How To Sing Well [5 Tips For Rapid Improvement]
Great singing is an art form, and all great art starts with a full palate of colours, tools and skills – in the same way that great singing requires excellent technique, tools and a full vocal range.
When I personally started singing for bands around age 18 – I just started yelling into the microphone and hoped for the best; obviously straining my voice and sounding terrible in the process. I honestly didn’t realise that you could improve your voice and increase your range extensively with training, and I even thought that singing lessons were a bit lame; until I was taught the 5 following tips for rapid improvement as a singer and saw an incredible increase in my range and ability as a singer.
#1 – Vowels ain’t vowels
Before I trained extensively to become a professional singer, I thought that “vowels” were just my speech sounds – A,E,I,O,U, with my broad Australian accent being AYE, EEY, EYE, OWE, YOU; but I was fortunate to learn early on that “vowel” in singing really refers to a resonant overtone, and has much less to do with speech sounds or words that you probably think.
One of the key tenets of excellent singing technique is learning to modify your vowel sounds correctly to make the best use of your internal resonance as a singer, rather than trying to force speech sounds out of your mouth in a way that is both unhealthy, but also sounds terrible.
To get you started, let’s first break your sung vowels down into two groupings – AH based vowels that occurs with the tongue low and concave in the base of the mouth, and AY based vowels that occur with the middle of the tongue raised slightly towards the roof of the mouth. Now, in your chest register these sounds resonate most efficiently when you sing them slightly like the words “Hard” for AH vowels and Hey” for AY vowels; but as you ascend in range, the size and shape with the vocal tract changes for each of these sounds and alters the character of each sound into “Hoard” and “Head” respectively.
Each vowel grouping has four similar overtones that you move through to make the best resonance through each register of the voice – ever wondered why you’ve been straining and choking off as you try to sing high notes, while other singers make it look easy and effortless?
Vowels, baby, Vowels.
#2 – Raise The Soft Palate
If you’ve ever had a singing teacher telling you to “yawn more” when you sing – they’re actually trying to get you to raise the soft palate. Raising the soft palate is paramount to building more range and extending your voice beyond your natural or speaking range.
As the soft palate raises, the size and shape of the vocal tract is altered to accentuate certain frequencies known as vowel formants (I sometimes refer to these as vowel overtones) through each register of the voice. It might sound complicated, but raising the soft palate really is one of the mast basics acts of a great singing voice
Raising the soft palate is the main element of Open Throat Singing Technique – where “open” really refers to the soft palate raising, and “throat” really refers to the pharynx (the space at the top/back of the throat where the soft palate raises up into). So when people are trying to sell you a super expensive “Open Throat Singing Course” – they’re just disguising a basic technique as something much more fancy than it really is – in fact, I believe so strongly in demystifying all those archaic classical terms that I’ve put together this super practical tutorial that shows you exactly HOW to sing with an open throat instead of just telling you how important it is;
Learning how to sing doesn’t have to be difficult or frustrating – but it’s big business when terms like Open Throat are treated as a mystery and used as a marketing term rather than being taught as the fundamental vocal technique that it really is. If there’s only one thing that you take away from this list of 5 singing techniques for rapid vocal improvement; it’s that Singing Should Be Easy.
#3 – Placement Is King
When you’ve got a naturally deep voice like mine, placement really is your best friend – but every voice type and singing style benefits greatly from correct placement. In a classical sense, placement is often called “masque” or “mask” technique; but it’s much more simple than that – placement is really just accentuating the most powerful and effective frequency that your voice creates, in the form of a forward placement so that your voice vibrates within the bones of the face instead of being absorbed by the softer and less efficient parts of the vocal tract.
While Chest Voice and Head Voice are generally used as terms to describe your resonators, neither your chest, head or throat are really efficient resonators for your voice – in fact, the main resonators for your voice are actually the oral, pharyngeal and nasal resonators. So when we talk about forward placement, we’re talking about a bright, forward and buzzy resonant sound that is similar to a nasal sound, but can be differentiated by the pleasant and balanced tone that comes with a bright and forward placed sound instead of the ugly nosey sound of a nasal tone.
A great way to develop placement is to start practicing with the intention or resonating above your top teeth – as though there is a pen between your teeth and you’re singing ‘above’ the pen. Again, placement really isn’t a mystery, and can be discovered pretty easily with a few basic exercises; here’s another practical and straightforward tutorial I’ve put together to help you discover your vocal placement.
For me as a baritone singer with a lower natural voice type, learning to place my voice correctly instead of just warbling away with a dully, dark and boomy tone has been a life changing experience for me as a singer, and really has lead to an incredible increase in power, range and freedom from tension and strain. When you sing efficiently, you not only save your voice from unnecessary strain and tension, but you also begin to sound fantastic!
#4 – Singing Is All About The Exhale
You might have heard terms like Support, Appoggio or Diaphragmatic Breathing before – which no doubt conjure up some super special way of breathing in that we’re not already aware of; and sure, maintaining a healthy posture and being sure to engage the diaphragm in an efficient manner rather than gasping for air at the top of your chest; but the most important aspect of diaphragmatic breathing is actually the efficient way with which you release your air.
I like to refer to efficient breath control in singing as “All In One Flow” – where you make sure not to interrupt your airflow where possible, and hence you don’t interrupt your resonance where it’s not necessary to make a break in your sustained resonance.
Think about all of those basic singing exercises like lip trills; what exactly do they encourage? Aside from the obvious of practicing sounds without strain and tension, along with connecting chest and head resonance – the main aspect of a lip trill is consistent exhalation of air without inconsistency or pulsing of your air; your air is released “All In One Flow”.
#5 – The Four Vocal Fundamentals
Each of the above tips plays an important part in developing The Four Vocal Fundamentals;
- Height In The Vocal Tract
- Forward Placement
- “All In One Flow”
- Mixed Tonality
These four fundamentals along cover EVERY single technique, term and trick out there; and they’re the base element of EVERY single vocal method out there (well, the good ones at least!) that teaches healthy technique. I believe so strongly in The Four Vocal Fundamentals that I’ve put together this tutorial to help you develop them right now. That’s right, other voice coaches would charge hundreds of dollars for this kind of detailed information, and would probably package them up in an expensive course but I’m going to show you how to develop The Four Vocal Fundamentals right here, right now;
Are you ready to step out of the YouTube loop of video after video after video looking for “the secret” to great singing – then it’s time once and for all to learn The Four Vocal Fundamentals and start singing better!
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.