Who are your favorite singers? Ariana Grande? Sam Smith? Or maybe one of my all-time favorites, Freddie Mercury? If you’ve tried your hand at singing, you probably know that these accomplished artists didn’t just wake up one day and sound like that. They worked hard to be that good. And everyone, yes everyone, can get better at singing!
No matter what skill level you’re at, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to a compelling vocal performance. In this article, I’ll cover tips on how to hone your skills behind the mic, followed by some basic concepts of singing.
Up Your Game! Listen To Recordings of Yourself
One of the best pieces of advice is to record yourself singing, and then listen back to it. When I first started singing and playing the acoustic guitar, a friend/mentor suggested this technique. I was uncomfortable with the idea of listening to my own voice—it seemed incredibly awkward, and I didn’t do it at the time.
But then, when I started recording my own vocals, oh wow, my ears were opened wide! I heard all the lazy consonants that got lost, and the iffy pitch spots. I even heard how my tone changed on higher and lower notes. A powerful tool is to know thyself—know your own voice—with its strengths, weaknesses and limitations. Listening back to recordings of yourself is the only way I know of to accomplish this without working closely with a vocal coach. And you don’t need fancy recording equipment. Even recording into your phone’s voice memos will give you valuable feedback.
Work it! – Practice, Practice, Practice!
The first step in a good vocal workout is a warm-up. Just like stretching before exercising, you might be tempted to skip a warmup because you just want to bust into belting out “Let It Go” from Frozen, full force. However, it is much kinder to the physical mechanisms that produce your voice if you treat them with TLC.
Many vocal lesson books come with audio files for practice, and there are plenty of YouTube videos with warmups and exercises. You may have to search a bit to find one that’s appropriate for your range (how high or low you can sing).
After you’re all warmed up, sing your heart out! As a voice teacher, I usually have my students pick songs that they love, and we work on those. You have to love it! Music should feel good. Don’t you agree?
The Lowdown on Singing Terms
Breath – Breath support is everything in singing. If you don’t have enough breath support to hold a note, then as sure as the sun will rise, that note will go flat. Proper breath support comes from the ab muscles continually pushing in as you sing (between breaths). I’ve actually noticed that I’m a stronger singer when I’m regularly doing ab exercises. To sing well, you have to bring enough air in and use it in a measured way through each vocal phrase.
Pitch – Ah, pitch. The bane of us all. If people cringe at a “bad” singer, it’s usually because that person is off pitch, meaning they are not hitting the right note, or they’re noticeably flat or sharp (too low or too high). The good news is that ear training is a learned skill that can be improved dramatically with targeted effort.
Diction – Rappers know what diction is. They’re great at it. Diction is the clarity of your pronunciation. You have to emphasize consonants so they come off clearly to the listener. You can’t just sing like you speak, or the consonants will be weak and people will miss lyrics. Frontal production of consonants is most efficient and clear. Form your consonants as much toward the front of the mouth and lips as you can.
Timbre – In general, vocal timbre is the natural tone of someone’s voice. Norah Jones, for example, has a warm, slightly raspy tone that the world went crazy over when they first heard it. Even when someone simply talks, you can still hear the inherent timbre in their voice.
Color – Tone color ranges from dark to bright. This isn’t just people singing low or high, but the overtones of treble and bass within a person’s vocal tone. Darius Rucker and Anita Baker have a dark, rich tone color, while Taylor Swift and The Weeknd have a brighter vocal tone. Many popular singers, though, have a balance that lies somewhere in the middle. To an extent, you can change the color of your own vocal tone by experimenting with it.
Tone placement – This is the location in your oral cavity where the sound is coming from. Frontal tone placement carries the furthest and has the purest, clearest tone. I always tell my voice students that before microphones, people were performing operas to huge auditoriums. The reason these singers could project so far is because of their frontal tone placement. You can try it. Hold a note, and feel it coming from the back of your mouth near your throat. Then, consciously bring that tone forward to the top front area of your soft palette, just behind your teeth. You’ll hear the difference.
At the end of the day, the more you sing, the better you’ll get (if you’re striving to improve). Singing is a timeless art, and it makes you feel alive. If you have the desire to sing, don’t let anyone or anything stop you. You can do it!
Singer-songwriter Angela Predhomme’s music has been heard by millions through television, film, radio and streaming. Her soulful songs have been featured in the popular Hallmark movie Christmas on Honeysuckle Lane, Lifetime’s hit show Dance Moms, commercials for ING Bank and Fiat, and more. For more, visit angelapredhomme.com.