Everyone can sing. Some people can sing really well, and people stop what they’re doing to hear it. Those that like to sing tend to do it often. But that doesn’t mean their singing is improving or that they can sing well. And asking friends and family how you sound doesn’t always generate the most honest mistake. Nobody wants to hurt the feelings of those they love. If you have a feeling your singing could do with some improvement, read on to learn some simple techniques good singers use:
Breathing is something we all do naturally day and night without thinking about it. The controlled breathing we do when we sing (well or not) can heighten our mood and make us feel good about ourselves. It’s relaxing, and it can even become euphoric. Music is powerful, isn’t it! The trouble is, the feelings can overtake our mental focus on what we’re doing. The breathing starts to become less controlled. And we stop hearing ourselves correctly (more on that soon).
Practice deliberately breathing. Use your diaphragm to draw air in and push it out again. Stand up tall and straight with good posture, supporting your core muscles. Now inhale for a count of 5 using the diaphragm, and then exhale for 5. Gradually extend this exercise to a count of 12 (or more if you can). This helps you improve your breath control, and air capacity to hold notes without a wobbly sound. It makes your tone more beautiful. Always use the core and the diaphragm to control the breath. Never mumble from the mouth or use the throat to push air.
Listening is the common problem with singers who don’t sing well. Hearing the sound you are making, instead of the song in your head, is a tricky skill to learn. But everyone can. Start with quite notes in the sound of ‘ah’, or ‘lah’. Hold it for a few seconds and really listen to it. Sing it again, but this time, make the sound get louder or quieter. Change from ‘ah’ to ‘ooo’ midway through. Hear what that sounds like.
If you have a keyboard or other instrument, find a note you can comfortably sing. Your range is likely to be 5 or 6 tones in each direction of that note you like. Now randomly play one at a time, and sing that same note. Record your voice as you do it so you can hear whether it is hitting the pitch or not. You could also record a sequence of random notes in your range to sing back to. When you don’t know the melody well, you’re more likely to carefully listen to it.
Now you’re hearing pitches and listening to the sounds you make rather than the sound you’re thinking about. It’s time to correct any pitching mistakes. Use a recorder as often as you can. This will also help you hear the quality of your tone when you are making the notes. Most people make the mistake of trying to sing a piece they know and love without changing it into a more comfortable key.
Moving the note range into your own comfortable range will make things easier for you. After all, we don’t all share the same voice. If your pitch is off, it is uncomfortable for the listener. Use chords to sing a melody along to. This helps you stay on pitch. Singing along to an instrument playing the melody line also helps you identify the pitch needed. Finally, you can sing A Capella, and place the pitch accurately with your voice by listening. When you listen carefully to the sound coming out, you can adjust it to meet the pitch if it falls flat or sharp.
Singers very rarely have the words in front of them when they sing. But the lyrics are only one part of the song. You also need to memorise the pitches of the notes in the melody. Learning the intervals between the notes in the trickier passages can help. If you sing in the key of C, your notes are likely to be the same as the white notes on a piano between one C and the next. Larger and unusual intervals catch even the best singers out. Practicing scales regularly in your favourite keys will help you hit notes right every time.
It’s worth using practice sessions to help you remember where the melody goes during the song. It will help ensure you can reach the pitch and stay in tune. Singing is a physical process, not just a mental one, so physical memory plays a part here, as it would for any instrumentalist. Harder songs use different parts of your range, such as the head, throat, and chest. Physical gestures can help you remember which register to use.
Singing at Christmas isn’t just about carols and Jingle Bells. When all your family and friends are together, it’s good to make music together. There are plenty of great songs to sing from the Top 40 at the moment, and who doesn’t love a recap of 2015? Performance practice is also good for any musician, singers included. Enjoy the festivities and let your voice sing out.