The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Better Singer
Want to know one thing that makes singing so fascinating?
Anyone can do it. That's right; anyone can do it.
Can everyone do it well? Not exactly, and some people may be born on third base, so to speak, in terms of natural talent.
But, the exciting, and daunting, fact remains: vocal talent is mostly the following three qualities:
Whether you just enjoy singing in your car or shower, want to blow away coffee sippers at your local open mic, or desire to star on Broadway, technique, determination, and practice are key.
It's easy to say; I have no talent, I'm tone-deaf, I'll never be able to sing well.
Sure, there are those that are actually tone-deaf, which makes singing on-pitch significantly more difficult. However, you'd be surprised how much success comes down to what effort you put in rather than what talent you're born with.
For instance, everyone wants to lose weight, right? Everyone is looking for that secret formula to knock off the pounds. But we all know the answer. Eat more vegetables, whole grain carbs, limit processed food and sugar, and burn more calories than you consume.
That's it. But the problem is, that takes discipline, and discipline is hard.
There are ways, however, to strategize and encourage discipline as a vocalist.
That is the goal of this article for all you singers out there. In this Ultimate Guide to Singing, we are going to detail techniques, warm-ups, diet, equipment, and tips to help you become the best vocalist you can be.
How to Improve Your Singing
Table of Contents:
- Great Vocal Techniques
- Poor Singing Habits to Avoid
- Best Vocal Warm-Ups
- Utilizing Head, Chest, and Mixed Voice
- Food/Drinks Vocalists Should Consume and Avoid
- Equipment for Singers
- Extra Tips for Singers
Great Vocal Techniques
Starting with vocal basics is always a good idea. Think of the pyramids. You need a solid base; otherwise, you'll never be able to make it to the top.
Singing is no exception.
You may want to jump ahead to equipment or quick-fixes, but technique is the best place to start to make sure you're building a concrete foundation.
Besides keeping you alive, breathing plays a major factor in the quality of your singing.
When singing, you want to utilize your diaphragm. The diaphragm is located is near the lowest part of your ribs and helps facilitate inhaling. The last thing you want to do is force air out and strain yourself. Even when hitting those higher notes, you want to use your diaphragm.
When you breathe in to sing, you want to inhale from your diaphragm rather than your chest. While this may seem like a simple step, it actually takes time to master, which is okay.
A practice tip is to hold your hand over your stomach and breathe in through your nose. As you slowly inhale and exhale, you should feel your stomach expanding rather than your chest.
Controlling the Larynx
Are you interested in the following:
- Expanding Your Vocal Range?
- Keeping Your Voice Healthy?
- Seamlessly Transitioning Between Your Head Voice and Chest Voice?
If so, you need to be paying close attention to your larynx.
The larynx, commonly called the voice box, is a muscular organ that forms an air passage to the lungs and holds the vocal cords. Stabilizing your larynx will help improve your singing.
If you strain and allow your larynx to rise too much while singing, it can cause scratchy vocal cords, an exhausted voice after a performance, and difficulty switching between your head voice and chest voice.
To stabilize your larynx, you want to focus on proper breathing techniques and support. Use your diaphragm for breathing, don't strain your throat, and avoid sudden contractions in your stomach as you sing.
Practice Good Posture
Just like great breath support, you need to have proper posture.
General tips include:
- Keep your body straight, without tilting forward, backward, or to the sides
- Stay erect, but make sure your body is relaxed and void of tension
- Your chest should be up and out and your chin parallel with the ground
Whether you are singing while standing or sitting, you want to be mindful of these tips to ensure your voice has support, warmth, and a great tone.
Develop Your Ears
Your ears are as valuable to your singing as your larynx.
Being able to identify musical notes by hearing them is invaluable as a singer, along with the ability to hit a note after hearing it. You need to develop the ability to hear the distinction between being higher (sharp) or lower (flat) than the note you are trying to hit.
This method helps when you begin singing harmonies.
However, don't be discouraged if this doesn't come easily. It doesn't mean that you are tone-deaf; it just takes practice.
Pitch Matching Exercise
An exercise you can do to help with your ability to match pitches is the following:
- Play a note a few times, whether on a keyboard, guitar, or online
- Focus on the note in your mind
- Stop playing/listening to the note and have a moment or two of silence
- Sing and hold out the note
- Play the note again
Over time this exercise will help make pitch matching become much easier.
Poor Singing Habits to Avoid
Eliminating bad habits is as important as developing good habits.
You can have success and a good run off of poor habits initially, and everyone has their own style, but in the end, poor habits will catch up to you. Whether it be longevity or consistency, there is a reason good habits withstand the test of time.
Let's discuss a few habits singers should avoid.
1. Poor Preparation
If you're at an open mic with little on the line and you're just having fun, feel free to have a coffee or beer.
However, if you are preparing for an audition, performance, show, or want to nail the open mic, there are a few things to avoid.
- Coffee/alcohol (this will be discussed more in the dietary section)
- Lack of hydration
- Speaking loudly before the show
- Skipping vocal warm-ups
- Not practicing at all
On the day of a theatrical performance, gig, or vocal recording session, you always want to make sure you're prepared, so you're not wasting your time or anyone's time who is relying on you.
2. Poor Performance Habits
This may sound a bit repetitive in terms of some of the techniques we've already hit on, but you want to eliminate:
- Poor posture
- Incorrect breathing (from the chest)
- Forcing notes
Pro Tip: Try recording yourself ( with both video and audio). You may have some habits you aren't even aware of. Reviewing yourself singing is a great way to make corrections. It also breeds self-awareness. With multiple clips spread out over time, you can clearly track progress, which is great for motivation.
Best Vocal Warm-Up Exercises
Essentially, a vocal warm-up is designed to prepare your voice and body for the physical activity of singing.
One of the simplest warm-up exercises is rolling your lips, which is called lip bubbles.
All you have to do is relax your lips and make them vibrate by softly blowing. Once you get this down, try changing pitch as you blow. A relaxed mouth is critical to singing.
Another great vocal warm-up exercise is the vocal see-saw, which is an articulation exercise.
You start at the bottom of your vocal range and in a single breath, sing up and down one major scale. In addition to articulation (no one wants to mumble during a performance), this exercise helps singers develop proper breathing and lung capacity.
To learn more excellent vocal warm-up exercises, click here.
Utilizing Head Voice, Chest Voice, and Mixed Voice
In the plainest terms, your chest voice is the lower, warm tones that more closely resembles your talking voice and resonates from your chest.
On the other head, your head voice exemplifies your higher singing range which feels like the sound and vibration is coming from your head (it's not, your vocal cords are still very much in control here.)
While there are exceptions, the majority of songs require both your head voice and chest voice.
You can develop your chest voice by starting lightly and on a good speaking note. Then, just do your normal vocal warm-up exercises, but stay in your lower range. Make sure you are supporting yourself enough with good and proper breathing.
To develop the head voice, start softly in a higher range but make sure your airflow is consistent. Even talking in a higher pitch can lead to getting the head voice down. It is important to note that your head voice is not the same as falsetto.
Falsetto is more airy and weak. It is a nice stylistic addition to a song, but your head voice requires much more support.
The goal is to be able to seamless blend between your head voice and chest voice, which is accurately titled your mixed voice. Conquering your mixed voice gives you the most range and flexibility as a singer.
Learn more about your head voice vs. chest voice.
Food/Drinks Singers Should Consume and Avoid
Imagine you've put hours and hours of practice and rehearsal into preparation for your performance. It would be a shame to have something small sabotage the whole thing right before your performance, right?
That is what can happen if you eat or drink something detrimental to your voice.
Let's highlight some of the main culprits.
Food/Drinks to Avoid
- Dairy: This includes milk, cheese, and yogurt. Dairy leads to mucus which will limit your overall flexibility as a singer. Also, it can lead to acid reflux, and no one wants that.
- Soda: Soda is full of processed sugar, and being carbonated, will likely lead to gas and burping at inopportune moments.
- Fried foods: Anything that is prepared with too much oil or is deep-fried can lead to indigestion which is never good before a show.
- Freezing cold water: While water itself is a fantastic drink before (and leading up to a performance), ice cold water is actually very restricting to your throat. While you're trying to relax your throat during vocal warm-ups, freezing cold water will cause tension and limit flexibility.
- Alcohol: While alcohol may help you "take the edge off" your performance, we strongly recommend passing. Alcohol is a diuretic, similar to coffee/caffeine, and will dry your throat out rather than provide lubrication.
- Room temperature/slightly chilled water: This is arguably the best thing to ingest before a performance, and you should make it a point to properly hydrate for a few days leading up to a performance. Your throat will be lubricated and adequately hydrated.
- Chicken/fish: Protein is essential for singers. Both chicken and fish are lean forms of protein that will give you nutrients, fill you up, but not harm your throat or make you uncomfortably full (as long as the protein is not deep-fried).
- Fruit: Fruit contains vitamins and fiber that are great for vocalists.
- Decaffeinated tea: On the opposite spectrum as freezing cold water, hot tea is a wonderful way to soothe your throat the day of a performance. Opt for decaf, and for an extra kick, put a little honey in your cup.
For more information on foods/drinks that singers should avoid or consume, click here.
Equipment for singers
This section may not be relevant to singers who want to make it on Broadway, but if you want to become a professional singer or gig with a band, keep reading for the best equipment and tech.
1. High-Quality microphones
If you are the vocalist of your band and gigging, you want to make sure you have a microphone that won't cut out, but instead, will cut through the mix. Durability is also key for touring. The Shure SM58 is always a classic dynamic microphone that has withstood the test of time.
If you are recording, however, you'll want to look at condenser microphones. If you want to stay in the Shure family, the Shure SM7B is a great option.
If you're looking to record your vocals, it is highly recommended you purchase a pop filter for those harsh Bs and Ps.
2. Large travel size water bottle
This isn't so much in the category of equipment, per se. But we can't stress how important hydration is for singers; therefore, a large water bottle seems to be fitting here.
3. In-ear monitors
This should not be the first investment you make if you decide to start performing as a singer, but when you consider longterm investments, in-ear monitors can be incredibly beneficial.
In-ear monitors allow vocalists to hear exactly what they want out of the mix while performing live.
Extra Tips for Singers
Now that you have made it through the majority of the article, let's talk about a couple of tips and quick fixes for singers.
1. Vocal Eze
If you wake up the day of a performance and your throat hurts and feels like the Sahara Desert, have Voice37 Vocal Eze handy.
You don't want to get in the habit of using this stuff every time, but if your under the weather and need a solution, it will relax and lubricate your throat like honey times ten.
2. Make Sure You're Getting Enough Sleep
This one is likely over-looked and much desired, especially if you're touring. Just like every other part of your body and mind, you need sufficient rest for healthy vocals. This goes hand in hand with not over-speaking during the day of a show.
Rest is good.
3. "Think Low" When You're Trying to Hit High Notes
Make sure to use weight and good form when reaching for those higher notes. Don't strain or put all the pressure in your neck and mouth.
A technique some singers utilize when reaching for higher notes is imagining the note being low.
4. Steam Your Voice
Do you ever feel like your voice is invincible after coming out of a hot shower? Besides the typically great acoustics in a bathroom, the warm steam actually hydrates your vocal cords and relaxes, similar to drinking hot tea.
Technically this could fall under our best equipment section, but we'll leave this here. Check it out and consider picking up a cheap steamer.
Put Yourself in the Best Position to Elevate Your Singing Skill
If you want to be immersed in a non-stop music atmosphere, you need to consider attending a Music School.
The Atlanta Institute of Music and Media is an accredited music college that provides singers with a fantastic opportunity to elevate their vocal talent with the Music and Technology Associate Degree with a Focus in Voice.
In addition to excellent coursework that will expand your vocal ability, AIMM's Music and Technology Degree with a Focus in Voice provides insightful music industry career advice and teaches invaluable music production components.
In this day and age, being able to record, mix, and master is critical.
If this sounds appealing to you, click the link below for more information today.
Additional Programs at AIMM: