How To Become A Great Singer [No-BS Guide]
This step-by-step guide on how to become a great singer will show you all of the important techniques you need to learn and steps you need to take to become a great singer. Learning how to sing is easy when you have all the right information in one place. Singing itself is a very simple process, but learning HOW to do it can often be confusing due to all the conflicting information out there – this guide cuts through all of the BS and marketing terms and will help you learn how to become a great singer and improve your voice instantly.
Techniques like mix voice, support and vowel shaping have played a huge key in personally developing my own powerful singing voice, and ultimately towards my goal of helping others find their own true voices. Would becoming a great singer change your life? I know it’s changed mine for ever. Lets learn how to become a great singer!
What makes great singers?
The key to a great singing voice is balance and control. Absolutely every single element and aspect of the singing voice can be related to balance, whether we’re talking about support, mix voice, vowels, resonance, frequencies or any number of other important parts of the voice. On the flip-side, many of the issues you may experience along the way can be traced back to a lack of balance. Learning to balance between your registers in the mix coordination while also balancing your airflow with support and of course forming your vowels properly while releasing strain are the ultimate key to becoming a great singer.
Great singers like Chris Cornell and Aretha Franklin, John Legend and Adele all possess and incredibly well balanced voice, from their tone right through to the range they have built. Remember, singing is a process of balance and coordination that occurs over time with consistent practice and training, not a feat of muscular strength or brute force. A great singer isn’t a “strong” singer, they’re actually a “balanced” singer. Release all that tension and treat your singing like a delicate walk along a tight-rope, not a scrum on the football field.
Step 1 – Foundation
Foundation in singing really is just like the foundation you will find in a house, the rock solid concrete base that your “walls” (tone) and “roof” (range) have been built upon. By setting up a strong foundation you will ensure that you avoid building any bad habits along the
way, and really ingrain the concept of control and balance every time you sing. Foundation in singing involves the basics like posture, diaphragmatic breathing, placement and vowel shaping – these elements are the key to building a strong and powerful singing voice and ultimately reaching your goal to become great singer and reach the voice of your dreams.
By setting up a strong posture every time you sing, you will achieve breath support easily. Support in singing is really just a fancy word to describe the balance between airflow and air-pressure, an unsupported tone is skewed towards airflow, and a balanced tone is skewed towards air pressure instead. By controlling and balancing your air, you will be able to sing with support and reach a powerfully resonant tone without strain every time you sing. Starting with the following posture;
- Head up
- Shoulders back
- Chin Parallel with the floor (face looking forward)
- Strong chest
- Wide ribs
This final step of widening the ribs can also happen while you engage the diaphragm. By retaining this strong posture and wide rib position, you will achieve support, a strong balance of air flow and air pressure, when you sing. If your ribs and stomach ‘collapse’ as you ascend in range or hold a phrase, your posture and breathing need work.
Step 2 – Vowels
Did you know that there is a special way to form your vowels when you sing? Considering all the different languages and accents out there, the idea that you should ‘sing like you speak’ is really a very damaging instruction. As an example, my own Australian accent almost exclusively features a glottal onset on most words, nasal airflow and very forward pronunciation, just like any broad accent. Now, when singing, the vowels are actually formed by the shape of your tongue along with corresponding space in the vocal tract. The easiest way to illustrate this simple by often overlooked concept is to alternate between an EE sound and an AH sound. You’ll notice that the “EE” sound features your tongue up at the back, and the “AH” sound features your tongue low and concave – these two shapes really do make up the bulk of your vowels when you sing, with slight variations in shape and frequency creating each subsequent vowel sound like AY, AA and OH.
Now, resonant space really is key to effective vowel shaping. If you start out with a sustained but light “S” sound like a leaking tyre or hissing snake and then add in a resonant “Z” sound, you’ll notice that the “S” and the “Z” are actually two separate sounds – you’re making two sounds at the same time. The resonance that occurs in the back when you sing a “Z” is vibration of/in the pharynx at the back of your head. By directing the depth of your vowel, and richness of your tone to this space in the vocal tract, you’ll notice that pronunciation will dissipate while your diction actually gets clearer as you learn to shape your vowels.
Shaping vowels has been an important part in my own journey as a singer, in part due to my Australian accent, but also due to my low natural voice as a baritone. Learning to form the vowels and send the resonance up into the resonant space at the back of the head has absolutely unlocked endless range and the tone I always dreamed of being able to use. Remember, singing and speaking are two separate processes – by shaping your vowels properly, you will not only release your accent, but you’ll actually sing much more clearly and with a deeper, richer resonance.
Step 3 – Support and compression
We discussed support a little bit at the start of this tutorial, and to take it a step further I’d like to introduce you to compression. Compression is an advanced technique that is often packaged up in expensive singing courses – but is actually very easy to achieve if you’re practicing and singing in the right manner. There are two forms of compression that you will learn to use as you become a better sing, the first is twang, and the second is supraglottal compression.
Twang occurs when you ‘constrict’ the airway at the top of the throat using the AES, the epiglottis. By folding over the epiglottis, you create a highly pressurised flow or air and compression ball of frequencies that resonates along the whole vocal tract, creating a bright, sharp, loud and powerful ‘twang’ that is easily identifiable in a well trained singer.
Compression of the supraglottis takes some time to develop, but it’s one that many singers learn to develop by singing exercises like “Guh-Guh-Guh-Guh”. By focusing on the feeling that occurs above the vocal folds, but below where you achieve twang, you can compress in the glottis and create a powerful and rich sound that requires very little effort or airflow – learning compression in the supraglottis is also the key to distortion and grit in singing.
Support and compression go hand in hand when you sing. Without support, you will lack compression, and without compression you will just be pushing more and more air into your vocal folds. Compression is a powerful technique, but one that needs to be used wisely and learned properly to ensure your vocal health.
Step 4 – Onsets
An onset in singing is literally the ‘onset of your resonance’, the way that your resonance begins. By balancing your onset between airflow and air-pressure, you will achieve a balanced onset, or what is sometimes called a coordinated or simultaneous onset. This onset not only results in instant and powerful resonance, but also encourages vocal fold closure and better all round control in your vocal technique. If you are often flat when you sing, or you experience a breathy voice – it’s likely you’re actually singing with a breathy or “aspirated” onset, where airflow is passing the chords before you achieve closure. On the flip-side, if your onset is harsh and there is a ‘slam’ sound, along with pitchy and sharp intonation, it’s likely you’re using a glottal onset with closure before airflow.
Remember, every singing element of your voice requires balance, and your onsets and resonance are no exception. Many vocal issues and vocal strain can be traced back to poor onset coordination. Are you balancing your onset effectively, or just taking a wild guess and stab at the onset of your resonance when you sing?
Step 5 – Articulation (consonants)
Learning to articulate your consonants effectively goes hand in hand with your onsets. Again, singing and speech are ultimately two separate processes in the vocal mechanism, so learning to articulate your consonants properly is an important key to building a better singing voice. An example of this is consonant sounds like W or Y which actually occur as an extension of your vowels instead of articulation of airflow or a glottal onsets like often occurs in speech. Try it with a word that starts with “W” first, like “WELL”. Instead of pronouncing the consonant at the start of the word, sing an OO vowel instead, like OO-ELL – you’ll notice that you actually achieve a resonant W that is powerful and features a balanced onset. Pretty cool, right? The same goes for Y – if you sing a word like “Yeah!”, the Y consonant is actually replaced by an EE vowel – like EE-EAH!
Learning to articulate each consonant sound effectively considering your voice type, accent and native tongue will absolutely change your singing voice forever. These 5 steps alone will take you much further than hours of scales or drills could ever do. Remember, singing is a process of balance, it’s not important what you do or how long you do it for, it’s only important HOW you do it. Finesse, control and balance are the secret key to building a great singing voice.
The best place to start is the free foundations 101 singing course available here at BVS which will set you up with a rock solid foundation by learning all about diaphragmatic breathing, onsets, consonants, resonance and SO much more. When you’re ready to take your voice to the next level you can sign up for our premium booster courses and book a Skype Lesson with me and we’ll start working towards extending your range and building balance and control in your voice EVERY time you sing.
If you have any questions about learning how to sing and building a better singing voice, you’re welcome 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.