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How to Sing

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Be A Great Singer

Ever wanted to learn how to sing? Singing can be a great joy, and can even lead to a professional career. There is a world of possibilities! Professionals and amateurs alike should check out the following tips to improve their singing.

Choosing a Good Voice Instructor

One of the most important steps to beginning your singing career is selecting a teacher who can work with you to help develop your singing technique in a safe, fun, and helpful way. The right teacher can make the difference between a frustrating, difficult singing experience, and an enjoyable lifelong hobby or career.

Online tips and books are great to start, but a teacher can listen to your tone, give you immediate feedback, assign you personalized exercises and pieces, and adjust their teaching methods to your individual style, voice, and goals.

Here are some things to look for when choosing your voice instructor:

Recommendation

Does he or she come recommended? The best teachers are often those who are recommended by friends and acquaintances. If you know someone who takes singing lessons, ask them about their instructor. What teaching methods does he use? Is she good at working with beginners? Questions like these can help you find a good match.

Background

What is his or her singing background? In addition to looking for someone who is a professional and has experience teaching, you’ll want to find a teacher whose singing style matches with your goals. You don’t necessarily need a teacher who sings in the exact style that interests you-- expanding your horizons is a great idea.

However, different styles and genres of singing do require different techniques, and it is important to make sure that you find a teacher who is comfortable working with you on your own goals and helping you find your own voice.

If you can’t afford a private coach, consider other alternatives. A teacher who can work with you one on one is ideal, but a choir instructor or group teacher can offer most of the same advantages. If you are a student, there are likely to be many opportunities at your school or university. If not, look for a local community choir to help you practice and seek guidance from more experienced singers.

Whether you’ve decided to train with a private instructor, participate in group lessons, or simply sing on your own, there are plenty of exercises that you can practice to improve your singing technique.

The Anatomy of Singing

It’s easy to forget that singing is first and foremost a physical activity. Gaining a more thorough understanding of how your body produces sound when singing can help you correct your singing technique and reach the goals you have for yourself as a singer. To get an in-depth understanding of the details of how the voice functions, you should look into a biology or anatomy class.

However, we’ve included some basic references to the anatomy of the voice in the following sections, to help you understand the elements of the process that are relevant to your singing. You’ll see references to resonance in different parts of the body, and to exercises designed to strengthen the diaphragm.

The Three Kinds of Resonance

Though the sound of your voice comes primarily from your vocal cords, there are several parts of the body that resonate while singing. Each of the three main kinds of resonance has different characteristics and uses. By learning to recognize and develop each type of resonance, you’ll be able to adapt your voice to a wide range of musical styles.

So what are the three types of resonance?

The first (and perhaps most obvious) type of resonance is oral resonance. This is the vibration that occurs right behind the teeth when sound is forced through the mouth. Smile and make an “eeeeee” sound. You should be able to feel a tickly vibration in the top of your mouth.

The second kind of resonance is nasal resonance. Take your pointer and middle fingers and place them under your each of your eyes, slanting in towards your nose. Make a “ng” sound. You should be able to feel the vibration in your nasal passages. This is the type of resonance you use when you hum. Nasal resonance can be used to great effect when belting or performing musical theater pieces, as using nasal resonance helps make your sound louder.

The third and final type of resonance is called chest resonance. Place your hand on your chest, where your ribs join, and make a deep “OHH” sound. You should feel a gentle vibration. Chest resonance can be helpful in expanding your range.

Classic Style

To sing in a classic style, you should focus on all three forms of resonance, and work on finding an equal balance between all of them. However, learning to isolate each type of resonance is an extremely helpful exercise. You can do this by repeating exercises three times, focusing on one type of resonance at a time. Focusing on different kinds of resonance can help you improve your range and sing in different styles.

Breathing Techniques

We’ve all been breathing since our first few hours of life- yet breathing is more complicated than it first appears. Singers learn to control their breath in order to hold notes longer, sing more naturally, and produce a more pleasant tone.

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One breathing technique is called diaphragmatic breathing. Though any type of breathing relies on the diaphragm, diaphragmatic breathing focuses specifically on training and strengthening the diaphragm. To practice this type of breathing, think about filling your belly with air quickly using the diaphragm.

Here are some exercises that singers can use to help strengthen the diaphragm:

  • Lying on your back, place a book on your stomach, right above the belly button. Practice raising and lowering the book as much as possible by breathing deeply into that part of the stomach. Just spending a minute or two on this exercise each day can help you improve your lung capacity and use your breath in the most efficient way possible.
  • Take a deep breath in and practice releasing the air as slowly as possible. Imagine that you are breathing through a tiny straw. This exercise will help you gain control over your breath so that you can sing for a longer time and hold notes longer.

It will also help you control the “breathy” quality of your singing voice. While it can be useful for some singing styles, it is important to be able to control breathiness in order to produce a clearer tone.

Setting aside some time to focus specifically on your breathing will allow you to sing more loudly and clearly.

Improving Your Range

Before you can focus on improving your range, it is essential to build a starting point by getting familiar with your own voice. So, take some time to get acquainted with the natural range of your voice. Start near a keyboard or piano. Talk in your natural speaking voice, and try to identify what range your voice falls into naturally.


Now, repeat this exercise while laughing, crying, sighing, and making small noises and interjections. Now try this same exercise with full sentences. Once you have a general sense of your voice’s natural range, try pushing it in each direction. Sing a note, and gradually raise the pitch. Once you feel a slight discomfort, you’ve reached the top of your range. Then, using the syllable “heeee,” slide your voice down again slowly, until you feel a similar slight discomfort. This is the bottom of your range.

Once you feel comfortable with your natural range, you can try working on expanding your range. There are several exercises that can help you accomplish this. If you are working with a private instructor, they are likely to assign you specific exercises to warm up your voice and help work on controlling and expanding your range.

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Here are some ideas of the exercises and tricks that can help you use your range to its fullest:

  • Many people are able to speak at a lower pitch than they realize they can sing. If you’re trying to reach a note that seems just below your range, experiment with using a speaking voice rather than a singing voice. You may be surprised by how low you can go.
  • You can reach high notes more easily by improving the resonance in your mouth. To do this, focus on creating a large space inside of you mouth. Imagine a golf ball or spoon pressing down on your tongue, creating a large hollow space. This added resonance will make your sound clearer, and allow you to hit higher notes.
  • Focusing on using more nasal resonance can also help to make higher notes easier to reach.
  • Start on the highest note that you can muster, and slide your voice all the way down to the bottom of your range. Repeat this a few times, trying to keep the tone and quality of your voice steady. Practicing this exercise can help join your head and chest voices together. While this exercise won’t increase the size of your range, it will help to make the tone of your voice more consistent throughout your range.

Work on Pronunciation

Working on pronouncing each syllable clearly is just as important as perfecting tone, breathing, and pitch. Singers are musicians, but unlike those who perform instrumental music, a singer must consider lyrics in addition to tone, pitch, and sound quality. The lyrics of a song are often essential to its message and style, and it is important to make sure that they are both understandable and pleasing to the ear.

There are several exercises that you can perform to help improve your pronunciation and make your words more clear and natural. These can even be fun! Choose some of your favorite tongue-twisters and practice saying them. One fun one to try is “The lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue.” Repeat it several times. This will help you learn to enunciate more clearly and say consonants more correctly.

It’s also important to pronounce vowels correctly while singing. One thing to pay particular attention to is pronouncing diphthongs correctly. A diphthong is a vowel sound that is composed of several vowel sounds. For example, the word “time” is actually pronounced “t-ahh-ee-m.” For word with diphthongs, it is best to hold the first vowel sound, and pronounce the rest of the diphthong right at the end of the note.

So, for this example, you would sing “Taaaaaaaahem.” This technique is best for a classic singing style – it will make your voice sound more trained and professional. Other styles may have other expectations. However, it is still a good technique to master to make your singing voice clearer and your pronunciation more exact.

Focusing

There are many things to keep in mind when focusing on pronunciation. You’ll want to remember to pay attention to the shape of your mouth while singing. The mouth should always be in a vertical oval rather than a horizontal one. Pulling the corners of the mouth in creates a fuller sound.

Talk to your vocal instructor for more tips on how to improve your pronunciation and enunciate more clearly while singing. An instructor will be able to listen to you sing and give constructive tips on what exercises will help your voice the most.

Focus on Pitch

Training your ear is just as important to singing as training your breath and vocal chords. Perfecting your pitch is important, especially when singing unusual and complex melody lines. Many exercises that are designed to warm up your voice are also intended to help you gain more control and become more familiar with certain notes and intervals.

Having a good grasp of pitch is also essential when harmonizing with other singers. It’s easy for other voices to throw you off, and improving your sense of pitch can help you sing confidently and solidly along with other singers.

To practice pitch it will be helpful to have a keyboard or piano. If you have a friend with good pitch who is willing to help out, that would be helpful as well.

There are several different skills that you can practice to improve your pitch:

Relative Pitch

You might want to start by focusing on relative pitch. Relative pitch is different from absolute pitch in that you are not required to know the exact pitch you are singing – ie “E” or “C sharp.” Rather, you are only expected to know what the pitch is relative to another pitch. To work on this skill you should start by learning solfege. The ascending major scale in solfege goes like this: 1 (Doh) 2 (Re) 3 (Mi) 4 (Fa) 5 (Sol) 6 (La) 7 (Ti) 1 (High Doh).

Practicing singing this a few times, ascending or descending. Now, have a friend play a note for you on the keyboard –this note will be “doh.” Then have your friend play other notes in the major scale. You should sing back each note and identify its solfege syllable. With time and practice, you’ll soon be able to sing entire melodies in solfege.

Melody Repetition

Melody repetition can be another useful ear training tool. Have a friend play a simple melody on the keyboard, and sing the melody back. This seems like a very basic exercise, but it is important for singers to improve their melodic memory. Begin with very simple melodies and work up to more complex ones.

Recognizing intervals is also an important skill to polish if you’re working on ear training. An “interval” refers to two notes that are a particular distance apart. Here are the intervals in the major scale: Doh, re is a major 2nd; doh, mi is a major 3rd; doh, fa is a perfect 4th; doh, sol is a perfect 5th; doh, la is a major 6th; doh, ti is a major 7th; and doh, doh is an octave.

The two notes in the interval can be played in unison or one after the other. You can practice interval recognition by asking a friend to play you different intervals and doing your best to identify each one.

As you can see, focusing on pitch involves some of the more technical aspects of singing. If you’re interested in learning more about solfege syllables or in getting more experience singing and identifying different intervals, then a music theory course might be right up your alley.

Should You Learn to Sight-Sing?

For those who play instrumental music, learning to sight read is often a top priority. Many singers, however, don’t think of sight reading as a necessity. Is it important for singers to be able to read music? At what point in your singing career should you consider learning to sight sing? What are the advantages and disadvantages of learning to sight sing?

Not all singers are expected to know how to sight sing, but reading music can be very useful for some styles of singing. Learning to sight read will also give you the tools you need to write your own music if you ever choose to do so, including accompaniment and harmony lines. It’s also especially helpful if you're interested in singing in a choir or other large ensemble.

It’s also an important skill to have if you plan to sing with instrumental accompaniment. Being able to sight read will allow you to follow along with the band in your sheet music and see how your part relates to the accompanying music.

Moving Forward with Sight Reading

If you decide to learn to sight-read, there are lots of resources available to help get you on your way. If you’re in school, you could enroll in an introductory music theory class. Many music theory courses include complementary “skills” sections, where you’ll learn to read music and practice singing different pitches, scales, and intervals.

Even if you don’t have access to a class, you could pick up a book on basic music theory, and practice playing different simple lines on a keyboard and singing them back. Eventually you’ll progress to a level where you’ll be able to sing accurately from sheet music. The ability to sight-read isn’t essential for all types of music. Still, it’s a tool that can make you a more capable and versatile singer.

Sing With Others

Solo singing is an impressive, difficult, and very specialized skill. It’s important to become comfortable singing on your own and polish your skills as a soloist. However, it’s important for any singer to also work on singing with others or singing along with musical accompaniment.

Singing in groups not only lets you learn from others and share tips and ideas, it also trains your voice in a whole new way. Singing in a band or ensemble will teach you to balance different volumes, pitches, and tones, as well as teaching you to harmonize and come up with creative ways for different voices to interact.

Exploring New Singing Styles

There are many different styles of singing, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. It’s a good idea to try out a variety of styles to find out what best suits your voice and your aspirations as a singer. The best singers are those who can be versatile and can work with a wide range of tones and musical styles.

Even if you’re a seasoned professional, stepping out of your comfort zone a bit will help you mature as a singer. You may even be surprised by something you’ve never tried before!

If you normally sing in a classic style, you might want to branch out and explore musical theater, pop, or country styles. Likewise, if you are used to singing pop music, it might be a good idea to try focusing on a more classical style to improve your technique. While the tips in this article are helpful for any singing style, different styles will challenge you in different ways, showcase different skills, and “break the rules” in different ways.

How to Perform

Whether you’re the solo act in front of an audience of one thousand or a member of a small community choir, singing in front of a crowd is a big milestone. Performing in front of an audience can give you the boost you need to sing your best.

However, singing in public for the first time can be scary – no matter how many singing techniques you’ve mastered, having an audience in front of you makes a huge difference. Check out these tips to shine during your performance!

Get used to the space and the accompaniment

If you’re going to be performing with a band, you will want to make sure that you’ve rehearsed several times with the full accompaniment. If possible, rehearse in the space in which you’ll be performing. This will let you get used to singing in this kind of environment – even if the seats are empty for now.

Dress for success

Anyone preparing for a performance is surely concerned about their appearance. It is true that the right outfit can help you feel confident in front of a crowd. However, dressing well for a performance is not only essential for confidence.

It is also important to make sure that the outfit you choose allows for correct posture, ample movement, and room to breathe. If you wear something uncomfortable or too tight, you’ll be too preoccupied with your clothing to give the singing your all.

What do I do with my hands?!

Hand motions depend on the style of the music. In most situations, holding your arms by your sides or clasping your hands in front of you is a safe bet. If you choose to move your arms, make sure your motions are complete and intentional.

Practice dealing with distraction

Performing in front of a live audience involves dealing with a lot of small distractions that you are probably not used to. Audience members might cough, whisper, or take pictures. Do your best to get accustomed to these kinds of distractions beforehand. You could even ask a friend to help out, and try to distract you while you sing. Singing in front of friends will also help you get used to the feeling of standing in front of an audience.

Have Fun!

It’s important to improve your technique, work on your breathing, and increase your range. But most important of all is to remember that singing should be a joyful experience. For some, singing is a career, for others it is a lifelong hobby, group pastime, or occasional fun activity. But whatever singing means to you, it should bring joy and inspiration to both the singer and the audience.

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This page was last modified on 3 August 2013, at 17:41.
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