5 Reasons That You Aren’t Getting Any Better At Singing [And How To Fix It]
As a voice teacher, I’m always super open about the struggles I went through as a beginner singer. Sure, that might not make you think of me as some “magic singing guru” because I’m actually human; but this really puts me in the unique position to tell you that YES, it really IS possible to go from “zero to hero” as a singer, even as someone who wasn’t a naturally gifted singer to begin with. In fact, going to singing teachers that were simply “great singers naturally” is one of the main reasons that I had such a hard time learning how to sing – after all, how can someone teach you to improve at something when they didn’t have to learn it themselves?
As weird as it sounds, I eventually went to an Opera coach with my goal of singing hard rock and heavy metal – and you might think that I’d go to a “rock guy” for this, but the amount of voice coaches out there I’d been to previously that just told me to “push chest voice higher” to sing like Chris Cornell and Layne Staley really made me question whether any of those type of singing teachers really knew what they were talking about – and the truth is, while they were great singers themselves, most of them didn’t know the first thing about helping ME become a better singer.
The coolest thing about my coach was that he could WAIL, and I’m mean absolutely WAIL – like Chris Cornell, like Layne Staley, like James Hetfield; with zero effort, no veins popping out and no tomato-red-face like trying to push a watermelon through a keyhole – and most of all, as a booming baritone singer like me, he simply wasn’t yelling in chest voice – freedom, control and resonance were the key.
Along with showing me that there really WAS an easier way to sing, he took me through all of the reasons that learning how to sing had been so difficult for me – and that’s what I’m going to share with you now;
5 Reasons Why You’re Not Getting Better As a Singer
You’ve been taking singing lessons, you’ve bought courses – you’ve absolutely scoured YouTube dry for “the secret” to great singing; but no matter what you do, you’re just not getting any better as a singer, and let me tell you why
#1 – Full Voice Isn’t Chest Voice (you’re pushing chest voice too high)
This one was tough for me to grasp, because it just seemed so obvious to me that my chest voice “sounded good” and my head voice “sucked” – ergo, my favourite singers have obviously worked out how to take their chest voice higher that was possible in my baritone singing voice.
The key here is actually to identify why and what you enjoy about your chest voice; the resonance, the ease, the volume, the power and the character (most likely) – and then develop and improve each of these aspects in your head register and your mixed voice. Over time, you’ll learn that the mixed register sounds just as powerful and cool as your chest voice – and in fact, that many of your favourite singers like Chris Cornell and Layne are really leaning more towards head resonance in much of their singing.
This was a mind blowing revelation for me – so I spent many years developing my head and mixed register with great success, and now I’m much, MUCH closer to my goals of matching the range and power of guys like Chris Cornell and Layne Staley than I ever was before in the days of “sing as high as possible in chest voice” style training.
One of the main “tethers” and connection points between each of your registers is actually forward placement – sometimes know as “the singer’s formant”. If you want to develop a ridiculously powerful and extensive vocal range, then your first step is developing placement.
Especially for lower-voiced guys like me that don’t have that natural “tenor range” built into their untrained voices, placement has been a particular game changer for me. If you’ve got a BIG voice like me naturally, then placement is your new best friend.
#2 – You’re speechy
This one can be particularly tricky when there are vocal methods out there specifically designed to make you “sing like you speak” and “speech level singing” – which if you understand the workings of the vocal mechanism, plus the elements that make up your accent and speaking voice, you’ll realise isn’t actually healthy or helpful for your voice.
In short, great singers are “accent neutral”, and your speaking voice (and obviously mine too!) is heavily pronounced and accented. The key here is to develop pharyngeal vowels instead of “mouth vowels” as it were by developing Open Throat Technique – or in relation to The Four Vocal Fundamentals; Height In The Vocal Tract.
Terms like Open Throat Singing can be really confusing, especially when they’re used as Marketing Terms by those pesky YouTube gurus who just want to sell you their three-part-course at $200 a pop, but as you can see – learning how to sing really IS a lot more easier than you’ve been thinking, especially when someone like me just SHOWS you how it’s done rather than trying to confuse you with tricky terms and Italian words.
Open throat singing is easy – you just need to develop the first of The Four Vocal Fundamentals; height in the vocal tract.
#3 – Pleasant Singing Takes Ugly Practice
Say what now? One of the reasons why you’ve been lacking in progress is that you’re trying to SOUND cool rather than SING well; and these really are two different things.
Concepts like Placement, Twang and Brightness really do start off as quite ugly sounds in your voice when you begin practicing – but obviously over time these frequencies balance out within the vocal tract to build a healthy, happy and great sounding voice.
For now, don’t be too scared of ‘sounding bad’ and instead focus on the pure intention of each of the exercises you’re practicing. If your lip trills sound like Eddie Vedder belting – then you’re obviously doing them wrong. If your vowels are pronounced or sound rolled like Layne Staley – you’re doing them wrong (for now). And if you’re loud, loud, LOUD – then you’re practicing incorrectly.
Great singing starts with small, often ugly sounds – don’t get too caught up in how cool you want to sound or how your favourite singer sounds; you’re just not there yet (and that’s okay!) – keep at it and focus on a pure resonant singing voice for now.
#4 – You’re a Cherry Picker
I’ll admit it, this was me for a VERY long time. I went from teacher to teacher, course to course and method to method picking the things that I “liked” and then tried to piece them together into a Frankenstein method than brought me undone time and time again.
There’s tons of great vocal methods out there – just make you commit and stick to the method of your choice.
The funny thing about all those courses that I “hated” when I was younger; they didn’t help me sing better, so they OBVIOUSLY SUCK, right? – I’ve revisited many of these courses and some of my notes from the early 2000’s when I was heavily into vocal training, and you know what? A lot of it really makes sense! It’s not that the information was wrong, it’s just that I wasn’t able to interpret or apply what I was being taught in a way that was practical for my voice. If you’ve bought a singing course, and your confused as hell or you feel like you’re not getting anything out of it – then contact the person that made the course and ask them a shit-ton of questions as to why you’re not seeing progress and how you can improve the exercises you’ve been given.
#5 – You’re using advanced concepts without the foundation to back them up
I’m a total open-book about advanced concepts like Vowel Modification and Compression; they’re not some “vocal teacher secret” that should be kept shrouded in secrecy – however, they’re also not the be-all-and-end-all of great singing; they’re simply a tool to help you master and improve The Four Vocal Fundamentals, in particular “Height In The Vocal Tract”.
If you’re unable to sing with a forward placement, then trying to modify your vowels is pointless. If you’re not initially forming each vowel with space in the tract first – trying to modify them can be a risk to your vocal health.
Great singing is all about a rock solid foundation and building a strong house – not just putting throwing roof tiles up in the air and hoping for the best.
How To Actually Sing Better
I personally spent YEARS chasing my tail as a singer jumping from one method to the next, and trying to find the next “advanced” technique or “secret” that was going to change my world – but the truth is, there’s actually only FOUR things you have to do to become a better singer right now;
- Height In The Vocal Tract
- Forward Placement
- “All In One Flow”
- Mixed Tonality
I believe so much in these Four Vocal Fundamentals, that I’m just going to share them with you right now in this free lesson;
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.