The 10 Basics Of Singing Well
Learning how to sing can be like a minefield - have you SEEN how many videos there are on YouTube telling you to pull this way, pull that way, push up, push down and everything in between?
Let me make it easier for you by simplifying great singing into The 10 Basics Of Singing Well.
I personally like to simplify even further and break everything down into The Four Vocal Fundamentals - but I'm going to expand on this with personal experience of my own epic fails as a beginner singer to building a professional singing voice that I'm now proud of.
Let me share with you the 10 most important things you need to learn to be a GREAT singer (starting with The Four Vocal Fundamentals!)
#1 - Height In The Vocal Tract
Call it what you will - raising the soft palate, modifying the vowel (we'll talk about this in a moment too), yawning before you sing; learning how to sing with Height In The Vocal Tract is your absolute #1 first task as a singer.
While super important, it's also super SIMPLE - instead of 'speaking' your vowel sounds when you sing, instead focus on sustaining the open, resonant sound at the centre of each word (so, "EH" for Yeah, "AH" for Star etc) and focus on the 'open' feeling at the back of the mouth - yes, it's similar to the beginnings of a yawn, but not a big "yogi bear" massive yawn that engages your larynx.
By creating resonant space in the vocal tract, you enable the formant of each vowel for each register.
When it comes to increasing range and building resonance - height in the vocal tract is king.
#2 - Forward Placement
I said we'd start with The Four Vocal Fundamentals - so that's exactly what I'm doing. Forward Placement is your next port of call for a great voice.
Think about your favourite singer, or any famous singer through history that has an extensive range with a powerful voice - Aretha Franklin, Chris Cornell, Jon Bon Jovi, Adele; they all have a BRIGHT vocal tone, right? That's because they're singing with forward placement.
#3 - "All In One Flow"
It might sound a little Zen, but "All In One Flow" is the most practical way I've found to describe the actual act of airflow when you sing.
Many people focus too intently on "how to breathe in when singing" rather than how they actually exhale the air they've just inhaled - in short, it should feel like you're singing "All In One Flow Of Air".
Instead of Singing. Staccatto. And. Speechy. Like. This. - instead, sing more musically liiiiiiiiiiiike-thiiiiiiiiiiis (with an AH and AY vowel respectively instead of the iiii's).
Learning to sing All In One Flow is actually the first key to developing compression in your singing too - so if you want a big, powerful or even distorted tone when you sing, working on your breathing in this way is step #1.
#4 - Mixed Tonality
The final of our Four Vocal Fundamentals, Mixed Tonality is simply the natural resonant focus between chest and head voice.
If your voice is breaking and flipping, then you're lacking Mix Voice - and it's a pretty easy fix with this simple Mixed Voice tutorial.
Again, think about your favourite singers - they're not barking and yelling, nor are they fluting away in falsetto; they're singing in mixed voice; there's a reason this is one of The Four Vocal Fundamentals.
#5 - Full Voice Vs. Chest Voice
Moving beyond the Four Vocal Fundamentals, #5 on the list of the top 10 basics required for great singing is learning to sing in FULL VOICE beyond your chest voice.
That's right, when those guys on YouTube are doing the hard sell on their course at you saying "I've learned to take chest voice all the way to the top of my range!" - what they're really saying is that they've discovered "Full Voice In Head Voice".
Semantics, I know - but it's incredibly important for a beginner singer to have a full picture of the voice instead of smoke and mirrors. Your full voice is MORE than just Chest Voice and then weak, breathy head voice or falsetto - there's actually Full Voice to be developed and discovered in your high range; and the way you do this is actually do drop chest voice while developing your voice and really focus on the Four Fundamentals instead of trying to prove a point of just how high you can pull your chest voice.
I can't reiterate enough - "High Chest Voice Notes" aren't chest voice at all, they're one of two things; Mixed Voice or Full Voice In Head Voice.
#6 - The Voice Is Natural
This one was a big one for me personally.
Most people approach learning how to sing like they're building an engine; bolt this here, hook this up there, weld this together, throw this in there too - but the truth is, when it comes to singing your engine is already built; you just haven't found the ignition or gears yet.
Sing as naturally as you can - if something doesn't feel right, then stop doing it. Singing should ultimately be comfortable, effortless and resonant. You're not building an engine, you're simply learning how to drive.
#7 - Vowel Modification is all about the overtone
When I was first introduced to Vowel Modification, I was told little more than "change your vowel here to AW and ER" - but the key to building a really great voice is actually to understand exactly WHY and WHAT these changes are.
Vowel Modification occurs when you alter the shape and size of the vocal tract (neutral/wide/narrowing/narrow) to achieve/alter the resonant overtone through each register.
This allows you to connect chest and head voice from your lowest note to your highest note with power, ease, confidence and freedom.
Vowel Modification really isn't a secret - it's been around for hundreds of years. But the key here is really to focus on the resonant overtone that occurs when you make these subtle changes in the vocal tract rather than trying to mangle your vowel sounds.
#8 - Distortion and Grit are a result of placement
For many years I tried to close and clamp, grind and push to achieve distortion - until I discovered that you can actually distort your voice TONALLY - that's right, by focusing again on those resonant overtones and formants, you can overdrive the overtone itself and achieve distortion with little more than a slight increase in compression and aiming for an overly forward placement.
Distortion is also a third level technique - you really shouldn't be messing around with grit before you've absolutely mastered all the vowel overtones (after all, this is really what distorts when you sing with grit!) and made a full connection in FULL VOICE between chest and head voice.
Take your time with distortion - it's fun, and sounds cool, but definitely not the "be all and end all" of great singing.
#9 - Vocal Exercises function that same as drum rudiments
I get a lot of students come across from all manner of other courses and methods - quite often with an impressive ability to sing scales, but little ability to sing actual songs.
The key here is really to associate what you practice with what you're going to sing.
When you practice an AH vowel - this is exactly the same way that you're going to sing words which are formed from the AH vowel; for example, we don't sing "i" for the word EYE, we actually sing "AH".
For this reason, I actually designed my whole vocal method around practicality and the idea that a vocal exercise is simply a 'rudiment' that you will eventually apply in your own singing;
"hoots" raise the soft palate and encourage resonant space
"NG" helps you develop twang
"N" helps you take twang and turn it into forward placement
Lip Trills help you connect your registers and release tension.
These are ALL things that you need to achieve and apply when you sing.
#10 - Every Single Vocal Technique Relates To The Four Vocal Fundamentals
You'll notice that while I've shared 9 important concepts, ideas and techniques that you can start applying in your singing today - that each one actually relates to one of The Four Vocal Fundamentals directly.
That's because every single technique out there relates to one of these powerful Vocal Fundamentals:
There's also one more important thing that I want to share with you that absolutely changed my life as a singer - but I feel like we've been through about as much as you can digest in one post for now, so click the link below for a "Before and After" of my singing along with the #1 thing that absolutely turned the tables for me as a singer: