music to help you find your own vocal style. Be yourself, and let your personality shine!
Performance and Communication
The human voice is the most complex instrument in existence and is capable of expressing many different sounds and emotions. In fact, it can express more than any other musical instrument.
Not only is the human voice a beautiful instrument, but it has also been used for thousands of years as a means of emotional connection, communication, entertainment, and healing. It is also a powerful tool that can be used to help others understand their feelings and communicate with each other.
When it is time to perform, think of this as a time to relax and trust that your practice routine and technique development have prepared you to perform at your best at this moment.
If you want to become a better performer and really enjoy the process, then you must first master the art of relaxation. Relaxation is probably the most overlooked aspect of becoming a great performer. When you are relaxed, you are ready to utilize all of your abilities fully, and your voice becomes stronger and clearer. Many performers have rituals, warm-ups, and practices that they do before every performance. This can be a way to get into the "zone" and create relaxation.
In addition, when you are relaxed, you feel good about yourself, and you enjoy performing. This feeling of enjoyment translates into a higher level of confidence and self-esteem. As a result, you will be able to perform at your highest level. It is not always that simple to just "relax," as nerves are a common issue with many performers, but it is something to consciously work toward.
Doing your best to be prepared with knowing your song material, approaching the performance with a healthy body, mind, and spirit, and being hydrated and well-rested will set you up for success and allow you to completely be in the moment of your performance.
Private Singing Lessons
When is it time to seek out a singing teacher?
There are several important things to consider before deciding whether or not to take private lessons. First, you should know what you want to achieve from taking singing lessons. Do you want to learn how to sing in front of an audience? Are you looking to develop your skills so that you can audition for a professional role, or do you have a vocal performance that you would like to prepare for? Or maybe you simply want to improve your ability to sing in the shower. Whatever your goal may be, there are ways to accomplish them through private lessons, and being clear with your goals will help you find the perfect voice coach.
Working with a qualified voice teacher will also likely speed up your development as your coach will be able to correct bad habits and, in real-time, teach proper vocal techniques.
Beginner singers especially may not be able to decipher when they are matching the correct notes or doing a vocal exercise correctly. A voice coach will be able to guide the student with a daily practice routine, proper breath management, ear training, how to sing with power without strain, mixed voice, and so much more. Not only will the student be learning proper technique, but the voice coach can support the singer in growing their own musical style and help reach the student's singing dreams.
In this day and age, there are fantastic online options that allow you to work with a qualified voice coach who may not live in your immediate area. Online video lessons and instructional videos open up a whole new world for singers to access incredible learning options and professional training.
If you would like to develop your singing techniques, my new book "Beginning Singing" comes with bonus videos with effective exercises to get you started. And if you are interested in online voice lessons, I have incredible associate contemporary teachers to support you in your vocal journey. For questions, please reach out to: [email protected]