Why Am I Bad At Singing? (How To Fix It)
Are you struggling to sing high notes, sustain a phrase or just generally feel like your voice sucks? I’ve been there. The reason why you’re bad at singing is largely down to your vocal technique and approach to singing – there’s no such thing as a truly ‘bad’ voice, only poor singing technique.
I too struggled for many years when I was first learning how to sing. My naturally low voice lacked range, I struggled with tension and strain, I felt like my tone just sucked, my voice would get tired and ultimately I was unable to sing the songs that I truly dreamt of until I discovered the true secret to great singing.
Great singing requires a strong foundation.
It really is that simple. For many years I bought courses, books, DVDs and expensive singing lessons looking for ‘the answer’, the ‘secret’ or the next ‘advanced’ techniques that I felt were being hidden from me. I started to feel like I really didn’t have what it would take to become a truly great singer. The real truth is, I lacked fundamental understanding of how MY voice worked, and simply lacked a strong foundation. Sure, I’d done breathing exercises many years before, practised lip trills and resonant sounds and had also sung almost every scale, drill and exercise under the sun – but my overall foundation was lacking.
Instead of looking past the basics like breathing, resonance and vowels for the “advanced” techniques like compression, resonance tuning, vowel modification or classical concepts like Appoggio, Inhalare La Voce or countless other confusing terms – I should have really asked myself whether I truly understood HOW to breathe properly, what exactly IS resonance, HOW to sing vowels properly. These foundation elements in singing are easy to neglect when there is exciting ‘tricks’ out there like Glottal Compression or Open Throat Technique – when the truth is, these terms are sometimes just smoke and mirrors and you can likely achieve them in your singing already, you’re just not sure HOW – so let me explain these two common terms, Open Throat and Glottal Compression.
What is Open Throat Singing?
The term Open Throat comes from the classical La Gola Aperta concept, or “The Open Throat”. The thing with classical terms like La Gola Aperta, is that they are sometimes (often) intended as a figure of speech – and when they get translated literally into English like “Open Throat”, they can become quite contradictory to their original intention, and very confusing as to how you go about achieving them in your own singing.
Here’s the reason why Open Throat singing is such a mystery to so many singers: Open Throat Singing Requires Closure. That’s right, to achieve Open Throat Singing, you first must achieve and maintain closure in almost every element of the vocal mechanism, from vocal fold closure, to partial closure of the supraglottis, to narrowing of the vowel, resisting the recoil of the diaphragm and so forth. By physically trying to “open” your throat or your mouth as wide as possible when you sing to achieve the poorly translated technique of Open Throat singing, you are in fact doing the polar opposite of what the term really means. Clear as mud, right?
Open Throat Singing requires:
- Vocal Fold Closure
- Narrowing of the vowel in your vocal tract
- Partial closure of the supraglottis (compression)
- Partial closure of the epiglottis (twang)
- Resistance to the recoil of the diaphragm (support)
- Closure of the soft palate against the nasal passage
As you can see, classical terms like Open Throat often cause more confusion than anything else to singers simply looking to improve their singing voices.
What is Glottal Compression
Glottal Compression is another term that is used and explained in various ways, and is often touted as the “secret” to great singing, when in fact it is something that you can already do with ease – but simply aren’t sure how to control or apply in your own singing correctly.
Glottal Compression, Supracompression, Super Compression, Compression, Vocal Squeeze, Hold, Hypercompression, Hyper Glottal Compression are all interchangeably the same term and refer to one simply mechanism of the voice – partial closure of the supraglottal area of the throat to moderate airflow and air pressure on open vowel sounds and also in rock and extreme singing to achieve grit, gravel and distortion.
The truth is, if you have a great vocal foundation and you’re singing your vowels correctly by shaping the tongue and allowing resonant space in the pharynx by raising the soft palate – you can already sing with Glottal Compression and can identify this sensation very simply by singing a balanced onset on a “G” on an Open Vowel – such as Guh Guh Guh (Americanised God), or Geh, Geh, Geh (Americanised Game). That small feeling of ‘closure’ above the vocal folds that remains after the “G” sound in these exercises is hyper engagement of your supraglottis, or simply put – glottal compression.
Now, the true secret to Glottal Compression is knowing how and when to use it. When it comes to healthy and resonant singing, a small to moderate amount of compression is used on each open vowel sound (AH, AY, AA, OH), and less so on the closed vowels (EE, OO, ER, OI). Learning to identify how much compression is required for each vowel does take time, but is easily learned with vocal training.
Great Singing Starts with a Great Foundation
Open Throat Singing and Glottal Compression are simply two small elements of a great vocal foundation, and techniques that you can get started learning right now with the Foundation 101 singing course available here at Bohemian Vocal Studio.
Another extremely important element of any strong vocal foundation is Mixed Resonance, which occurs when you blend resonance from your chest register with frequencies from your head voice – in essence allowing you to create a “mixed” register which retains the rich depth of chest voice while enjoying the extensive range afforded by your head voice. Simply put, Mix voice will allow you to connect chest and head voice into one fluid and powerful range that is blended from your lowest note to your highest note in a smooth fashion. This allows you to use the concepts of Open Throat and Glottal Compression to build and achieve the voice of your dreams, whether you want a smooth Pop tone, a gritty Rock delivery or a funky R’nB tone – or all of the above.
A great place to start is this free Mixed Voice singing lesson which will show you how to get started developing a blend of resonance in your middle section so you can work towards connecting your registers and building the voice of your dreams.
If you have any questions about learning how to sing better, 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.