Teach Yourself How To Sing
The ability to sing is one of the purest joys given to us by nature, and while singing itself is actually a very simple process, learning how to sing well can be a tricky business, especially if you’re trying to teach yourself how to sing. The truth of the matter is, no two voices are created equal, so there really is no such thing as a “one size fits all” approach to singing, so a little bit of self coaching really does go a long way. Whether you’re in between singing teachers, in between bands, you simply want to give it a go yourself or you want to make some progress with the basics before pulling the trigger on that singing course or online singing lessons, these tips will help you teach yourself how to sing better without the stress of finding a coach or the hefty price tag that often comes with a singing course.
One of the biggest mistakes I made as a budding singer was to treat my voice like it was something to be controlled and moulded instead of the natural process of balance that it truly is. Learning to sing with your own true voice is one of the most powerful keys to becoming a fantastic singer – don’t fight your voice and the process and time required to teach yourself how to sing will be a much smoother and more enjoyable one. Are you ready to sing better?
Balance is key
Singing isn’t a feat of muscular strength, it’s one of planning, finesse and ultimately balance. Every aspect of your voice can be traced back to balance, whether it’s a balanced onset, the process of support, frequencies, resonance, release, connection – every aspect of singing requires balance. Now, on the flip-side every issue that you experience with your voice in singing can be traced back to a lack of balance. If your onsets aren’t balance, and your frequencies are skewed, and you’re not balancing airflow and air pressure for correct support, your voice as a whole will lack balance and so will your tone and range. Developing balance is key in the early stages of learning how to sing and teaching yourself how to sing better. Remember, singing isn’t a game of lifting weights or brute strength, it’s a process of balance and coordination that requires a good approach, patience and of course practice.
The first thing you need to learn is how to connect chest and head voice by balancing the frequencies that correspond with either register. It might not seem like it at the moment, but chest and head voice have the capability of blending through the middle of your voice to create one long, fluid note that connects from your lowest to highest note – this blend is sometimes called mix voice or middle voice singing. The best way to develop this connection in the initial stages is with a semi-occluded (ie: closed) sound such as a lip trill. Lip trills really are the most versatile and powerful singing tool that you can use, and while they may not seem very practical when it comes to singing actual songs, they help develop your voice in more ways than one:
- Use the soft palate correctly
- Resonant space
- Moderation of airflow
- Connecting chest and head
- Middle voice
There are too many benefits from the humble lip trill to name in their entirety, but trust me when I say that the lip trill is the most powerful singing exercise anyone can ever show you. Are you singing lip trills correctly? Lets find out.
How to sing lip trills correctly
If you’re someone who struggles with lip trills, or you need to use your fingers to push in your cheeks when you practice a trill, it’s a sign that there’s something missing in your foundation, and unfortunately, this issue will also carry over when you sing actual songs. It’s important that you learn to master the lip trill, because any weakness in your trill shows a weakness in your foundation – and a weak foundation equals a weak voice! The first step in learning how to sing lip trills correctly is to understand how they work.
Lip trills work the way they do because air pressure builds up in your mouth behind closed lips, and when the pressure builds to the required point, air is released through the weakest point of closure in the lips. The best way to master this process is to first try it without any resonant sound, just the “BRRR” bubble at the lips. It should be tight, relaxed and fluid – if you can’t sustain a trill on it’s own in this manner, you’ve got some work to do!
Now that you’re mastering the basic elements of the trill, you can start adding in a crescendo of sound from silent to resonant behind the trill. You’ll soon notice that the “BRRR” sound doesn’t actually come from your lips, but from a separate resonance in the back of your throat and top of your head. If you focus on this resonance, you can start building a powerful bridge between chest and head voice. If the resonance breaks on the trill, it’s likely you’re either not blending chest and head properly through your middle range, or you’re making the common mistake of opening the soft palate and allowing all that nice air pressure to escape through your nose instead of building up behind the lips.
Support isn’t sport
Support is often called King in singing technique, but it’s important to understand that like always, support is a process of balance, not an “on” switch. Support itself is just a fancy word to describe the balance between air flow and air pressure. A supported tone is skewed towards pressure, and an unsupported tone is skewed towards air flow. Learning to develop this balance will allow you to support your voice incrementally when needed, and still allow you to back off on the pressure when you’re singing in a pleasant middle tone or not intending to belt.
Support occurs as an extension of your posture and breathing. Setting up a healthy posture first is the key to building great support. Good posture in singing starts with holding your head high, chin parallel with the floor, chest proud and your shoulders back. Then when you breathe using the diaphragm, your shoulders and chest won’t be included in the equation, and the breathing will all occur from engagement of the diaphragm itself. Now, as you sing higher or hold a phrase, instead of allowing your ribs to collapse and your diaphragm to ascend back towards the chest cavity, keep the diaphragm down and your stomach out as though you’re still breathing in – you’ll notice that this creates more air pressure and allows you to sing higher, with more power and also releases strain while giving you a fuller and more resonant tone – congratulations, you just supported your voice! The key to great support and ultimately achieving a powerful singing tone is setting up your posture and engaging the diaphragm effectively. Are you breathing in the right way?
How to sing from the diaphragm
The diaphragm is a large and dome-shaped muscle that sits at the top of the abdomen/base of the lung cavity. When you engage the diaphragm, it lowers towards the abdomen, creating a negative-space like a vacuum which instantly fills with pressurised air. As you sing, the diaphragm can either come back up and release the air (unsupported), or you can continue the engagement and maintain pressure (supported).
Once you’ve set up a healthy posture like we discussed above, you can engage the diaphragm by imagining you are breathing low and sharp through a very small drinking straw. Don’t suck the air in, just push your belly out and allow your lungs to fill with air. Over time, this seemingly counter intuitive process will become more natural and simply part of your vocal routine. You can also practice diaphragmatic engagement while working the soft palate by alternating this diaphragmatic breathing through the nose and then the mouth. When you breathe through the nose, the soft palate is open – this is the position you would sing an open resonant consonant like N, M or NG. When you breathe through the mouth only, the soft palate is closed, and is in the position to sing closed resonants and vowel sounds like AH, AA, OO, EE, and AY. To maintain the connection you’ve developed on the lip trill while singing a vowel sound, you then need to learn how to alter the resonant space by raising the soft palate.
Resonant space occurs when the soft palate raises from the ‘closed’ position we discussed above to extend the vocal tract and open up the pharynx for resonance through the middle and high range. You can think of this is a little ‘yawn’ that occurs at the back of your throat (through your mouth only). A great way to discover this sensation is to open up from a closed vowel to an open vowel without allowing airflow through the nose – for example OO to AH, or EE to OH. One of my favourite exercises for developing resonant space is to practice a resonant and “hooty” sound on both an EE and OO vowel. This hooty sound forces you to engage the soft palate correctly (you’ll notice that the hooty sound isn’t possible if there is airflow through your nose). Over time you can ditch the hooty sound by neutralising the larynx and allowing a brighter tone on each of your vowels, right through from these smaller vowels through to bigger vowels like AH and OH.
As you ascend through each of your breaks, a different amount and type of resonant space is required. The first break generally requires a wider vowel space, and the second break generally requires you to narrow the tract as you ascend towards head voice. The process of altering your resonant space is one that takes time and practice, but will unlock your high range like you could never have imagined.
A vocal onset is literally the onset of your resonance, the way your tone begins. This is overlooked even in some of the better singing courses out there, but it will literally blow your mind when you learn to do it properly. An onset in singing is a proportional balance between vocal fold closure and release of airpressure. The only onset that you should develop as a habit is a balanced onset where resonance occurs instantly due to central coordination between closure and airflow coming together at the very same moment. Now, on either side of this healthy, balanced onset is an aspirated (breathy) onset where airflow passes the chords before they achieve closure, and a glottal onset where this is full closure of the chords before they receive airflow. A breathy onset not only dries out the vocal folds over time, but also tends to make many singers flat, where a glottal onset is immediately identifiable by the harsh nature of the sound and forceful, unpleasant feeling you get when you ‘hold’ your chords together before achieving resonance – this has the added detriment of making singers ‘ramp up’ to pitch or have a slightly sharp intonation.
Balancing your onset is one of the most important aspects of healthy vocal technique and really does make the difference between a healthy and consistency voice, and one that is in danger of damage and strain while also lacking consistency. One of the best ways to develop a balanced onset is to practice a crescendo – the balanced onset actually lies in the centre of the crescendo with neither end of the tail audible when you sing – there is closure and airflow at the very same moment to achieve perfect and instant resonance without strain. If you find your voice tires after some time when you practice or sing, then it’s likely you’re straining on the onset, and this bad habit will wreak havoc on your vocal health and consistency over time. Balance your onset for a balanced vocal tone.
The Best Way To Teach Yourself How To Sing
If you’re looking to teach yourself how to sing, a great place to start is the free foundations 101 singing course available here at Bohemian Vocal Studio, which will set you up with a rock solid and powerful foundation while forming better habits and a regular practice routine. Our YouTube channel has hundreds of free tutorials on every topic from resonance, middle voice, extending range through to run-throughs of popular songs and methods to achieve the tone and vocal range you desire. When you’re ready to take your voice to the next level with professional coaching, you’re welcome to book a Skype Lesson with me and we’ll start working towards extending your range, building control and consistency and developing balance every time you sing.
Remember, singing is a process of balance, restraint and control – not a weightlifting competition. Stop trying to fight your voice and discover your own true voice by allowing your voice to function the way it was designed: without strain.
If you have any questions about learning to teach yourself 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.