The Minimalist Guide To Singing
If you’d like to learn how to sing and you’ve done your research, no doubt you’re a little overwhelmed where to start, and confused by just how many conflicting opinions there are out there, punctuated by complicated singing terms and convoluted techniques that seem more like a mythical creature than a practical instruction for how to sing better.
This minimalist guide to singing is going to break down the walls that sneaky singing Gurus and their expensive singing programs have placed around the process of learning to sing with archaic terms like Appoggio, Open Throat, Leaning and Formants. It sounds like another language, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it generally is. In the world of singing, classical terms are often accepted as ‘the given’ when you learn to sing, and you’re expected to brush up on your ancient Italian before any of it will make sense to you. But, I’m here to show you there is a BETTER way to learn how to sing by keeping it minimalist, simple and free of confusing terms. Are you ready for The Minimalist Guide To singing?
Foundation is key
The foundation you build for your voice is the very first step you need to take if you wish to build a great singing voice. Foundation includes posture, breathing and a little trick I like to call “placement” – I’ll explain in full shortly.
Great posture in singing looks a little like:
- Head up
- Shoulders back
- Chin Parallel with the floor
- Ribs wide
This last step is the secret ingredient that some call “Appoggio” or try to keep shrouded in mystery only for those in the know, but ultimately is simply the goal of moderating your airflow with diaphragmatic engagement rather than letting your ribs contract, yes, it really IS that simple.
Now, diaphragmatic breathing itself is another one that gets confusing, with one person saying to breathe from the belly, another saying to breathe into the diaphragm, and then there are those like myself who understand how the voice actually functions and say breathe USING the diaphragm. That’s right, you don’t suck are ‘into’ the diaphragm, you use expansion of the diaphragm to draw air into your chest cavity – pretty cool, right?
Placement (aka EQ’ing the voice)
If you have a low voice like me, you likely experience some difficulty in “finding” your singing voice and making a separation between how you speak, and how you should sing. Placement is simply the concept of limiting any inefficient frequencies when you warm up and practice, so that when you actually sing, you’re not wasting your energy on frequencies that really don’t serve your singing voice in a positive way. Placement is super easy to practice, and is often achieved by practicing a simple “N” or “NG” exercise to allow a buzz behind your nose/around your teeth rather than a throaty or breathy tone that is full of inefficient low frequencies, or worse, lacking in resonance.
Vowels are the secret
Vowels are different in singing to the ones you speak with, and where we often pronounce our vowels and consonants in speech using the front portion of your face like the teeth and lips, your vowels in singing actually occur from shaping the back of your tongue and altering the resonant space of your vocal tract (I know I know, I said minimalist – bear with me!). Basically, the resonant buzz that you just created with the “N” exercise above can further be EQ’ed into each vowel sound by shaping your tongue in a specific manner and then allowing an appropriate space using the soft palate, tongue root, pharynx and other elements of your actual vocal tract.
As an example, an AH vowel, like LAH LAH LAH, is created by shaping your tongue concave and keeping it low in the base of your mouth, while allowing a relatively wide vocal tract. On the flip-side, an EE vowel is created by raising the back of your tongue and allowing a naturally narrow vocal tract.
Singing and speaking aren’t the same thing
If I had a dime for every time I had to explain this to someone who was pronouncing their vowels and placing their frequencies incorrectly. Singing and speaking ultimately aren’t the same thing, and while they use the same mechanism, they are a polar process. Do you breathe with the diaphragm to speak? No. Do you shape your vowels in speech? Nuh uh. Do you alter your resonant space to talk? Nope. I could go on and on about the important differences between singing and speaking, but I’ve done this before.
Your vocal break isn’t broken
Wait a minute, does this mean that you can actually connect Chest and Head voice? Absolutely. Your vocal range is created by a balance of vocal fold weight and vocal fold tension, not by two ‘separate’ voices. I know that it’s hard to understand when you first start singing because everyone says “chest” and “head”, but ultimately the two main registers are the same thing and can be welded together by development of your middle register and development of a balanced coordination through the difficult parts of your range.
Try it yourself with a lip trill, or a super quiet ‘N’ exercise like we discussed above. Can you feel how yes, there IS actually a connection there between your registers? Bingo. All you need to do is tune your vowels correctly through those tricky parts of the voice and soon you will have one long note that travels through your full vocal range from top to bottom with no break.
Consonants are a pain in singing, at least, if you are using speech consonants. This is another overlooked part of singing technique in many vocal programs out there, with instructions like slurring through your words or taking out the consonants all together – how are we supposed to sing actual words?
I’ll tell you a little secret, consonant sounds are different in singing to how they are in speech, especially considering all the different accents and languages out there. If you are pronouncing and ‘speaking at pitch’ – then you are simply not singing.
Extend your range
Range extension starts to occur when you’ve put sufficient balance and connection between your registers (aka vocal fold weight and vocal fold tension). With a slight change in the character to each of your vowel sounds as you ascend, for example AH to UH, or EE to AY you will find the next resonant space past your first vocal break. From this point, it is a simple matter of narrowing each of your vowel sounds into a top-to-bottom oval with your mouth and cheeks. Of course, this is an oversimplification of the finesse it takes to develop a powerful and consistent connection while accessing your full range, but – this is the minimalist guide to singing.
A great place to start is the free foundations short courses here at Bohemian Vocal Studio which will show you how to set up a strong foundation along with setting up proper placement. When you’ve mastered the basics of diaphragmatic breathing, posture and placement you can then book a Skype Session and we’ll work towards extending your range and building consistency in your voice every time you sing.
If you have any questions about learning to sing and keeping things minimalist, you’re welcome to leave any feedback or questions below!