Everyone sounds good when singing in the shower! It is beyond those walls that things change, maybe because of the acoustics or maybe because singing without the support of the vocalist on the track sounds different. Whereas some people are naturally born with amazing singing talent, it takes work, training, and exercise to learn how to be a singer. Making your voice sound better is something you can learn and take charge of. In this article, I will guide you through how to sing better, how to improve your singing voice, and direct you towards the path to mastering your voice.
How To Sing: The Basics
It is important to understand and correctly implement the basics of singing before exploring different styles and vocal techniques. This is to allow you to maximize your voice’s potential, and bring out the absolute best in it.
Understanding How Your Body Works
This section may sound like it fits more in a Biology class, but it does play a big part in improving your singing skills. Think of singing as training to be an athlete. It requires training and proper coordination of the muscles that you use. Singing requires a mastery of your vocal cords, which are made up of muscles. Just like coordination of all muscle movements, singing starts with the brain. Many singers struggle hitting higher and lower notes within their vocal range and want to know how to sing higher. The reason a lot of people struggle to sing high notes is because they have convinced themselves that they cannot, thus hindering themselves from actualizing their full potential.
A wise man once told me we have two ears and one mouth to listen more and talk less. I find it generally good advice, and even more so in singing: listen more, sing less. Listening is an intricate part of the process. Developing a musical ear is a necessity if you want to learn how to improve your voice. This may come naturally to a select few, but for the majority, it is a skill learned and developed over time. Therefore, by this theory, singing starts with the brain, followed by the ears, and then the mouth. A singer needs to properly coordinate these three elements to sing with clarity and precision.
Singing Notes On Key & In Pitch
Improving your singing requires understanding the basics of music theory. You likely have come across the musical ladder (do re mi fa so la ti do) whilst interacting with music somewhere. Each step in the musical ladder is called a note. Notes are the building blocks of singing. A scale is a combination of notes that sound good when played in sequence and can also be expressed by the first seven letters of the alphabet (A B C D E F G). Songs are normally written following a certain scale which is referred to as the “key of the song”. The terms “on-key” and “off-key” refer to whether you are in sync with the scale of the song or not, respectively.
In between specific notes on every scale, there are other notes that are indicated as half steps. A half step is a type of interval. For example, between C and D, there is C# (read as C-sharp), which is just above C and just below D, meaning that it is a half step from C to C#.
If you were singing in the key of C and sang a C#, it would be off-key because C# is not a note in the C scale. Understanding this basic theory is essential in learning about singing. Developing your musical listening ability is particularly important to properly implement this. This will help you sing on-key and on-pitch when backed up by an instrumental or a live band.
If you have hung around singers, you have probably heard the term ‘singing from your stomach’ being thrown around. This basically refers to singing from the diaphragm. To acquire better control of your voice while singing, your voice should come from the diaphragm as opposed to stemming from the throat. A good exercise to understand where your diaphragm is. Take a deep breath in without moving your chest or shoulders, and you should feel the air go somewhere around your stomach area. Singing from the diaphragm gives your voice more power and oomph. It also allows your throat to remain free to focus on transitioning between different notes.
Have you ever run out of breath before finishing a certain line or phrase within a song? It is probably because you are not implementing proper breathing technique while singing. Every song has points that are best for you to inhale (mostly during breaks in the song) and take in enough air to last you to the next breathing point. If you find you run out of breath a lot while singing, you should consider regularly doing breathing exercises. One is to breath in and hold for 4 counts, and then release slowly, then repeat while gradually increasing the count. A good tip is to breathe in through the nose while singing. This might help do away with the gasping sound that one sometimes makes when breathing in during a song.
This refers to the way you articulate or pronounce words or phrases while singing. Not only is it crucial for the words of the song to be heard clearly, proper pronunciation improves the clarity of your singing voice. A good exercise to improve diction is to practice the shapes your lips form when pronouncing each of the vowels ‘a e i o u’. When saying ‘a’, your lips take a vertical oval (leaning towards rectangular) shape, whereas while saying ‘e’, they take a horizontal oval shape. Every time the vowel comes up in a song, your mouth should form the appropriate shape.
The position of your tongue while singing is also key in implementing proper diction. When pronouncing consonants, the position of your tongue after saying ‘b’ is heading outwards and slightly downwards, as opposed to tilting inwards while saying ‘f’. Practising these should help you improve your diction while singing. It is also good practice to open your mouth wide while singing to give your voice a rounded audible sound that is not muffled.
Your posture while singing greatly influences how your voice sounds. It is therefore particularly important to maintain proper posture when singing. You should ensure that the upper part of your body is upright, and your head is facing straight forward. Make sure that your chin does not tilt upwards or downwards. The whole point is to ensure that your vocal pathway is uninterrupted. If standing, ensure you stand straight with feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent. If sitting, ensure you sit upright with head up and neck straight.
Tempo & Rhythm
This refers to the speed at which a song is playing. Maintaining the tempo of a song is vital for any singer. Whether you are singing backed by an instrumental or a live band, your tempo needs to match that of the backing track or band. For more information on timing, check out our article on time signatures, or our article on rhythm.
How To Sing Better
Once you have mastered the basics, there are different things you can focus on to improve your singing technique and master your voice. It is important to note that these would be best implemented after understanding and appreciating the basics.
Explore the higher and lower limits of your voice while using the basics above to avoid damaging your voice. A useful tip on how to sing high notes is to draw more power from the diaphragm. This will help reduce the strain on the throat and produce better clarity in the intonation of your voice. To properly explore your vocal range, it might be helpful to understand the different types of voices and where yours fits in. Basically, the different types of voices are soprano, mezzo-soprano, and alto for female and tenor, baritone, and bass for male. Soprano is the highest singing voice for women, and alto is the lowest. For men, tenor is the highest and bass is the lowest.
While exploring your vocal range, you can also work on the different vocal registers in your voice. The three main vocal registers are the chest voice, head voice, and mixed voice (which is a mix of chest and head voices). To differentiate the three, when singing in your chest voice which is on the lower notes, you will feel your voice vibrate in the chest cavity. As you rise towards higher notes, the vibration will rise higher towards your head. Once you feel it in your head cavity, that is your head voice. Making use of the different vocal registers in your singing will improve your vocal technique.
I like to think of dynamics in singing as adding emotion into the singing using vocal technique. It involves playing with the volume, tone, and impact of the voice to bring out the essence of a song or musical piece. Knowing the right intonation to use at a point in the song could help drive the message home. To express a calm and relaxed part in a song, a soft and gentle intonation may work better than a loud and powerful one, whereas to bring out excitement, the opposite may be true. It takes some experience to grow into bringing out the right dynamics while singing.
Voice Effects & Singing Techniques
Voice effects are a good way to add flavour to your singing. Learning and using techniques such as staccato and legato could give more colour to your performances. Staccato refers to disconnecting the notes in your singing abruptly, whereas legato refers to joining the notes smoothly. These singing techniques can be used to complement the dynamics in your singing to bring a richer quality of performance.
Voice effects such as vibrato usually develop over a longer time of continued singing. Vibrato is the slight shaking of the voice when a note is prolonged. It normally occurs naturally after you have become comfortable in your voice, though it can be rehearsed and improved on. Incorporating such effects and techniques into your singing will give it more life.
Harmonies to singing are like the sugar to your tea; that extra sweetness that makes us enjoy music just a little bit more. A harmony can be defined as notes that are sung alongside the melody that are different from it and complement it. To properly understand harmonies, you need to know which notes complement each other in the specific scales. Key and pitch correctness are particularly essential in singing harmonies well. Knowing where to add harmonies in a song and where not to is part of what makes a good singer.
Understand Your Voice Type
To further refine the quality of your voice, it is important to know what type of voice you have. Explore your voice and find out what you can and cannot do and where your voice is at its best. A good place to start is to find out who you sound like. If you know of a famous singer with a voice like yours, you can use their songs to rehearse and improve your singing. Remember to mimic and learn from their good qualities but still retain and build on the originality of your voice.
How To Get Better At Singing
Now that you know what to do to sing better, here are a few activities that will help improve your vocals over time!
Vocal Exercises & Warmups
As I mentioned earlier, the vocal cords are muscles that need to be exercised regularly for you to master the craft of singing. Vocal exercises such as going up and down the musical ladder on different scales can help keep your voice in shape. Doing vocal warmups any time before you sing is a good general rule of thumb. The aim is to stretch the muscles you use while singing so they are loose and ready. Ten to fifteen minutes a day is good enough time to do your vocal exercises.
Do not be shy to seek help from professional trainers or vocal coaches to improve your singing. Before getting used to it, developing a musical ear can be a bit tricky, especially differentiating pitch. A vocal coach would come in handy to guide you until your musical hearing improves. Singing lessons would also help you make sure you are doing your vocal exercises correctly and have a guide to understanding your voice better.
Learning An Instrument
Picking up an instrument to learn like guitar or piano is a great way to help you learn to learn to sing better. Since they use the basic music theory, learning them will complement your knowledge in singing. Besides, figuring out key and pitch without the help of an instrument while learning the art of singing could be a lot of hassle. Also, this gives you the ability to accompany yourself and even get involved in songwriting!
How To Be A Good Singer: Closing Thoughts
Singing is a fun pastime and hobby. However, learning how to become a singer can be boring and slightly tedious, especially because it involves doing the same things repeatedly. If you are persistent though, it is worth it. The only thing that beats loving the sound of your voice is your fans/listeners loving it too. Following the above pointers is the start towards realising your full potential as a singer.
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