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The act of singing is an art style in its own right, and is a worthwhile pursuit that just about anyone can learn.
People are intensely drawn to the sounds of melody that music brings to life – and learning how to sing can be one of the most rewarding hobbies and pursuits available to human beings (in my opinion).
Practically everyone I meet, whether they have been actively engaged with music and singing since they were quite young, or are just getting their feet wet, has some sort of rhythmic backbone within them.
So, I first must ask… Why do you want to learn to sing?
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But, while music is a natural part of what it means to be human, it takes serious dedication and practice to be a successful singer who can sing in tune and create a pleasing melody with the voice.
Anyone can sing in the shower and have a good time with the music, but singing is one of the hardest art forms out there for a reason… If you want to be remotely good you’ll need to be disciplined and consistent.
Regardless of what type of genre you are looking to sing in, there are some key, beginner’s tips that every budding vocalist should keep in mind or practice in order to achieve success in their singing endeavors. Following these singing steps can give you confidence that you can learn how to sing.
While you can certainly make a career out of being a singer, it’s honestly a very brutally competitive path.
Ever seen the shows American Idol and ‘The Voice’?
Most of the vocalists who appear on these shows have been singing for quite along time, yet there is still only one of them who actually succeeds and becomes a professional singer at the end of the competition. That’s just how competitive the music industry truly is.
If you want to become a professional singer, then great – I love your dreams.
First, let’s focus on 12 essential components that go into being a good singer… Be sure to jot these tips down and keep them in mind as you train to be the best (or just want to be the best you can be).
Note: You should consider a long-term online singing course for daily practice and quick singing advancement.
1. Proper Breathing
To sing correctly and for extended lengths of time, it is absolutely necessary that you learn how to control your breathing the right way.
Start with some basic breathing exercises that can help you learn the different pitches that your voice can reach and train your lungs and vocal chords to hold those notes longer.
Furthermore, breathing exercises are necessary to ensure that you do not cause undue damage to your throat which can mean a shortened lifespan to your singing aspirations.
Top vocalists know how to breathe properly before, during and after their performances.
Here are a few exercises that you can start doing now to get a feel for some proper breath inhalation; these will certainly help clear the throat and get you ready for peak performance:
– Work on relaxing your throat muscles. Being able to move through different tensions in the muscles of your throat will help you develop more varied tonalities.
– Inhale slowly, imagining that the air you are drawing in is heavy and thick. As you breathe in, actively work to move the air below your belly button and into you diaphragm (this is a dome shaped musculature that sits between your chest and abdominal cavities; it is the major muscle responsible for respiratory movements and is a crucial component for a successful singer). Exhale and then repeat.
– Find a lightweight feather that you can practice keeping in the air with your breath. This will help you fine tune your overall breath control and help strengthen and extend your lung capacity. The key to this exercise is to maintain a steady flow without allowing your diaphragm to completely deflate.
– Breathe in for 4 counts then exhale for 4 counts while making a “hissing” sound. Then, you will slowly increase the time: 6 counts in, 10 hissing breaths out. 6 counts in, 12 out. 2 counts in, 12 out. 4 counts in, 16 out. 2 counts in, 16 out. 4 counts in, 20 out. 1 count in, 20 out. As you practice this hissing exhalation exercise, you are training your lungs and body to be able to hold an extended note with less breath. The goal is to create a smooth, even tone, so no changing volume or pitch as you exhale.
– Breathe in slowly and envision that your lungs are filling up in sections as you count. At 1 count, fill your lungs up 1/4 full; 2 counts, 1/2 full; 3 counts, 3/4 full; 4 counts, completely full. Then exhale slowly as you continue your count to 12. Start again, this time section your inhale between two section: 1 count, 1/2 full; 2 counts, completely full. Then exhale as you continue to count to 10. Again, the idea is to teach your body how best to control your breathing.
This topic is explored further in our article on improving your singing voice, check it out now!
2. Muscle Warm Up
Just as you might stretch before you consider preparing to do a set of weights during an exercise routine, your throat muscles and vocal chords also require some “stretching” to get them warmed up before you sing.
Work slowly and carefully, practicing with different notes to get your vocal chords loosened up and ready to work. By doing this, you will help prevent your vocal chords from becoming strained from excessive use while the muscles are stiff or otherwise “cold.”
Here are a couple of exercises you can start with to warm up:
– Exhale through your mouth and empty your lungs. Relax your stomach muscles, open your mouth, and slowly inhale. Repeat this a few times. Then, as you are preparing to breathe in after a few cycles, add a hissing sound to your breath and see how long you can hold the note while inhaling. Once you have reached your limit, exhale once more, and then practice with different sounds, such as “shhhhh” and “fffff” to help stretch different areas of your vocal chords.
– Close your eyes and breath normally, inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Keep your shoulders relaxed and try to make sure that when you are inhaling the breath completely fills every part of your lungs. When you exhale, maintain your inflated shape while working to completely empty your lungs. This may prove difficult at first, but it is an excellent “stretch.”
– Count to 4 and breathe out slowly, lowering your left ear down to your shoulder as you do so. Then count to four again and lift your head back to its starting position. Repeat with the right ear, and continue for several cycles.
Having the right posture may not seem all that important, but it is: having an even area for your breath to flow in and out is crucial to creating the right sound and maintaining it.
Make sure that when you are practicing singing that you are standing straight with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent and loose (you do not want them locking up and causing you to possibly pass out).
Keep your head up and your neck straight, but your shoulders down and your stomach relaxed.
Relaxation is key for creating the right song comfortably. You do not want your body to be tense, lest you risk altering or otherwise damaging the sound you are preparing to create.
4. Finding Your Range.
Now that you have learned how to breathe correctly, you’ve warmed up your vocal cord muscles, and are standing straight and strong, it is time to figure out just what your voice is capable of.
On average, men and women are split across four major voice ranges: soprano (high) and alto (low) for women and tenor (high) and bass (low) for men.
Note: I mention 2 additional types of vocal ranges in this article.
To find where your natural range sits, start by creating a sound, sticking to whatever pitch and volume comes naturally to you.
Once you have discovered your natural pitch, start trying to raise the range as much as you can to reach a high note.
If you notice that you throat is starting to feel uncomfortable or you simply cannot seem to go any higher, then you have reached your range maximum on the high end.
Repeat this process with a low note to determine your low range. Do not try and surpass your natural range; doing so can damage your vocal chords or cause a great deal of discomfort.
There are effective methods for singing notes outside of your typical range, but you must take caution when attempting these!
You can also look online for a musical scale reference to give you an idea of which notes you can try to hit.
The key is to always start where your singing voice feels most comfortable and then try to add in some variation as you go.
Another surefire way to try and determine your pitch range and get a better feel for what your voice is capable of is to try and record yourself singing. Nothing too complicated, just a simple melody will do.
Then, play the snippet back to see how you sound.
If you notice that your pitch is wavering in places, record again and focus on correcting those errors.
You can also consider purchasing or finding some free audio recording and analysis software that can help you fine tune your practice by visually showing you when your voice goes out of pitch.
Just remember: everyone has a range that their voices naturally fall into, and you are no exception.
Much of the time, a singer will find him or herself singing out of tune because he or she is trying to sing beyond their natural range.
As you practice and gain experience and skills, you can start branching out more; but as a beginner, make sure that you stay in your comfort zone when it comes to range so that you can learn the basics and create a pleasant sound (not to mention avoid damaging your vocal chords).
I really like this online course for advanced range finding practice.
5. Keep Hydrated
Even if you are being careful not to put too much undue pressure on your throat muscles, you are still straining them in the same way that muscles are strained during exercise. For this reason, it is very important to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.
What you may not know is that lukewarm water is actually the best to drink while practicing, because it will help keep your vocal chords loose unlike cold water which will tighten them back up.
Avoid drinking or eating dairy products or other thick drinks before you prepare to sing as these types of drinks and foods can cause a build up of mucus in the throat which will make it more difficult to execute.
Christina Aguilera eats honey in-between vocal performances, which is just one of the pro tips you can learn in her online masterclass course.
6. Vocal Control and Scale
Regardless of your past experience with musical theory and practice, learning to follow a “scale” is simple enough.
Scale refers to a series of notes that are sung in a row going up in pitch and then back down.
There are many different kinds of scales, and practicing with different ones can help you develop your singing voice more fully.
Training your voice to be able to move along a scale is necessary for developing proper vocal control.
One useful exercise is called solfa, short for solfege, which you may recognize as the “do re mi” scale.
Rather than just sing formless notes, you give a “name” to each note and sing them up and down the scale.
A simple internet search can help you find a working solfa scale that you can use to practice with.
Want to learn falsetto? Check out my article on the matter here.
7. Make Sure You Are Not Tone Deaf!
Tone deafness, unfortunately, is a real disorder can affect a number of individuals.
The disorder is classified by an inability to properly match the tone of music with your voice–and you can often be completely unaware of the fact!
Tone deafness is, put simply, being unable to tell the difference between two different tones played on an instrument. And if you cannot feel the rhythm of a song, then it will be very difficult to sing along at an even cadence.
Luckily, the amount of truly tone deaf individuals in the world is extremely slim.
So to test whether or not you suffer from tone deafness, you can search for an ear test online which will test your ability to tell the difference between notes.
Tone deafness has nothing to do with your ability as a musician or to read musical notes, etc. This is a biological condition that cannot be reversed.
8. Singing and Your Nose
The nose is the body’s soundboard, and learning how to utilize it in the singing process will help you develop better overall sound control.
Depending on the type of singing that you are looking to do, you will also want to practice creating either a more nasally sound or a less nasally sound.
Country singers tend to employ nasal tones, while other forms of music find it less appealing.
On average, nasally singing is not what you will want to aim for since the sound tends to be more squeaky in nature and will not give your voice the full range that it can achieve.
Improper placement of the tongue and soft palate are often what cause nasal singing quality, and learning how to control them while singing will help you fine tune your vocal quality.
While looking in a mirror, open your mouth wide and look to the back of your throat where your uvula hangs.
This organ is attached to your soft palate, and when you yawn, you will notice that the palate and uvula move upwards.
You can also create certain sounds (such as the sounds in the word “sing”) to force your tongue to touch your soft palate.
Essentially, what all this proves is that you can control the size and shape of your mouth and throat opening which will affect the sound and quality of your singing.
“M”, “N”, and “NG” sounds create a more nasal resonance, while “B”, “D”, “G”, and “UH” create less nasal sounds.
If you replace the nasal consonant sounds with these less nasal consonants, then you can practice bringing your vocal chords together, lowering your larynx, and developing a less nasally singing voice.
Read Next: Singing With Distortion and Grit
9. Singing Diction
Diction can mean your choice of words, but it can also refer to how you pronounce those words.
If you are singing “covers” of songs written by others, you are not choosing the words, but you are choosing how you sing them.
In the beginning of your singing practice and education, you want to make sure that you sing each word clearly and not shorten any of them.
After all, you want to make sure that you can be understood.
The following are a few key tips to keep in mind when singing to achieve good diction:
– Slow down and pronounce the words fully. There are some singers who speed up and become difficult to understand. If you are a beginner, this is not a helpful place to start. Your goal right now is to strengthen your vocal chords and develop your body in a way that fosters healthy singing.
– While singing, make sure that you can hear the first and last letters of each lyric as well as the first and last words of the lyric. This way, you know that you are coming off in a way that can be understood.
– Practice speaking the lyrics first without signing. Clearly pronounce each word as if you are reading a poem (which music generally is, anyway). Even when you start singing, you can always go back and continue practicing clear pronunciation at any time (and you should).
10. Hearing and Listening
Being able to determine your pitch and listen for inconsistencies or tonal imbalances is important to learning how to sing. You must be able to clearly hear what and how you are singing while you are singing (and afterwards, if you are using recording equipment). For this reason, it is just as important to learn how to listen to singing as it is to learn to sing in the first place.
Keep your ears open for the following:
– Balanced pitch
– Overall tone (adjust as needed while you are singing). This will require knowing your voice type and range for better success.
– Balanced volume (you do not want to sing over the music, nor do you want to music to drown out your voice)
– If you are a part of a duet or band, you should be able to pick out the individual voices of your fellow singers and the music of your band mates
– Listening while singing overall (or, being able to pay attention and hear how you sound while you are in the act of singing)
11. Practice, Practice, Practice.
As with any skill, practice is what will help you develop your style and your abilities to excel.
It is not enough to do breathing or vocal exercises once and then expect to suddenly be a master vocalist.
These exercises should be done on a regular basis to ensure that your vocal chords remain warmed up and strong before you go into a song.
As little as ten minutes a day can be enough to keep your vocal chords in proper working order.
When you start singing songs, record yourself and play the recordings back afterwards – you’ll likely be amazed at how your voice actually sounds vs. how you imaged it sounds.
If you are listening to music, then you can play the recording back and compare your voice to the song you were mimicking. If not, then you can still listen for any inconsistencies in your pitch or other poorly timed or strained notes.
Learning skills such as playing guitar and singing all at once can be overwhelming, so be sure to try practicing one over the other at the start.
12. Consider Singing Lessons
While singing is a “natural” phenomenon, it is still a skill that can be developed and improved with both practice and guidance under a good teacher.
Search around where you live for singing lessons for beginners that might give you a good place to start building your vocal foundation, especially if you are finding yourself struggling to understand the basics.
A proper instructor can help you establish basics with your singing voice such as unlocking your head voice and falsetto voice respectively.
Singing lessons can also be found online, either for free or via an online paid platform.
There is no real wrong place to start when it comes to trying to learn to sing; being comfortable, especially in the beginning, is perhaps most important to ensure that you maintain your confidence which will cause you to keep up motivation for practicing.
Find the method of learning that best complements you and keep up with it!
James is an ex-writer for Music Grotto who focused the majority of his writing on the musical skill development content on the publication. His 20+ year career as a singing and vocal coach provided insightful content for the website, and his continued thirst for development in guitar and piano playing helped create some excellent skill development content for the publication.