The 6 Qualities That Make (Or Break) A Great Singer
More than half of the singers who come my way to improve their singing voices are already spending at least an hour per day practising vocal scales - and seeing very little improvement.
That's a LOT of practice.
So why do some singers find it all so easy and effortless - while the rest of us appear to go backwards with every step?
Smart singers know that building great vocal chops has less to do with quantity (time spent practising) and everything to do with quality (what/how you practice), so I'm going to share with you The 6 Qualities That Make (or break) A Great Singer.
#1 - High Quality Vocal Exercises
A great vocal exercise is one that addresses the root foundation of your vocal mechanism while showing you how to improve, build and bridge resonance when you sing - and a low quality vocal exercise is just a sound or scale with no relation to the fundamentals of how your voice functions. Singing "Nay Nay Nay" is absolutely pointless unless you first understand how this relates to forward placement, developing twang and also the way you manage resonant space and register overtones as you ascend on this sound to ensure fluid connection throughout your full range.
For all those singers who come my way with a page full of vocal exercises and a whole raft of vocal issues - the first thing I do is cross out ANY vocal exercise that they don't understand "the how or why" behind, or that has no basis in the fundamentals of building a great voice. For example, I often find people practising "Mah Mah Mah" day in and day out trying to find their mixed voice - without understanding what mixed resonance really is, or even how this exercise is meant to help them find mix; so they obviously see very little progress with this low quality exercise; unless they add quality by bridging connection between chest and head resonance using concepts like classroom voice, cry and even vowel modification to help them find the right balance between weight and tension in their vocal mechanism.
The difference between a low and high quality vocal exercise (and vocal method as a whole) really can be something as simple as an "intention" behind the exercise rather than just humming along scales for an hour hoping for the best.
When it comes to great singing, a high quality vocal method based on vocal foundation is key - remember, efficient vocal practice has everything to do with quality, and very little to do with quantity.
Kegan is the master of vocal training... period.
Top shelf sing-ninja wisdom! All kinds of awesome.
My progress has been pretty epic!
#2 - An Open Mind
Along with those pesky low quality vocal exercises, I also find that singers who are truly struggling have the strongest opinions and often quote facts and statements that don't really apply to their voices or issues - but it's easier to say "I can't sing that because I'm a baritone" than "my technique sucks and I'm always yelling".
Have you noticed that professional singers don't really use terms like Compression or Open Throat - they just SING really well without making a fuss? That's because fantastic singers aren't looking for excuses, they simply sing correctly. Whereas singers who struggle and strain, and all those guys on Reddit who do little more than 'talk' about singing are absolutely obsessed with labelling everyone else's voice and using excuses for why other people are 'haves' while they are 'have nots' - have you wondered why every single untrained singer online is "a baritone", when in actual fact voice type in a classical sense doesn't actually develop until after many years of training and discovering your true resonance? That's right - it's become an excuse rather than the vocal character that it really refers to, and anyone who sings better than they MUST be "a Tenor".
I find this is especially true for those with a deeper voice, or perhaps a unique vocal tone - the constant search for a reason why they're struggling rather than a committed drive to improve their singing. I'll also include myself in this equation because a deep voice is something I really struggled with when I first started learning how to sing - and I even remember saying at times "oh, I can't sing that because I'm a baritone", because I'd practised all of those low quality vocal exercises you'll find in those sketchy speech-singing methods and failed to see any results - it MUST be my voice type, right?
The truth is, how singing FEELS when you have developed a formidable voice is likely very different to what you're expecting through the process of learning how to sing better. I'm often asked by my students "but how should it feel?" - when this is actually subjective to the singer and their current abilities. A great example of this is compression, which is often sold as a 'secret' in expensive singing courses - compression isn't a switch that gets turned on in your voice by practising exercises like "Gah Gah Gah", it's actually the end result of many hours of effective vocal practice - in essence, an experienced singer simply uses less air and less pressure than a beginner singer, not because they're flexing "the compression muscle", but simply because they've learned to sing in an efficient manner, especially when it comes to controlled breathing.
#3 - Pushing is External, Singing is Internal
Your voice doesn't really travel out of your mouth when you sing - singing occurs when air pressure and vibration cycles through the vocal tract and your resonance 'pings' with a musical overtone.
Think about the last time you pushed or yelled when you sang, whether you were trying to sing a note out of your range or you were just having a hard time with a song - you tried to 'push' your voice out of your mouth louder and harder, right?
All that straining and struggle occurred because you tried to make your voice 'external' by pushing harder instead of sending the voice into the vocal tract and using your resonators properly.
When it comes to singing, "volume" isn't a real concept - you either have resonance, or you don't. The way you manage that resonance can make your voice fill a full room, or make you squeak like a mouse/roar like a bear if you're not using the vocal resonators correctly;
- The Pharyngeal
- The Oral
- The Nasal
Great singing occurs internally within the vocal tract - pushed and strained singing occurs out of the mouth.
#4 - Each Voice Has a Unique Key
This was huge for me personally - over many years of singing lessons I had teacher after teacher telling me what worked 'for them' rather than what MY voice really needed. I think this is pretty common when it comes to people who kindof 'fall into' teaching because they're good at something - being a great singer doesn't mean that you have any skill whatsoever when it comes to teaching and training others to do the same; each voice has a unique key.
I see this every week with new students - some struggle with the concept of vowels and overtones, others are natural at the vowels but struggle with placement, others are great at vowels and placement but have a real issue with controlled breathing; each of these singers would need a unique set of instructions to achieve the same result of a great singing voice.
For example, you could take five different singers with five different voice types and give them the same generic instructions - sing bright, smile wide, yawn before you sing, sing as high as you can in chest voice before you transition to head voice and maybe one or two of those singers will stumble upon a better voice, but most likely only the 'natural' singer of the bunch will see any progress. Now, if you actually gave each of these five singers a different instruction based around their voice type, current ability, specific issues and also the 'way' that they learn the best - you'll actually get the SAME result with each singer as their abilities flourish, strengths are nurtured and issues are addressed.
So next time you're looking for "the secret" to great singing on YouTube, or you see one of those gurus telling you "the answer is in my course!" - remember, each voice requires a unique key.
Find The Keys To Your Voice
With The Foundation 101 Course
#5 - Speech isn't Singing
I know, there's a whole vocal method out there designed to make you "sing like you speak" - but have you ever wondered why spectacular singers have no speaking accent when they sing? That's because singing and speaking simply are NOT the same thing. While you pronounce many of your speech sounds using the articulators when talking, a sung vowel is created in the pharynx by altering/managing the size and shape of your vocal tract while also creating the correct vocal formant and register overtone for the word/vowel/range/style.
You don't make use of your full dynamic range when you speak, you also don't form resonant space and manage overtones, you don't use a balanced onset, consonant sounds are often dominant, you don't sustain resonance, you don't support your voice diaphragmatically, you don't achieve compression, you don't use a forward placement, you don't blend resonance, you don't connect chest and head voice - and the list goes on for how singing and speaking are simply different processes of the same mechanism.
The most important thing you will EVER learn as a singer is how to form your vowels and manage space in the vocal tract correctly to create a vowel overtone rather than just pronounce a speech sound. Creating a pharyngeal vowel in this way while using vowel modification to facilitate a natural balance in the mechanism to encourage an efficient overtone in each register/sound is the cornerstone of singing with Open Throat Technique - the "open" in Open Throat really refers to raising the soft palate to create resonant space and help you form your vowels correctly, and the "throat" really refers to the pharynx, not your literal 'throat' where the vocal folds sit.
Creating your vowels properly is one of the main proponents of The Four Vocal Fundamentals;
- Height In The Vocal Tract
- Forward Placement
- "All In One Flow"
- Mixed Tonality
You might be surprised to learn that EVERY single vocal technique out there relates directly to one of these four Vocal Fundamentals. For example, Vowel Modification, Raising the Soft Palate, Yawning and Narrowing The Vowel are all an extension of singing with Height In The Vocal Tract in the same way that Twang, Brightness, Nay and Nyah exercises and Masque are all related to Forward Placement.
Master The Four Vocal Fundamentals
With The Foundation 101 Course
#6 - There's Only One Voice
Many beginner to intermediate singers agonise about whether they're singing in Chest Voice or Head Voice - when in fact a professional singer blends both forms of resonance together to create a 'mix'; essentially a mixed register which is part chest and part head voice - allowing you to retain the rich depth and power of your chest register while enjoying the extensive range afforded by your head register.
The very first step in The Foundation Vocal Method is to connect chest and head voice using semi-occluded resonant sounds like lip trills, N, NG and eventually "hoot" sounds to bridge resonance between your two main registers. As this connect starts to grow, balance and strengthen - vowel modification and forward placement are introduced to improve the quality and strength of your resonance while giving you the practical ability to port these exercises and sounds over into actual songs.
Your favourite singers are singing a few words in chest voice and then a few words in head voice, they're actually using the CT and TA muscles at the same time to create a fluid blend between the registers with Mixed Resonance.
A great place to start is this exclusive mixed voice singing lesson which will show you the exact process I use to help my own students develop mixed voice while connecting chest and head voice to improve their tone and increase their range.
But instead of continually telling you just how awesome it is to sing with such effortless power and freedom, let m show you - here's a few quick examples of the voice I've achieved using The Four Vocal Fundamentals; just imagine the killer singing voice you're going to enjoy when you master these four vocal basics!
Master The Four Vocal Fundamentals
With The Foundation 101 Course
Do You Have What It Takes?
When I was first learning how to sing, I constantly questioned whether I really had what it takes to become a better singer. I really just wanted someone to TELL ME whether I was ever really going to be a good singer, and how best to invest my time and effort to see the best results and progress.
Well now it's possible!
This Vocal Improvement Quiz will calculate your exact potential for improvement as a singer. Best of all it's quick, super accurate and most singers are totally SHOCKED at the results!
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.