Information Overload? Singing Made Easy In 5 Steps
When I first started learning how to sing, I really felt like it was ‘information overload’ to the Nth degree – vowel modification, cry mode, vocal placement, vocal tract shaping and also the many classical terms like Inhalare la voce, Appoggio, Chiarascuro and others certainly made sense figuratively, but I saw very little improvement in my singing until I started using the following 5 simple steps to Singing Made Easy.
Using these 5 steps to singing made simple, you will learn that while there are many different technical definitions and bloated concepts out there that work for many, singers like you and I need things to be practical and simple so that we can apply them in our singing, not just read about them on Wikipedia (and we all know how much people LOVE to quote Wikipedia here on the internet!). Lets make singing easy with these 5 simple steps.
Step 1: Foundation
I know, “Foundation” is broad, but it’s SUCH an important part of your ability to sing well that I just can’t resist the mention of Foundation at the very start of this list for singing made easy. Foundation in singing refers to the concrete base, the slab if you will, that your voice, tone and range are built upon. The very initial stages of Foundation in singing are setting up your posture, breathing diaphragmatically, creating resonance and placing your resonance, all very simple and easy concepts you can learn right now.
Step 2: A Balanced Onset
Every singer needs a different set of instructions and a slightly different path to building the voice of their dreams, but if I had to pick ONE single concept that almost every singer of the thousands that I have coaches were all experiencing an issue with, it would be a balanced onset. Now, your voice is capable of creating three different forms of vocal onset – an onset in singing really is the ‘onset’ of your resonance, the way that your vocal folds come together to start vibrating. If you close the vocal folds first before achieving airflow and vibration, this hard attack is known as a glottal onset and is particularly risky for your voice and should be used sparingly, if at all. On the flip side, if you achieve airflow before closing the vocal folds, this weak attack is know as a breathy or ‘aspirate’ onset which is also risky for your vocal health and should be used sparingly. The only healthy vocal onset, and the only one that you should practice and apply as a habit in your singing is known as a balanced or ‘coordinated’ onset where airflow and closure occur at the very same moment. When I first started singing, my earliest singing teacher constantly made me sing “on a sigh” or “on the breath” – and for many years, I actually avoided doing this to try and get a ‘stronger’ onset instead, forming the unhealthy habit of glottal onsets and pressed phonation. Only when I truly understood how to use a balanced onset did my voice become impressively powerful and effortless. Like many aspects of singing, a balanced onset must be practised light, gentle and built with time, but eventually will become one of the most powerful foundation elements of your vocal technique.
Step 3: Shape Your Vowels
Did you know that vowels in speech are often different to vowels in singing? That’s right, while we pronounce many of our speech vowels using the articulators at the front of the face (teeth, tip of the tongue, lips etc), a ‘vowel’ in singing really refers to the position of your tongue along with the shape and size of the vocal tract itself. So, learning to shape each base vowel sound as part of your vocal foundation will take your voice lightyears beyond any speech sounds that you might currently be using. A word like “Bee” isn’t just a pronounced sound at the front of the face (like in my native Aussie accent) – it occurs as a result of raising the back of your tongue close to the roof of your mouth, along with matching resonant space in the vocal tract; slightly wide through the middle of your voice, then narrow up into the head register.
Step 4: Mixed Resonance
You’ve probably heard the terms Mixed Voice, Mix Voice, Middle Voice, Mix etc – with very little instruction or explanation as to HOW you achieve mixed voice. Is it a muscular thing? Is it a resonance thing? Is it figurative or an actual physical process? Let’s break it down. In your lowest range, the TA muscles contract the vocal folds so that they are short and thick, somewhat like a square. In your highest range, the CT muscles “stretch” the folds long and thing like an elastic band. This is the reason that you likely have a strong chest voice, and potentially a strong head voice, but nothing in the middle of your voice – these two muscles actually need to work together and blend a touch of weight (TA) and a touch of tension (CT) to balance centrally and allow mixed resonance.
So in a physical sense, there really isn’t a special third register that you need to discover, you simply need to back off from the physical sensation of chest voice while learning to blend a touch of your head register through the middle of your voice. Clear as mud, right? One of my favourite ways to help my students find their mixed voice is to encourage projection through the middle of their voice – instead of taking chest voice as high as possible and then ‘snapping’ or ‘flipping’ up into head voice as the TA muscles become too stressed to carry the load, instead, imagine that your voice is returning back to you from a loudspeaker in a far corner of your room. You’ll notice that the push of volume dissipates if you get this projection just right, and your ‘chest voice’ actually occurs to a higher point in your range without maintaining the physical sensation of tension and ‘weight’ that you’ve probably become accustomed to. So, chest voice is simply one form of resonance, while head voice is another form of resonance – learn to blend the two together like a gradient through the centre of your voice and you’ll achieve mixed voice with ease, along with the added benefit of being able to sing in ANY range in your full voice without strain or tension. Remember, the sensation of chest voice needs to dissipate through the middle of your voice, but you need to maintain a touch of the resonance that occurs in your lower register as you ascend up towards head voice.
Step 5: Growth
Many beginner singers feel like “if I could JUST figure out this technique” or “if I could JUST get that little bit more compression” that suddenly they’ve have the voice of their dreams. However, singing is a process of foundation first, growth second – meaning that you first have to build the foundation elements of your voice, then build them over time. The voice itself is partly muscular, partly involuntary and most figurative in a practical sense – so those confusing concepts like inhalare la voce and appoggio will actually become apparently to you and ‘appear’ in your voice with time, practice and perseverance, they aren’t a ‘magic fix’ that you can just apply to your voice to make it sound awesome. Ask yourself these questions first before trying to sing with power;
- Do I have a strong foundation of posture, breathing and placement?
- Am I shaping my vowels correctly?
- Am I singing with a balanced onset, a glottal onset or an aspirate onset?
- Am I using mixed resonance, pushing chest voice or ‘flipping’ into pure head voice?
- Am I ready to grow my voice?
The best place to start is the Foundation 101 singing course which will show you how to connect chest and head voice, place your frequencies, achieve mixed voice, balance your onset, set up each aspect of vocal foundation and SO much more.
Remember, great singing starts with a great foundation – and foundation in singing is just like the foundation of a house being built; the rock solid concrete base that your range and tone (walls and roof) are being built upon. Don’t get caught up in all the crazy concepts like laryngeal tilt, modes or appoggio until you first have a strong foundation on which to build your voice.
If you have any questions about learning how to sing, 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.