Smarter Singing: 5 Tips to Improve Your Voice Today
A musical voice is one of the most misunderstood instruments on the planet, and for good reason. One of the beautiful things about it is that everyone believes they sing because everyone has a voice. For this reason alone, shows like American Idol have made a fortune off of bad performances, and people – unfortunately – believing that they can sing.
As painful as it is to watch some of the auditions from the video above on American Idol, what’s even more difficult is to realize how a singer could judge themselves so poorly.
As a vocal coach for over 10 years, I can tell you that one of my greatest competitors is the invisible “shower coach”. Why? Because everyone sounds good singing in the shower. But, it’s just not that easy.
Anyone who sings professionally will tell you, singing is difficult. This is true for 99% of us, as some singers such as Whitney Houston or Aretha Franklin were just born to sing. However, even the best singers in the world have to continually work on their pitch and tone to perfect their natural talent.
I remember the first time I was recorded singing for an album. I started to sing into the microphone during the first take and I thought to myself, “I’m going to blow them [the producers] away.” As the song progressed all the way through, I sang my heart and soul out, telling myself, “you’re killing it.” It was only when the track ended did my perfect pitch dreams come crashing down all at once. I will never forget what the producer said to me.
“Wow, that was rough. Glad we weren’t recording yet.”
Ouch. I acted like I was just practicing and messing around to save whatever singing pride I had left. Over the next few days, I would realize how difficult it was to sing on pitch consistently, and grew to respect the singing process.
That’s one of the main reasons I am writing this blog today. If you’re willing to put the work in and to humble yourself a little bit, there is no telling where your voice will lead you. As singers, we have to learn how to sing smarter, not harder. After all, our voice is our main instrument. So here are five tips to help you improve your voice immediately.
Tip #1 – Take More Mental Reps
One of the first things I ask a person who comes up to me and says they want to sing is, “How often do you sing?” You would be surprised at how many people don’t know the answer to that question. This highlights an underlying issue with singers that aren’t very good: they don’t practice.
One of the greatest things about singing is that you can do it all the time. Unlike the acoustic guitar (or any other instrument for that matter), you can practice anytime, anywhere. In the car, shower, on a walk, during an interview… maybe not that last one, but you get the point. If you want to get better at singing, you have to practice.
A common misconception about singing is that you have to do it all physically. Although it is crucial that you practice out loud, you should also consider taking more “mental” singing reps. In other words, think about what you are singing and how you are going to attack each note.
Study some of your favorite vocal artists. Watch them perform on youtube and write down each time they take a breath. You will be surprised at the correlation between breathing and singing, and realize that you may be singing a certain way because you are breathing wrong.
The point is, don’t just throw something out there. Think about each note. Sometimes focusing on a word in a single phrase will help you stay on the correct pitch more often.
Tip #2 – Listen Before You Sing
A mistake I see often is the singer rushing to sing a song before they even know the song. Ask yourself before you perform a song: how many times have I listened to it? Often, many poor singers try to sing a song after listening to it once while reading the lyrics. This is a mistake.
I personally don’t even begin to try and sing a song until I’ve listened to it 10 times through, and I will tell you the reasons why. I have found that when I try to sing a song before I have listened to it enough, I sing the wrong melodies.
Maybe this has happened to you before; you’ve been singing a song a certain way your entire life only to realize years later that you were singing it wrong the whole time. This is a result of poor practicing habits.
Listen before you sing. Take mental cues and listen to how the main melody aligns with a certain instrument. You will be amazed at how helpful this truly is. If you listen to a song carefully ten times before the first time you sing it all the way through, you will sing with so much more purpose. This will allow you to have more control over your voice in the song and will increase your overall performance.
Tip #3 – Record Your Singing
Not only is the iPhone a helpful device for many reasons, but it also is a tremendous resource for your singing career! The voice memo app that comes standard with any iPhone is a great way to record yourself for free.
Listening to a raw recording of yourself without any effects is a sure-fire method to help improve your voice overnight. What’s powerful about it is the immediate feedback. Instant feedback is a tactic that we respond to well as human beings, especially these days. Am I right?
Have you ever driven past a speed sign that has a radar gun attached to it while speeding? Why did you immediately slow down? It’s the feedback! The radar gun shows you how much you are speeding, and this third party information makes us change our behavior. This is also true when we sing.
When we record ourselves and hit the playback button, we are given immediate feedback on how good or bad a job we did. We notice our pitch and we notice our breathing. We learn how to attack a certain note, and when to sing loud or soft.
The truth is, if you are not recording yourself singing daily, then you are probably not serious about getting better. Try to listen to one of your favorite songs 10 times and then sing it into a voice memo. Compare the two tracks and see how you did. Test yourself on your ability to sing correctly before you “make it your own”. Far too often a person relies on their own version of a song, instead of singing it the way it was originally recorded. There is a reason why you liked the song in the first place… try and sing it the original way in which it was recorded first, then make it your own.
Tip #4 – Find Your Range
Finding your range as a singer is one of the most freeing things to do. The best singers in the world are the best for a reason: they know their range. They understand their limitations.
It is true that you can practice on your range and it will get better over time. However, your voice has a natural frequency to it that is low, mid, or high. Musically speaking, those frequencies are translated into labels; tenor, alto, or soprano.
If you naturally have a mid-range (or alto) kind of voice, yet you are singing high soprano’s songs, then you don’t understand your range, and you won’t sound very good. Think of your range as a statue made out of stone. When an artist begins to carve an image, they start out with a block of stone and then slowly chip away at forming the image.
Your voice works the same way. Find your range and then slowly chip away at perfecting your voice within that range.
Tip #5 – Focus More on Tone, Not Volume
When I talk about tone, struggling singers don’t even know what I am talking about. Confused, they ask me, “You mean how I sound?”
“No… It’s why you sound the way you sound!”
As a musician, as well as a singer, I invest a lot of money into guitars that sound good. What am I paying for? The tone! The tone of the guitar is what makes it unique. The same goes for our voices. If all you are doing is trying to sing as loud as you can, while holding out notes all day long like Ariana Grande, then you’re probably missing it as an artist. Instead of focusing solely on volume, try to focus on your tone.
Singing with tone means allowing the voice to soften. This is why singing “falsetto” is so popular. The thing that makes singing falsetto so impactful is not how high singers are going on the vocal scale, it’s the tone in which they are doing it. Singing high and soft at the same time sounds really good. Why is this true? It’s because of the depth. It’s high, which naturally produces more volume, and soft, which naturally widens out the sound. This high and wide contrast provides a certain depth that our ears love to hear.
The next time you sing, try to sing notes as quietly as you can, and then sing them as loud as you can (without straining your voice). Take mental notes on the differences. To get good feedback, try and stand up against a wall and sing. You will find it much easier to hear yourself sing, because the sound of each note you sing will quickly bounce back from the wall. This is a highly effective method to test your overall tone and ability.
Hopefully this post has challenged you to think of singing in a different way, so that you can progress as a singer. It’s not easy, but if you’re willing to put some time into “tuning” your instrument, you will enjoy the payoffs. Use these five tips today, and you will already be on your way to becoming a better singer.
Thanks for reading, and good luck in your singing journey!
Kyle Echols is an award-winning songwriter and musician. His passion for music has led him to sidekicksound.com, a guitar blog to help singers and songwriters grow in their craft.