I hear it on The Voice, American Idol, and X-Factor. I hear it from parents of show choir children and aspiring singers themselves. What I hear is that singing is something you’re either born with our without, and to that I say, that’s @*&!! Though not everyone can be a great singer, everyone can become a better singer provided that they have the right tools for the task willing to put in the work.
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Let me give you a little example: How many of you have watched the movie rendition of the Phantom of the Opera with Gerard Butler and Emilie Rossum? Did you know that Butler actually recorded all of his own vocal parts for the role? Pretty impressive for a sword wielding Spartan king, right? What’s even more impressive is that Butler auditioned for the role in front of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber himself after just four formal singing lessons!
So what exactly does it take to become a great singer? Well, first of all it takes practice – lots and lots of it. But like a very wise musician once said, it’s not practice that makes perfect…it’s perfect practice. So the next important part of becoming a great singer is knowing what and how to practice. You see, your voice is an instrument, and like any other instrument you need to learn how to use it before you can start making music with it.
So in today’s article, we’ll be covering six techniques that will help you become a better singer and get you started on your journey to vocal mastery.
Before you get started!
Before you start trying out these techniques, take some time to get your voice warmed up. Your voice is a muscle, and like any other muscle in your body, it needs to be warmed up before you can start strengthening and flexing it. Trying to sing with a voice that isn’t warmed up is like trying to run a 100m dash just after waking up. And if you’re a bit lost on where to start with warming up your voice, you can visit our website for a free online course on how to warm up your voice before singing.
To understand the importance of controlled breathing in the context of singing, it is first important to understand the mechanics of speech. You see, our voice is a wind instrument. Exhaled air passes over our vocal chords, causing them to vibrate, and the sound generated from this vibration is then amplified in the resonance cavities in our mouth, throat, and head. Singing is simply a by-product of this capability of speech. By simply imagining the pitch of a note, our brain and our body knows instinctively how to reproduce it by manipulating the shape of our vocal chords, the frequency at which they vibrate, and the flow of air passing over them. In other words, the flow of air and how we exhale to produce this flow of air effects the pitch, intensity and duration of the sound we produce…which is why breath control is such a crucial aspect of singing.
If you look at some of the greatest singers across all genres, the Pavarottis, Whitneys, and Ronnie James Dios of our time, the one thing that they all have in common is that they have excellent breath control and breath-support. So how do you know if you need training in controlled breathing? If you have problem with pitching, singing steadily, or sustaining your notes, you definitely need this training. By learning controlled breathing and achieving proper breath-support, your voice will float as effortlessly as a feather, but with laser precision.
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- Combined Breathing – The term ‘combined breathing’ is just a fancy term for breathing through your mouth and nose at the same time. You see, breathing exclusively through your nose often limits the amount of air you can inhale and sometimes chokes your vocal chords. And breathing only through your mouth often leads to a dry and scratchy throat that hinders the flexibility of your vocal cords. By simultaneously breathing through your nose and mouth you can help keep your throat and vocal cords moist while providing the airflow needed to belt out powerful tunes. This can feel unnatural at first if you haven’t practiced it before, but work on it consciously. Check yourself every time you realize that you’re using only one breath passage, and soon enough this will become second nature.
- Diaphragmatic Breathing – Diaphragmatic breathing, or simply breathing through your diaphragm, is the thing in world of singing. And what I’ve realized is that people seem to have complicated this area of knowledge far more than it needs to be complicated. To get started, stand up straight with your shoulders relaxed. Place the palm of your hand on your sternum and take in a deep breath. Do you feel a slight rise in the area just below your sternum? If you do, you’re breathing correctly through your diaphragm. Incorrect breathing, in the context of singing, is when you take a breath and you feel your chest rising upwards. Your diaphragm is a horizontal muscle located just below your lungs. During proper diaphragmatic breathing, your diaphragm contracts, causing the lungs to expand downwards, therefore increasing your lung capacity and the amount of air you can inhale. And when you exhale, your diaphragm expands, gently pushing this air back up through the vocal passage. So by strengthening your diaphragm what we’re doing is increasing the amount of control we have over this airflow, and therefore over our vocal production.
- Steady Release – You will not be able to hold notes or sing longer phrases if you waste all of your breath on the first note. Steady release is an important part of controlled and efficient singing. Releasing your air slowly and at a consistent pace ensures that your notes ring consistently and that you have enough breath to finish a phrase without having to stop to take a breath. To practice steady release, start off by taking a deep breath using the diaphragmatic breathing we spoke about before, and then exhaling while producing a long hissing sound. Hold this “sss” for around five to ten seconds and repeat again. While doing this exercise focus on producing a long and steady sound like a car tire slowly leaking air.
Learning and mastering these techniques will help you improve your control of pitch and tone greatly. But remember, having proper breath control alone doesn’t mean that you’ll be ready to recognize notes and reproduce them instantly. So once you’ve mastered these three breathing techniques, head on down to our website for an online course on how to train your ear to recognize notes and musical concepts.
Apart from your vocal cords, there are three other types of muscles that have a huge impact on your singing. These are your abdominal muscles, your tongue and your jaw and throat muscles. While your vocal cords manipulate your pitch, these three muscles are what control the intensity and shape of the sounds that you produce. So achieving control over these muscles is as important as achieving control over your vocal cords.
- Abdominal Muscles – Now don’t be alarmed, I’m not here to tell you that you need a six-pack to become a great singer. Heck, have you seen Pavrotti’s belly? But I will tell you that having strong abdominal muscles does go a long way in being able to control your breath and airflow, which again is an important part of controlled breathing. So while you work on training your diaphragm, you should back your efforts up by strengthening your abdominal muscles and core. To read up more on exactly how to go about doing both these things, you can check out our online course on learning how to sing from your diaphragm.
- Tongue – You know, I’ve seen so many singers with a lot of potential that are hindered by their lack of tongue control. They often have a great ear and a great sense of pitch, but often seem to get tongue tied and twisted while singing certain words or phrases. And this in turn ends up affecting their pitch, tone quality, and diction. You see singing isn’t just about being able to reproduce notes perfectly. It’s about being able to sing your words fluently and articulately. When singing, you always want your tongue to be wide, flat and out of the way; unless you are using it specifically to produce a certain sound.
- Jaw and Throat Muscles – A problem that a lot of inexperienced singers seem to face is a tendency to clench their jaw and throat muscles while singing. This is often because of nervousness with singing difficult notes or phrases. This places extra tension on your vocal cords and will choke the note before it even comes out of your mouth. Most inexperienced singers have this problem when trying to hit really high or really low notes and end up producing notes that sound strained or under-pitched. So practice keeping a relaxed jaw and throat when singing and make a conscious effort to maintain it. A simple technique that you can use to master this is smiling while singing. This naturally puts your facial muscles and jaw and throat in a relaxed state, enabling you to sing with a much higher degree of freedom and control.
So there you have it, six techniques that will help you become a better singer. But remember, simply knowing these techniques aren’t going to help you get there. I can give you the knowledge and the techniques, but how far you travel on your journey to vocal mastery depends entirely on how much hard work you are willing to put in. So practice hard and practice consistently. Dream big for your voice and have goals for yourself, and then break down these goals into smaller, achievable milestones. And remain focused while pursing them.
Once you have mastered these basics, you can also take an online course to learn the concepts of music theory. A solid knowledge of theory always goes a long way in music and will be a huge boost in your journey towards becoming a great singer.
Also, if you have any questions about these techniques, or about singing in general, I’d love to hear them. So go ahead and share them in the comments section below.
Until next time, happy practicing!
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