Do you want to take your singing skills to the next level, but don’t know where to start? We can help you get started today with these 10 singing techniques!
There are many people out there who think singing is a gift only bestowed upon a chosen few. There are also many singers out there who think the same thing, and don’t feel the need to nurture and develop their voice, since it comes so naturally to them.
The reality is: it doesn’t matter if you’re singing to millions or singing to a mirror – we all have a voice; therefore, we all have the potential to sing. If you follow these singing techniques, you will quickly hear – and feel – the benefit.
Speaking of mirrors, the first step to figuring out how you could be better at something is to hold one up to yourself and see if you can spot any cracks:
1. Find and work on your weak points
A chain is no stronger than its weakest link – but instead of thinking of the parts of your singing voice that aren’t as developed as they could be as ‘weaknesses’, think of them as areas that you can work on. Self-improvement of any kind is always to be encouraged!
A good way to find your weak points is to record yourself singing a song that you know really well, then review that recording and compare your voice to the original song. Most smartphones these days will have a voice note app or video recorder installed on them straight out of the box, and since this is only for research purposes, you don’t need to mess around with studio-quality microphones, or even EQ – just fill your lungs, tap record, and go!
Listening back to your recording won’t be the most comfortable experience – you might even feel as though you’re setting yourself up for an embarrassment – but it’s the most effective way of showing you straight away where your voice sounds different to the original in a way you didn’t mean it to. It’s these unintentional differences that you can get to work on to improve your singing voice.
Here are some of the most commons ways that your first singing take may differ from the professional recording you were trying to replicate – plus how these differences can tell you where there’s room for improvement:
- You might run out of air or feel your voice faltering while trying to sustain a long note, meaning you need to work on your breathing
- You might struggle to reach a really high or a really low note – meaning you need to work on your pitch
- You might get tongue-tied and trip over a few tricky words or phrases, meaning you need to work on your diction
Luckily, we can help you work on each of these and more – read on to find out how.
2. Learn to breathe efficiently
In the simplest sense, singing is caused by pushing air out of your lungs, up through your throat, and out of your mouth. All the rest is just details!
Air is the most important ingredient in your recipe for vocal excellence. Think of it as fuel in your car, or food in your belly – without something giving you power and energy, you’ll literally run out of steam.
In our day-to-day lives, we usually take short, shallow breaths because that gives us all the air we need to walk and talk – we don’t even have to think about it to do it. However, this automatic way of breathing won’t get enough air into your lungs to power your singing voice.
Try taking a quick breath now, and pay attention to how your body moves. You’ll probably notice that your chest rises when you breathe in, and falls when you breathe out. Also, you might feel your shoulders rise and fall at the same time as your chest.
This type of breathing, also known as ‘chest breathing’, is less efficient than ‘belly breathing’. When you breathe in and inflate your belly, instead of your chest, you’re using your diaphragm more actively and making more room for air.
Also, you should find that it’s easier to keep your shoulders still and flat when you belly breathe. This is important for singers – you don’t want any unnecessary strain or tension in your body, because even a little bit can have a negative impact on your voice.
The two main techniques for efficient breathing are:
- Controlling the speed and amount of air coming in
- Controlling the speed and amount of air going out
Now you’re belly breathing and getting as much air into your lungs as possible, that’s half the battle won – so now let’s work on controlling the release of air.
Among singers, a popular way of learning to control your inward and outward airflow is to use a straw and blow bubbles. Because the opening of the straw is much smaller than the opening of your mouth, a much smaller amount of air can flow through, which makes it easier for you to notice how hard you’re forcing air out.
Watch this video to see the straw breathing exercise in action:
Once you’re familiar with how it feels to release a steady flow of air, you can apply this to your singing – and you’ll find that you can make your air go a lot further! Check out our article for more breathing exercises that work.
3. Stand up straight!
Standing with proper posture is good for you for many reasons in all aspects of your life, but it’s especially important for singing.
Firstly, every part of your amazing human body is connected to another part – the foot bone’s connected to the leg bone, and so on. This means that whenever you’re not using a particular part of your body in the best way, you can strain the parts that are connected to it – and that can have a knock-on effect on the parts of the body that those parts are in turn connected to.
If you try to sing when you’re slouched over, this means that some of your muscles will have to work harder than they should to compensate. This can cause tension in areas such as your shoulders and your neck, which can then spread to your throat, meaning that breathing and singing take more effort than they should.
Secondly, think about how the quickest, simplest path between point A and point B is always a straight line. The same applies to your airflow – imagine how much easier it is to blow through a regular straw than through a crazy straw with many twists and turns.
When you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your hips forward, and your shoulders pushed back, you’re lining up your airways to create the best possible flow of air.
This ultimately means you can push out air with more power and in a more controlled way with less effort and resistance.
Read our article about how to stand with proper posture and why it’s so important for singers.
4. Use vocal warm-ups
You might be fortunate enough to have been blessed with a voice that allows you to burst into song at the drop of a hat, but most of us find that we tend to sound a bit better once we’ve warmed up our pipes.
It’s no different in principle to how a runner needs to stretch their hamstrings before they hit the track – you stand a much better chance of placing in the race if you don’t cramp up!
Spending even just a few minutes on exercises like vocal sirens and lip trills before you sing will help to ensure that your voice is in the best condition possible, which in turn will allow you to sing as well as possible. Even if you don’t feel like you need to warm up, it’s a good habit to get into.
It’s also important to warm up the rest of your body – remember, singing is a physical activity that uses a great many more muscles than you might think! For a full vocal warm-up, read our article on this subject.
5. Practice singing scales
You might think that learning traditional music theory is a little old-fashioned, and doesn’t relate to your goals as a singer. While it’s true that the modern musical landscape is vastly different from the one that Beethoven and Mozart once gazed upon, there are a few useful practices that are not only still relevant in the 21st century, but will also help you become a better singer – find out how by reading our article on singing scales and arpeggios.
Most modern pop melodies will follow a scale of some sort, whether it’s major, minor, or something more exotic. The most common scale used in pop melodies is the pentatonic scale – so if you know your way around it like the back of your hand, you will be able to learn new melodies based on this scale much more easily.
Practicing scales and arpeggios is a good way for you to work on your pitch. As you become better acquainted with the intervals, or spaces, between different notes, you’ll be able to recognise the different distances between the notes, which in turn will make it easier for you to ‘position’ or ‘pitch’ where the notes that you sing fall.
If you have a musical instrument or a tuning fork in your possession, use this to give you a starting note, then practice singing scales and arpeggios from that first note.
Even if you don’t have an instrument to hand, you can use apps like GarageBand for Apple devices or Perfect Piano for Android devices to recreate your starting note digitally. For more Looking for more singing tips? Learn how to improve the pitch of your voice here.
6. Work on your diction
Diction plays an incredibly important role in singing – it’s the main reason for your audience being able to understand the words that are coming out of your mouth.
The first thing to get your head around is: diction works differently when you speak to when you sing. A word you sing lasts a lot longer than a word you say – and this means it requires a lot more breath.
There are ways you can modify how you make certain vowel and consonant sounds that actually make words easier to sing – find out more about these by reading our diction article.
Aside from this, there are also ways you can practice your diction to help you make your way through trickier clusters of words and sounds without getting lost or tripping over them.
One of the more entertaining – and more effective – ways of doing this is by practicing tongue twisters, which help to warm up the lips, the teeth, and the tip of the tongue (that’s a tongue twister right there!). Find out more ways to whip your singing voice into shape by reading about our warm-ups.
7. Work on your timing
Timing, as any comedian will tell you, is everything – and it’s the same for you as a singer. Even if you have perfect pitch, you won’t be giving a good performance if you sing the right notes at the wrong time.
Time, in a musical sense, covers 2 main topics:
- Rhythm, the pattern that the notes of the song follow
- Tempo, which is the speed the song is played at
There are a few simple ways to work on both of these – for more, read our timing article for singers.
To work on your rhythm, start by finding the ‘pulse’ at the heart of the song’s beat. For most songs, this will follow a straightforward ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ count, which you can break down further into a ‘1 &, 2 &, 3 &, 4 &’ count, helping you to work out where the beats in between fall.
Then, work out whether each note of the melody you’re singing is ‘on-beat’, which means the note falls on one of the numbers you’re counting, or ‘off-beat’, which means it falls on one of the ‘ands’ in between.
An easy way to practice this is to ‘stomp’ your feet on the numbers and ‘clap’ your hands or ‘click’ your fingers on the ‘ands’. Listen to the drum beat when the vocals of ‘Black Betty’ kick in – this does a similar thing with an on-beat bass drum and an off-beat hi-hat:
To work on your timing (which basically means keeping pace with the music you’re singing to without speeding up or slowing down) is to practice with a metronome, whether you use a physical metronome or download an app.
It’s always best to start slow, then speed up once you’ve mastered the slower tempo. Take what you’ve learned about the on-beats and the off-beats, and make sure you don’t hit any of them at the wrong time – then, once you’re matching your metronome beat for beat, it’s time to pick up the pace while maintaining the same level of accuracy.
8. Sing songs from different genres
You may or may not have settled into your preferred singing genre already (if you haven’t, we can help you find it – read our article to find your vocal style) but if you have, our best advice to you as a singer would be: don’t get too comfortable!
At the end of the day, we’re all human beings with roughly the same vocal set-up, so there’s no physical reason why we can’t sing songs from any genre. It’s very easy to judge a book by its cover, but only when you open it will you discover what it has to offer you.
Music is something that we have a very personal and emotional connection to, and this can often lead to us to gate-keep the music we know that we like and shut out the music we don’t.
It’s pretty much natural to think in this way to begin with, but it’ll lead you to missing out on some singing techniques and styles that might just be the making of you. You might find inspiration in the unlikeliest of places that breathe new creative energy into your genre!
You might even have an idea for the mash-up you never knew you needed!
There’s no better place to learn fast, complex vocal runs than listening to hip-hop and R&B singers like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey; look no further than rock and metal singers like Stephen Tyler and James Hetfield to hear how to add some grit and gravel to your voice; and, if you don’t already know the wonders that scat singing can do for your improvisational skills, read our guide on scat and how you can do it.
9. Take proper care of your voice
Trying to sing with a sore throat is like trying to play an out-of-tune guitar – it doesn’t sound as good as it’s supposed to, plus you might actually cause lasting damage.
Apart from not warming up, two of the main ways you can damage your voice are
- Using unhealthy vocal techniques
- Exposing your voice to irritants
Some vocal techniques that are considered unhealthy include things like vocal fry, belting, and death growls. Overusing any of these techniques can harm your vocal cords, sometimes permanently, so it’s important to take extra special care of your voice if you intend to sing using these techniques.
Irritants include food and drink, as well as smoking. Types of food and drink that dehydrate you are the worst offender, because your vocal cords need to be kept lubricated to keep them from getting sore.
The good news is: you can combat a lot of the damage that dehydrating food can do to your vocal cords by drinking plenty of water. It’s generally recommended that women should drink at least 8 200ml glasses of water each day (a total of 1.6L) and that men should drink at least 10 200ml glasses (a total of 2L), but this can still vary from person to person.
Smoking can dry out your vocal cords – plus, the effect that it has on your lung capacity means that you won’t be able to sustain notes for as long as you would as a non-smoker. Read our vocal health article for more information about keeping your voice in healthy condition.
10. Practice regularly and effectively
It’s no secret that putting time and effort into an ability is the best way to turn it into a skill.
What you may not know, however, are the secrets to a successful practice!
One thing that a lot of people have difficulty with happens when they actually start practicing. It can be hard to know where to start, or how you should use the time you have set aside to get the best possible results from your session.
One of the hardest things about learning a new skill is committing to how long you’re worried it will take you, especially if it’s taking a while for you to notice any improvement.
There’s no easy solution to this, but there is a simple one: keep going!
“Every day it gets a little easier… but you gotta do it every day?—?that’s the hard part. But it does get easier.”