3 Singing Tips [For People Who Can't Sing]
Don't you just hate those people who are 'natural singers' and seem to ooze talent and confidence when they sing? Trust me, I couldn't stand those bastards - until I discovered the truth about what they were really doing - and what I was doing wrong.
The truth is, there is no difference in potential to sing well between any two people, even when one is a natural talent, and the other squeaks like a cat in a bathtub - but there is a HUGE difference in the way that these two singers are using their voices.
A natural talent at singing really should be called a natural aptitude towards vocal foundation. Foundation in singing includes things like consistent airflow, height in the vocal tract and a forward placement - all very easy things to learn, but also just as easy to get wrong in the beginning stages of learning how to sing.
The ball is in your court.
Now, something very important that we actually have working in our favour as singers who were hit with the proverbial ugly stick when it comes to our untrained voices is that a well trained voice will actually progress further and retain a healthier singing life than someone who was just a natural and fluked most of it along the way. Those little mistakes that a natural singer gets away with will likely bring them undone (have you heard your favourite rock singers from the 70's and 80's lately? With a few exceptions - I'm sure they're now pretty awful) and they'll one day be in the exact same position you're in right now wondering how the hell do they do it?
How To Sing Better [For Bad Singers]
Over the last 20 years of learning how to sing, and with 10 years of professional coaching expertise under my belt - I've boiled it down to just three simple steps that every good singer gets right naturally, and every bad singer totally fails at every time they sing. While there's no quick fixes or cheats when it comes to fantastic singing technique, these three steps will put you in the same game as those blasted natural singers and put you on the right path to surpass their natural talents with rightly earned vocal chops that only come with time, dedication and practice.
Are you ready to sing better?
Step 1 - Height In The Vocal Tract (AKA Internal Smile)
I've seen this one instructed incorrectly before, even by some of the bigger YouTube coaching channels out there. The Internal Smile is called The Internal Smile for a reason, because **drumroll** It's The Internal Smile, not the "external smile".
To achieve height in the vocal tract using the internal smile, simply brighten your eyes and raise your cheeks under the eyes slightly for a pleasant and approachable 'smile from the eyes' - like you've made eye contact with someone across a bar. You're not going to flash your teeth and grin like the joker (they'll run away screaming!), instead, you simply smile with the eyes. Now, the purpose of this is actually to set up your vocal tract correct and allow your soft palate to raise in the right way to ensure access to your full range.
If you inhale from this internal smile position, you'll feel the beginnings of a gentle 'yawn' at the back/top of the mouth as the soft palate raises into the pharynx. You can even accentuate this feeling by inhaling from a "K" consonant sound - not a vocalised "K", but with your tongue touching the roof of your mouth, and then inhaling from this position through the mouth, achieving the same raised soft palate position we just felt.
Raising the soft palate in this way is the best way to access pharyngeal vowels. A pharyngeal vowel exists in the vocal tract and allows efficient resonance through each register while you create the right space and height in your tract - but let's keep it simple for now by focusing solely on the internal smile before you practice and each time you sing.
Try it yourself! Can you feel the beginnings of an Open Throat when you set up your tract in the internal smile? Let me know in the comments below!
Step 2 - Consistent Airflow
This one might seem obvious, but consistent airflow is probably the number one issue I see in a new student's technique. Now, consistent airflow doesn't necessarily mean you need to push out air when you sing, it simply means that you need to release air in a slow and consistent manner when you sing - like breathing out half as fast as when you breathed in.
There's two main issues that occurs surrounding airflow when singing. The first is excess compression, which tends to strike 'bigger voice' singers like Baritone's and louder accents and languages. You can identify excess compression by the yelling push that you'll feel in the mid section of your voice through your first break - basically, you've cut off all airflow and your folds are no longer able to vibrate effectively. The solution in this case, is actually to release a subtle "hHh" when you sing through this portion of your range. Again, this doesn't mean that you slam a "H" consonant sound into your vocal line, it's just a subtle and controlled release of air instead of choking off at the vocal folds.
The second potential issue with airflow is aspirate singers, which seems to effect lighter voices like Tenors and many female singers - basically, you're releasing too much air when you sing, so you're not achieving peak resonance or a clear tone. This is fairly risky for the voice too, as too much air dries out your folds and puts undue strain on your vocal chords as you try to force them shut against all that airflow - scary stuff, right? Instead, the solution in this case is a simple 'hold' of your air at the diaphragm instead of bodily pushing out all of your air. Remember trying to hold your breath under water as a kid? It actually comes from the mid section of your body, not from your mouth or throat per-se.
Too much compression = Release a subtle hHh.
Too much air = Hold back your air from the diaphragm
Step 3 - Forward Placement
If you want a powerful sound, and to sing in Full Voice throughout your full vocal range top to bottom, then Forward Placement is your new best friend.
Many beginner through to intermediate singers are a little scared of forward placement, in that they associate the bright, slightly nasty sound of placement exercises with a nasty vocal tone when they sing - when in fact a forward vocal tone matched with a correctly formed vowel in the pharynx is incredibly beautiful and powerful, not nasal and weedy like you might think.
There are tons of different sounds out there that will help you with forward placement - NYAH, NYAH, NAH NAH NAH, NAY, NG, N (looks like "N" is a common thread here!) and even bratty sounds or a cartoonish "duck" WAH or WAA sound.
Now, these sounds on there own totally suck, I get it - but, you don't actually sing with these sounds, you simply match the bright placement of these sounds with a vowel formed in the vocal tract (remember the Internal Smile?) and you'll achieve an incredibly beautiful and enviable vocal tone. Keep an open mind and try it next time you sing something or practice.
Sick Of Struggling To Sing?
If you're ready to put all that strain and tension aside and join those blasted "gifted" singers with their consistent airflow, forward placement and space in the vocal tract, the best place to start is the Foundation 101 singing course which will show you how to;
- Connect chest and head voice
- Create mixed resonance
- Form your vowels correctly
- Balance your onset
- Support your voice
- Warm up your voice effectively
- Create height in the vocal tract
- Set up your voice properly
- SO much more!
If you want to see what all the fuss is about with the Foundation 101 approach, here's just a few examples of what I'm achieving now with the Foundation 101 approach. Remember, I really wasn't a natural or talented singer to begin with - so imagine what YOU could achieve if you were finally free of strain and tension in your singing voice!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.