Singing: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet
If you’ve been wondering why learning how to sing is so difficult for you when others seem to sing naturally with ease, you’re in luck – there’s an easier way to sing. Singing itself is a simple process of balance, from balancing your air pressure and airflow to balancing chord closure and air pressure to balancing resonance and so forth. This singing cheat sheet will explain the important elements of your voice and show you how to develop a proper balance so that you can sing better with minimal effort.
Welcome to Singing: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet
The key to great singing
The key to great singing is balance and coordination. Many beginner singers sing with excess force and undue-effort, without realising that great singers are singing with ease because they are always balanced. Any strain or force you use to sing is due to a lack of coordination and balance, so it’s important that you start light and build your range over time with precision, intention, perseverance and care. Here are the main aspects of a great singing voice and how to develop balance in each one.
Vowels ain’t vowels
A vowel in singing has little to do with pronunciation as it does in speech. Each of your vowel sounds is created by a specific tongue shape while allowing appropriate resonant space for your vowel sound to vibrate with ease. A great example of this is to alternate between a small EE sound and an AH vowel, like Feed and Far, but simply sustaining the central vowel sound instead of adding the consonants that make the word – can you feel how your tongue raises at the back for the EE and lowers to a concave shape on the AH vowel? Congratulations, you just shaped your first two vowel sounds.
Most approaches to singing involve AH, OH, EE, AY and OO – however, I prefer to focus on AH, AA, EE, AY and OO instead, as OH like the word GO is a combination of two of your main vowel sounds, AH and OO. Are you shaping your vowels correctly for efficient resonance, or are you pronouncing speech vowels instead?
Diaphragmatic Breathing and Support
No doubt you’ve heard or read that you should breathe into the diaphragm or sing from the diaphragm – but the reality is much easier and simple than you can imagine. You don’t sing from the diaphragm, you simply breathe using the diaphragm when you sing. If you set up your posture correctly first with your head held high, shoulders back and chin parallel with the floor, you can then engage the diaphragm for the most efficient breath control in singing – maintaining this posture while maintaining engagement and control of the diaphragm is then called support. Instead of letting this mechanism collapse when you exhale or when you hold a phrase, you alter your diaphragmatic engagement to balance your remaining air for air pressure instead of airflow, this is often called Appoggio in singing or simply support.
My favourite way to illustrate the engagement of the diaphragm is to have my student set up their posture first like above, and then to breathe sharp and low as though they are breathing through a small drinking straw. Instead of the top half of your chest rising as you inhale, you should feel as though the breathing comes from your belly or around your lower ribs. This is diaphragmatic breathing. Instead of sucking air into the lungs, instead you simply lower the diaphragm and the negative space created will instantly be full of air like a diaphragm – this will aid you in building power, consistency and a great tonal quality with regular practice and perseverance. Are you breathing using the diaphragm, or from the top of your lungs?
Each of your consonants sounds lies within a specific group of like-sounds, such as S and T being sibilant sounds, and P and B being plosive sounds. Each of these consonants has a specific approach that can make singing words and actual songs much easier. Rather than simply slurring through your consonant, instead you can actually form them around your base vowel shapes so that they are clear, concise and articulated without force.
- Plosives – P and B
- Sibilants – S and T
- Closed Resonants – R, L, W and Y
- Open Resonants – N, M, NG
- Glottal – G, K
A great example of a well-trained consonant group is one that can be articulated with clarity without any effect on the quality of your vowel sound and resonance. You can try it yourself with a “W” word like “WELL”, rather than pronouncing the W from your throat, try replacing it with a pure OO vowel instead, like “OO-ELL”. Can you feel how this frees up your consonant sound but also still allows you to pronounce the sound clearly? Now, all you need to do is practice this consistently and over time learn to down-play the OO vowel part until you can sing a resonant “W” consonant.
Without clear consonants, you won’t be able to sing words. Are you using speech consonants instead of forming your consonant groups properly?
Connect chest and head voice
Building a connection between chest and head voice is paramount to a great singing voice. If you lack a connection between your registers, you are lacking balance in more than one aspect of your voice. I like to simplify the whole process of connecting chest and head voice by thinking of the registers and their connection as a balance between vocal fold weight (chest voice) and vocal fold tension (head voice). The middle of your voice that is currently lacking connection is then a balance of vocal fold weight and tension, leading to what some call the MIX or MIDDLE register that is neither full chest voice, not fully released head voice, but a balance of the two resulting in a pleasant and powerful connection between chest and head voice.
Chest and Head aren’t really two different voices, but rather a change in the mechanism that you use to control your vocal folds. This change in the mechanism can be smoothed out over time using the tips in the video above to create one fluid, smooth and connected range. Are you connecting chest and head voice yet?
Are you limiting your potential as a singer?
One of the biggest issues a singer faces in the process of building their voice is their own limiting-beliefs and opinions. A limiting belief or opinion is something that may not even be relevant to your voice or your life, and the strong belief in which then colours your decisions and choices, ultimately leading you down the path of failure. An example of this is someone who says they “have a bad voice” – they will likely take one or two singing lessons, decide that it’s all too hard “because of their bad voice” instead of realising that great singing is a process of balance that occurs over time with training and persistence. Remember, a voice coach is there to guide you through the process and help you along your journey, not hand you a magical key or reveal the secret to your voice.
A great place to start is the free foundations short courses available here at BVS which will show you how to set up the strongest foundation for your voice to be built upon. Remember, your singing voice is only ever going to be as strong as the foundation you have built it upon – have you set up a strong foundation for your voice? When you’re ready to take it to the next level with professional voice training, you can book a Skype Session and we’ll work towards extending your range and building balance and consistency in your voice every time you sing.
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.