3 Vocal Mistakes That Are Blocking Your Progress As a Singer
You've taken lessons, you've bought courses, you've trawled YouTube for hours on end looking for the answer, but nothing is working for you - and I'm about to show you why.
Don't feel bad about your lack of progress, or the vocal roadblock you've been facing - I actually made each of these three mistakes too myself along the way to building the voice I now enjoy; and I struggled and strained and went backwards until I addressed these three simple fundamental vocal mistakes.
Before we get started, let me share with you some of the issues I experienced when learning how to sing - I can tell you right now that I definitely was not a natural; and with my low baritone singing voice and Aussie accent, I actually struggled with almost every basic exercise and concept out there. In my first ten years of learning (struggling?) to sing, I often experienced;
- A complete lack of mid or high range
- Strain and tension
- Hoarseness even after a gentle warmup
- General pitchiness
- Yelling and shouting to try and 'hit' notes out of my reach
- Issues with my speaking voice
- Days where I could barely sing at all
- Constant frustration and disappointment in myself as a singer
- The feeling that I just "didn't have what it takes"
- The feeling that I should just give up
- Days where I sang "okay", and others where I couldn't sing a basic scale
These issues were a daily reality for my voice when I was first learning how to sing - Do any of these issues sound familiar?
I felt like I had a MILLION problems with my voice, but the truth is - I was making just three fundamental mistakes that were holding back my progress and even sending me backwards. Are you ready to find out why your progress as a singer has been so limited and frustrating?
Fundamental Singing Mistake #1 - Understanding
The first fundamental singing mistake that I made was not understanding how or why I was meant to practice exercises like lip trills, NG, vowels or even understanding the concepts I was trying to apply like Vowel Modification and Placement - I just did them because I was told to do them.
When I finally sat down and worked out the right way to practice instead of just doing it and hoping for a miracle, and finding out the reason why I was practising these sounds and exercises - or even better, simply asking the question "how does this work/how do I troubleshoot this exercise", my singing really did make leaps and bounds in a very short period of time.
I'll admit that this was probably my biggest mistake as a beginner singer, because I went from teacher-to-teacher and course-to-course looking for "the true secret to singing", when in fact the only secret to great singing is mastering the fundamentals and building a great foundation for your voice.
In fact, in a very short period of time with the new approach of "practicing only the things that I understood fully" - advanced concepts like Vowel Modification and Compression started to appear in my voice naturally without the need to lift a finger; you arrive at advanced level vocal technique by building a foundation, not by stacking them on top of the basics like a Jenga tower ready to fall.
In short - Don't understand it? Don't do it.
Singing Mistake #2 - (Strong) Opinions
Another big one for me was opinions and misconceptions about my voice. This largely came from having a "big" voice naturally that was quite low and often louder than I intended when I spoke or sang. Ergo, I just figured I had a "big" singing voice that needed a lot of force and volume to work properly - in fact, this was my motto in the early years; I can't sing that because I'm a baritone.
This partly ties in with the first mistake, as I eventually learned that voice type has very little to do with your potential range, and everything to do with the tonal character of your voice through a specific range. My quest to drag my baritone chest voice as high as possible "because that's just how my voice worked" was obviously a huge roadblock standing in the way of my singing progress - and I only started moving forward when I went back to basics and started light, bright and quiet and let my voice develop naturally.
Before you learn to do it well, you really should have no strong opinions on where your breaks are, what voice type you are or even the natural tone of your voice - because the speaking voice you're probably using to sing with now isn't actually the resonant powerhouse you'll end up with when you just let. those. opinions. go.
Here were some of the opinions that I held when I first started singing, ALL of which held back my progress;
- "Insert favourite singer" can only sing because they're a natural, and I'm not.
- "Insert favourite singer" can only sing because they're a Tenor, and I'm not.
- You simply can't sing above an E4 as a Baritone (I'm not even sure where this one came from, but BOY did I believe it)
- Head voice is bad
- Head voice is weak
- Full voice is Chest Voice
- Head Voice and Chest Voice are two separate voices
- My voice was naturally gritty and distorted (nope, just poor technique)
- It's normal to get hoarse and tired after one hour of singing
- My voice was only made for singing low
- You have to lower the larynx before you sing
- You have to SMILE WIDE before you sing
- Mixed Voice isn't a real thing (Yes, it is)
- SO many other opinions and mis-truths
Looking back, I formed many of these strong opinions purely from the fact that I couldn't do it myself - so it must be true. The other ones came from things like forums and even YouTube where any Tom, Dick and Harry can get up on a pedestal screaming their opinions like fact; if someone says it on YouTube, then it MUST be true, right?
Most of these opinions naturally melted away as I started to be able to do many of these things myself and I realised just how badly my attitude had been effecting my singing.
It's true, I was frustrated, disappointed and had spent WAY too much money on singing lessons and courses at that point - but the only way to truly release your inner voice is with an open mind and a clean slate. If you're serious about improving your voice, you need to just leave it ALL at the door and start with the fundamentals, facts and foundation.
Singing Mistake #3 - Use The Force
Energy in singing is great - Effort is not. Basically, if it's not easy, then you're not doing right. I've learned through the years just how EASY singing can be, but this wasn't always the case.
I'll be honest with you - I was a pusher. I was a yeller. I was a strainer. I went hoarse. My voice was sore. I had no high range. I was a bellower. I was a non-stop-pedal-to-the-metal-belter with no off switch.
Does this sound familiar to you? If you're sick of having to belt the crap out of every single line you sing, even on ballads or clean singing; you're probably a pusher, yeller, belter and bellower just like I was.
The solution was actually pretty simple; stop pushing.
The big issue that made me push was a disconnect from what I was practicing to what I wanted to sing. I didn't understand how lip trills were going to help me learn how to sing like Chris Cornell, or increase my range, or improve my tone - so I practiced light, and sung super heavy; but really didn't make that connection until I started to run into serious trouble with my vocal health.
Singing requires balance, energy, coordination - but not effort, strength or straining. I know that sounds obvious, but it's something I really struggled with for many years. I always struggled singing Chris Cornell songs like Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun because I just didn't believe you could sing like that without strangling your throat and pushing your guts out. This again ties in with the second mistake I was making, but the key to great singing is to use energy, not effort.
Energy in singing comes from support, vibration, resonance, twang, compression, space in the vocal tract, correct articulation, forming your vowels properly.
Effort comes in the form of pushing, yelling, screaming, struggling and straining.
I know which of these paths I wish I had taken from my first day learning how to sing - but you can learn from my mistakes.
The Four Vocal Fundamentals
The process of straining and struggling for many years, to an almost instant release of all that tension and strain with a massive increase in range, dexterity and tone lead me to discovering the Four Vocal Fundamentals which are covered in the foundation 101 singing course here at BVS;
- Forward Placement
- Height In The Vocal Tract
- All In One Flow
- Mixed Tonality
With these four fundamentals alone I took my voice from barely one full octave of range (about F2-F3 when I started) to more than 3+ octaves of full voice. But instead of telling you over and over again how great it is to sing with freedom and the power that I now enjoy, I'm just going to show you - here's a few quick examples of what I'm achieving now that I've developed the four vocal fundamentals and built a rock solid foundation for my voice - just imagine the powerful, beautiful voice you're going to enjoy when you discover your vocal foundation!