Updated: Apr 11
Before you read this post, you should check out the previous post in this series, How to Sing Like You Know What You’re Doing, Part 1 - Breathe. It is absolutely ESSENTIAL that you know how to do a singer’s breath. Otherwise, you may find yourself choking and coughing when you are trying to make that big sound that you want. This can be damaging to your vocal cords.
Okay, now that you have read the first post and you’ve practiced your singer’s breath, it is now time to sing!
You will need some sort of GOOD recording device for this lesson, something that allows you to hear accurately what your voice sounds like. A sound recording app on your phone is sufficient for this to begin with, but as you progress, you may want to graduate to something like this mobile studio recorder. The reason you need this is because you cannot tell what you sound like without it. Ever heard your recorded speaking voice? Chances are you’ve said at one time or another, “Do I really sound like that?” You can’t hear what your voice really sounds like because your ears are inside your sound box. It’s as if you were listening to someone play an acoustic guitar from INSIDE the guitar. You would never hear the music the way it really sounds.
So first things first: we need to talk about how to create the space in your throat for your voice to come out. Returning to the acoustic guitar comparison, you wouldn’t cover the hole and still expect to hear the full sound, would you? The same goes for any instrument, including yours - and your voice IS an instrument.
Take two fingers and put them behind your front teeth, upside down so you can feel the roof of your mouth. (Wash your hands first, you don’t want to introduce any yucky germs from anything you’ve touched.) Notice how the roof of your mouth is ridged. Now move your fingers towards the back of your mouth slowly, still touching the ridges. At some point, the ridges will end and the top of your mouth will become smooth. You have now reached your soft palate. THAT is what you need to lift when you sing in order to open your throat. The best way to feel what it’s like to lift it is to make yourself yawn. At the very beginning of your yawn, you will feel yourself naturally make space in the back of your throat. That is you lifting your soft palate.
Now make sure your tongue stays out of the way. The tip of your tongue should rest gently touching the back of your front bottom teeth. The back of your tongue should be lowered in order to help the soft palate open up the space for your sound to come out. If you still have the mirror from the first post in this series, get close to it, open your mouth, and try watching yourself lift your soft palate and lower your tongue. You will see the space open up.
Something important to remember: If you don’t create space in your throat at all when you sing, you could damage your voice. You will be trying to push sound that has nowhere to go and in the process, you will strain your vocal cords. They will literally be slamming themselves against each other trying to produce sound. This rule applies to BOTH CLASSICAL AND POPULAR MUSIC SINGERS. The difference in the two styles is how much space you need in order to get the sound you want. It also depends on whether you have a microphone or not. Obviously, you will need more space to push more sound if you are not using one. But ALWAYS create the space, no matter what you are singing and no matter if you are mic’ed or not.
Now, the next step is to make sound. Here is where your recording device comes in. You must visualize where you want to send your sound. As a classically trained singer who is specifically trained in musical theatre, I normally visualize my sound coming from somewhere between my cheekbones and my nose, and sometimes from behind my front teeth. This gives me a bright sound to sing the highly lyrical sounds that I need to make. But when I’ve sung popular music, the visualization of my sound is usually much lower and sometimes more towards my nasal cavities. The point is, where you visualize your voice will actually change the way it sounds. You need your recording device to tell you where that should be. So take a song that you are singing, particularly the part where you really want your voice to shine, and record yourself. Don’t forget to use your singer’s breath to push your sound out nice and evenly. If you are using a mic in your performance, use a mic in your recording. If you’re projecting solely with your voice (other than some stage mics), then record yourself that way. If you don’t like the way it sounds, try changing your visualization or how much space you create in your throat. When you find the sound you like, record yourself singing the entire song. Does it still sound good to you? If not, keep recording yourself, changing placement and throat space until you have the sound you want. Apply your technique to other songs as well. Sometimes your technique may change from song to song depending on your vocal range and the range of the song.
As an aside: For those of you that are NOT using a microphone, you should also practice in a large space if possible. This can be an auditorium, a church sanctuary, or, if you’re not too shy, outdoors. I sometimes practice off my back deck. You won’t always be able to do this, but you should when you get a chance. Put a friend in the back of the space as far away from you as you want to be heard, and let that person tell you if they can hear what you are singing and whether they can hear it CLEARLY. You will need a lot more breath support and more space in your throat in order to be heard. Visualize your voice placement and push the breath out slowly and steadily, but with strength in your diaphragm muscle.
Once you find your sound, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Practice until it all comes naturally.
What's another aspect of vocal teaching that I should emphasize? Do you have any teaching methods that you use that have helped? You can discuss this on the forum post for this article. The forum is for members, but you can join for free if you're not already one.
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