5 Tips To Help You Sing Better
Singing is ultimately a process of balance and coordination rather than the muscular feat that many better singers often mistake it for. This is why the process of learning how to sing better can be a frustrating one, especially when there are so many vague instructions out there not necessarily designed for your unique voice or the specific level of singing experience you currently possess. These 5 tips to help you sing better will not only blow you mind, they will absolutely change your life. If there’s a specific issue you’ve always struggled with as a singer, you’re a complete beginner, or even if a new vocal issue has reared it’s head for you recently, you’ll be amazed at how each of these tips help you sing better while also making singing the easy, joyous and strain free pursuit that it was truly meant to be.
Remember, every singing voice is unique, and we all need a unique approach to singing that considers our own individual voices and the issues we all may face surrounding our different accents, voice types, vocal habits and so many other aspects of the voice. If something isn’t working for you, perhaps you’re not approaching it correctly or using it in a practical way where your own voice is concerned. Lets get started!
#1 – Singing is a process of balance
Read that again a few times, this is one that took YEARS to sing in for me personally, but a singing tip that absolutely turned the tables on my formerly frustrating baritone voice. Everything about your voice can be linked to one form of balance or another, from balance in your onsets, through to balance in your resonance, your registers, consonants, placement, middle voice – EVERYTHING about your voice needs an element of balance. Now, on the flip-side, every issue that oyu experience as a singer is actually the result of imbalance, not necessarily a lack of strength – the truth is, your favourite singers aren’t really “strong” singers, they’re actually “balanced” singers.
If you want improve your balance as a singer, a great place to start is your onsets. An onset in singing is literally the onset of your resonance, the way that your sound begins. A balanced onset is a central coordination between release of air pressure, and achieving vocal fold closure – by coordinating the very moment these two vocal aspects occur, you will achieve a ‘balanced’ onset that results in instant resonance that is strain free, pleasant and powerful. Now, to illustrate how imbalance can effect your vocal health, if you skew this balance to either side, lets stay towards airflow first, you will achieve a breathy or “aspirate” onset, where air is passing the vocal chords before their achieve closure, which often dries out the vocal folds while resulting in a weak tone that is often flat in intonation. On the other side of our healthy, balanced onset, if we skew the balance towards closure, you’ll achieve a glottal or ‘attack’ onset, which has a harsh and forced sound behind the start of your resonance, feels terrible, is strained and often results in a sharp intonation and general frequency issues like lack of connection between chest and head voice and ‘pulling chest’ as some often say. Learning to balance in the centre between these two risky onsets to achieve a balanced onset is one of the biggest keys that I’ve found to controlling my own voice as a singer, and ultimately one of the reasons why I started to question a LOT of the generic singing information out there, and focus on an easier, simply and more powerful and released way of both singing and teaching. When it comes to singing, balance is bees-knees.
#2 – Chest Voice isn’t a muscle
Say what now? That’s right, chest voice isn’t a muscle – so stop treating it like one. At the end of the day, your whole vocal range is created out of a balance between vocal fold weight and vocal fold tension. Yes, there is a shift in how the mechanism balances between these two processes between the TA and CT muscles, but chest voice itself isn’t the TA muscle (or Vocalis, as I personally prefer), and head voice isn’t the CT muscles – chest and head voice simply refer to the focus of resonance at either end of your range, chest voice often occurring in the chest, and head voice often occurring in the head. If you learn to separate resonance from the ‘physical’ process of releasing vocal fold contraction in your low range, you’ll eventually learn that chest resonance carries MUCH higher into your range if you sing without force than if you try to ‘muscle’ your chest voice higher than you can naturally resonate. Chest Voice isn’t a muscle – it’s a form of resonance. Learn to sing with efficient resonance instead of focusing on muscles and strength and your whole outlook as a singer will change for the better.
#3 – Chest and Head voice DO connect
Keeping in mind that chest and head voice are simply two different forms of resonance, it’s suffice to say that both types of resonance can occur at the same time with proper training and the right approach. Connecting chest and head is one of the first things I approach with my own singing students, as I feel it’s an often overlooked aspect of the voice – perhaps due to my own low baritone voice, or even my Aussie accent, the idea that chest and head could ever connect like one long singing note sounded preposterous when I was first learning how to sing, but now many years down the track I can easily recall the sensation and tone of a connected chest and head voice with minimal effort, and even without necessarily warming up the voice – connection between chest and head voice is actually the natural form of the voice, and if you put aside any misconceptions or tonal intentions while you are first learning how to sing (ie: stop trying to “sing as high as you can in chest voice”), connecting chest and head will be a breeze, and with this connection will come a much more powerful and resonant voice that stays full and rich well into your high range without flipping or breaking into a weak heady tone when you try to sing a high note. Remember, chest and head voice are simply two forms of resonance – learn to control your frequencies correctly and you will learn how to connect chest and head voice in no time!
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Vox day part II – I seem to recall being told in my first ever vocal lesson that "you will only ever sing Johnny Cash songs with that low voice" My bad. #hardwork #perseverance #training #baritone #bassvoice #skyisthelimit #voicecoach #vocalcoach #singinglessons #soundgarden #chriscornell #wailing #bullhorn #distortion #grit #vowelshaping
Small sounds like lip trills and even closed vowels like EE and OO are great for developing a connection between chest and head in the beginning stages of developing your voice. Simply sing light with minimal pressure and try not to focus so much on either chest or head, remember, if they are ever going to connect, then actually must blend and overlap at some point – stop thinking of a ‘handoff’ or ‘change’ between your registers and allow the blend to happen instinctively instead. Over time, this connection will strengthen and become ingrained in your technique and approach and you’ll be able to develop a connection on bigger sounds like an AH or AY vowel. Learning how to connect chest and head voice is a MUST for every sing.
#4 – Pressure, not airflow
Say what now? That’s right, breath support in singing actually requires you to manage the balance between airflow and air pressure. A powerful singer who can sustain a long phrase isn’t actually using more air than you, they’re using less by way of supporting their voice and creating compression – in essence pressurising the air held in by an engaged diaphragm instead of pushing it out like you may suspect. You can try this yourself by setting up a healthy posture: head high, shoulders back, proud chest, chin parallel with the floor, and then breathing using the diaphragm, which you can achieve many different ways, from breathing figuratively through a small drinking straw, right down to panting, or even breathing low with your belly like you’re about to dive into the ocean.
Now that you’ve achieved diaphragmatic engagement, you simply need to retain the wide rib position and extended abdomen that this posture and diaphragmatic breathing has created. While it’s counter-intuitive to keep your belly forward and your ribs wide when you sing a note, you’ll notice an instant increase in power and a massive release of any strain you’ve been experiencing. Breath support in singing is one of the most powerful tools ot take your voice to the next level with ensuring the health of your voice. Are you supporting your voice, or are you pushing air when you sing?
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My friend and voice student Elisha laying down some MJ with her band @doubleshotacousticduo – such a gifted and great voice that so much dedication and practice has gone into, plus on bass is Maurice, another BVS student with a natural baritone like me (hope you guys hear his amazing voice soon) 💜🎶💯🌞👍 I'm personally inspired every day by people who follow their heart and dreams. What inspires you guys to wake up and kick ass every morning? #mj #michaeljackson #vocalcover #weddingsinger #weddingband #singing #talent #voicecoach #vocalcoach, #singingteacher #blameitontheboogie
#5 – Shape Your Vowels
I sometimes kid with my students that my catchphrase should be “Trust In The Vowels”, but it’s really not that far from the absolute truth. With a deep voice naturally myself, combined with a broad Australian accent, learning how to shape my vowels properly and make a distinction between speaking and singing was absolutely life changing for my voice. While speech pronunciation often occurs at the front of the face, at least with an accent like mine, sung vowels actually occur when you shape your tongue in a specific manner while allowing resonant space in the pharynx. A great way to illustrate this concept is for you to alternate between an EE sound and an AH sound – you’ll notice that your tongue is raised up at the back for an EE vowel, and lowered to a concave on the AH sound. Congratulations, you just learned two of the most important vowel shapes in singing. Now, aside from OO which has it’s own unique tongue position and articulation, all other vowels are built from EE and AH, from OH and AA which occur as an extension of the lowered and concave shape of a pure AH sound, and AY which occurs when you open your jaw on an EE vowel. Learning to shape your vowels in this manner will provide you with THE most consistent and powerfully resonant voice imaginable. Vowel shaping really will change your life, yes, even if you have a more open accent than me like American or Italian too!
Remember, singing isn’t a feat of muscular strength and brute bravado, it’s actually a process of balance and coordination – take your time and remember, if it’s not easy, then you’re not doing it right. Take it slow while these tips help you sing better, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were your favourite singer’s voices!
A great place to start is the complimentary Foundations 101 singing course, free here at Bohemian Vocal Studio, which will show you how to set up a ROCK SOLID foundation for your voice with an extensive approach to the basics like placement, vowel shaping, mixed voice, breathing, posture and so many other important aspects of a great singing voice. Then when you’re ready to knock it up another notch with professional voice training, you’re welcome tobook a Skype Lesson with me and we’ll start working towards extending your range and building control and consistency in your voice every time you sing!
If you have any questions about how to improve your voice or learning how to sing better, feel free to leave any feedback or questions below!
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.