How To Sing Better [Four Powerful Singing Tips]
If I had to sum up vocal technique in four concepts only, I would first tell you that Height In The Vocal Tract is the key to developing and maintaining an extensive vocal range, Forward Placement is the key to power and resonance, Consistent Airflow is the key to freedom from strain and tension and Mixed Tonality is the key to blending resonance and connecting chest and head voice like a boss.
What if I told you that great singing really was as simple as these four simple steps?
You might think I'm crazy, but as my voice has developed and grown like crazy over the past decade using the Foundation 101 singing approach - I've come to realise that all the crazy techniques and terms out there fall under the banner of one of these four basic steps;
Height In The Vocal Tract = Vowel Modification, Yawning, Internal Smile, Open Throat, Vowel Shaping, Resonance Tuning
Forward Placement = Nyah/Nyaa, Twang, Bratty Tone, the "Duck" tone, Brightness, Smiling, Masque
Consistent Airflow = Support, Appoggio, Compression, Aspiration, Adduction, Resonance, Fold Closure
Mixed Tonality = Classroom voice, mixed voice, boyish tone, bratty tone, passive aggressive tone
That's right, pick any vocal technique, marketing term or vocal concept out there and I absolutely GUARANTEE that they will fall under the banner of one of these four simple steps. Ergo, if you keep it simple and focus on the pure intention of height, placement, airflow and mixed voice - you will become a better singer much faster than if you're wasting your time with glottal compression, vowel modification or brightness before you really understand that each of these concepts is actually simpler and much easier than they're made out to be.
If you've been singing for a little while already, or you've been trawling through YouTube videos day and night looking for "the truth" among hoardes of reaction videos and suspect vocal covers - then you've probably got a list of terms, techniques and exercises a mile long, and have very little time left over from the YouTube singing vortex to actually practice them. My favourite little quip at the moment is "Less Clicking = More Singing". So let's not waste any more time and I'll show you how to sing better with four simple steps.
How To Sing Better In Four Easy Steps
Using these four simple steps to set up your voice every single time you practice and every time you sing will ensure that you are not only consistent when you sing, but that your progress is consistent and ongoing the more you sing and practice - win/win, right?
Step 1 - Height In The Vocal Tract
My favourite way to encourage and teach height in the vocal tract is to use the internal smile. Now, it's called the INTERNAL smile for a reason - stop smiling like the joker and listen carefully. The internal smile involves;
- Raised cheeks below the eyes
- Bright, open eyes
- Sunken cheeks at the back of the mouth
- A raised soft palate
You'll notice that if you inhale from this internal smile setup that the soft palate raises like crazy in the back of your head without actually having to resort to a 'yawn' when you sing. You can even accentuate this effect by inhaling from the position of a "K" consonant with your tongue touching the roof of your mouth (don't vocalise, just inhale from this position).
Step 2 - Consistent Airflow
If you've got a pretty big voice naturally like me, you probably think that you're "Just a loud singer naturally" - but this excess volume is anything but natural, and is usually the result of two issues; excess compression or incorrect vowel character. Your vowel character is linked to height in the vocal tract, so if you're performing step #1 correctly, then you've found the answer to the pushing and yelling you've been struggling with (my friends used to say I was a "Bari-Yeller") - excess compression, aka lack of consistent airflow.
Sure, compression is an important part of your support mechanism as you progress as a singer, but like anything when it comes to sing, there's always TOO MUCH of a good thing, and this has never been more true with compression. Instead of pushing and yelling through the mid section of your voice, instead allow a subtle "hHh" in your sound - not enough to actually vocalise a "H" consonant, but just enough air to bypass the clamp and choke you're struggling with at the moment. The freedom that this consistent airflow creates is really mind blowing to singers like me that used to struggle singing in the D3 to D4 range without yelling - consistent airflow is your new best friend.
On the flipside, if you've identified that you are a naturally aspirate singer, basically meaning that you release too much air to sustain efficient resonance, the key here is to hold back your air a touch from the diaphragm to allow a little more pressure in the vocal tract when your folds start vibrating. Once more, consistent airflow is your new best friend!
Step 3 - Forward Placement
The final aspect of vocal placement is taking your voice forward into a bright and powerful sound that is sometimes called "Mask". Imagine your vocal folds are actually sitting an inch in front of your eyes instead of down in your throat - this is mask placement in a nutshell. Many beginner through to intermediate singers are scared of this sound because it does tend to be a little brassy until you learn to balance correctly with a nicely formed vowel - but don't be scared, the more forward you are the better!
A few great ways of discovering forward placement is to mimic a cartoony-sounding duck sound like "KWAAAK" all out in front of the face, or even a bratty sounding and childlike "NAH NAH NAH NAH NAAAAA". Of course, these examples such in a tonal sense - but remember, this forward placement will become balanced when you form your vowel properly.
Step 4 - Mixed Tonality
Mixed voice is really no mystery - even if it makes a great marketing term for some vocal methods. The true secret to achieving mixed voice is to connect chest and head voice with an initially light but controlled slide using semi-occluded sounds like lip trills and other resonant sounds like N, NG, M, V and Z. If you can slide between chest voice and head voice, you're actually creating mixed resonance SOMEWHERE along the way where these two main registers meet - you're probably just not aware of it just yet.
If you sing a low note and focus on where the resonance sits, think of this as "chest resonance". Now, if you sing a high note in a heady tone (ala Bee Gees), you'll notice that the resonance sits in a different spot. Now, practice sliding between these two forms of resonance with the light, bright sounds I mentioned above and you'll notice that over time there is actually NO break between these registers unless you create one by pushing or losing the flow of air. Once you've got a handle on connecting chest and head voice, the key is to elongate the section of your registers where chest and head resonance overlaps - yep, it's called mixed voice for the literal fact that it is a "mix" of head and chest voice.
One of my favourite ways to encourage mixed resonance in my student's voices is to have them sing in "classroom voice" - the voice that you would use to get the attention of a bunch of rowdy kids in a classroom. You're not going to YELL at the little darlings now are you? But you're also not going to beg them in a weak and breathy head voice either - it's going to be a pleasant but assertive "Okay everyone, look here!" which, you guessed it, is a blend of both chest and head resonance together.
Jump Start Your Singing Progress
If you're sick of trawling through endless YouTube videos that you're starting to suspect are either just attempts to gain more followers like reaction videos, or just marketing hype "This Is The Secret!" type noise, then you can get started straight away with the Foundation 101 vocal approach which will show you how to;
- Connect chest and head voice
- Created mixed resonance
- Form your vowels properly
- Place your voice correctly
- Balance your onset
- Warm up your voice effectively
- How to release strain and tension
- SO much more!
You can even get started right now with this exclusive Mixed Voice Singing Lesson which will show you how to connect chest and head voice right now. Remember, singing is a process of balance and control that really starts with your foundation - are you singing with a strong foundation, or are you trying to build a roof over a swamp? Let's fix your foundation now!
Want to see what all the fuss is about? Here's just a sample of what I'm achieving with the Foundation 101 approach - imagine what you're going to achieve when you can finally sing without strain or tension!
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.