Education Tips

6 Singing Tips for Taming the Voice

I would like to give you some boundaries and rules that we to employ while practicing exercises, with an emphasis on breathing technique. These are covered in online voice lessons as well as with my in-studio clients.

1) We must inhale through the mouth. A part of inhaling correctly is the need to inhale through the mouth. Although this may sound obvious I sometimes have beginning students from time to time that breathe in through the nose when inhaling for singing. God gave us two ways in which we may inhale, and this is no accident. Breathing through the nose does provide us with a clean stream of air that is filtered and ultimately warmed through the nose hairs and sinus cavities. This is great for many applications including yoga and Tai chi, but it is not meant for more aggressive physical activities such as singing, which requires inhales to be drawn in quickly.

2) We must inhale low before each and every scale. By inhale low I mean to stretch the head up toward the ceiling and allow the stomach to drop downward. The first breath is going to be the easiest to remember as far as inhaling correctly, so the breaths that follow are the real challenge. This is your time to develop your diaphragmatic inhale as a habit. Remember the number one goal that you have on this and really all vocalises is to inhale correctly each time we begin to sing. Again we are employing two basic concepts; lift the head up to the heavens as we drop the stomach downward to the earth.

3) Don’t wait to the last second to take your breath.

The most perfect breath that we could ever hope for in a song is a breath that is allowed to be taken slowly. If only we could have all the time in the world to inhale, how much easier singing would be! Yet I often hear singers who have a normal two to four bar intro to a song that they are about to sing and approximately 1.5 seconds before they sing I hear a breath that sounds like they have just been startled from a deep sleep. If you have a few moments to take a breath, then use them. Don’t waste them. Believe me, there will be plenty of chances to inhale quickly in a song. But the slow ones may not be as common so we have to make the most out of them in order to keep ourselves from tiring out to easily. For instance, we will always have time at the beginning of the song to take a slow breath, even if the vocals start at the very beginning of the song. Obviously we still have the time before the song actually starts. Also, there are usually other spots in songs where there are no vocals, like a guitar solo or instrumental bridge. During your vocalises there will be spots for longer breathes and time when there won’t be. But the rule of thumb is this: If you have a three to five second pause before you sing, take a three to five second breath. It is optimal if you allow enough time to hold your breath and pressurize it before you sing. This only takes an extra second and is a perfect way to start a song, especially on slow songs. So the order would be; inhale, hold it until the breath is under pressure, and then let it out at that pressure.

4) Keep steady pressure through the entire phrase. It may be very easy sometimes to forget to keep your voice pressurized throughout the online singing lessons. We often forget to push on the last note for instance. This mistake is often due to the thought that the phrase is almost done so we start to back down. The rule is if we are singing a four minute song then it is four minutes of work. We must not stop pushing until the phrase is complete.

5) The higher we sing, the more energy is required. This statement has become more than just a rule for my students; it is actually taught as a law. You see, rules can be broken and many times in art we are actually encouraged to break them. But laws are not to be broken. Breaking laws has consequences and this law of breath control is no different.

The higher we sing, the more pressure or energy is required. Energy is a great word to describe the strength that we place behind the voice. We often look at a voice with a lot of strength behind it as simply being loud. One of the most energy consuming tasks that we can do in singing is to sing in a soft belt voice for instance. To sing high yet soft without using falsetto actually takes more energy or pressure than singing high loudly. The bottom line is that the higher we sing the more effort, the more power, the more strength, or the more energy is required. What often happens is when the scales or song move to a higher range and become more difficult, many unskilled singers back away and actually become weaker. Many times it’s because they are afraid of cracking or sounding bad. If you ever had fear of cracking in front of an audience or being flat on an important high note, then never back away from the high note. If you back away because you are afraid to mess up then you will do just that. You will mess up. Backing down from a high note is what causes us not to be able to sing high notes well or even at all. In a five tone major scale exercise we will look at the increase of energy as volume. As each note goes higher we will increase the volume of our voice slightly. With this law of increasing range the opposite is true as well. As the scale decreases its range we must decrease our energy. Many unskilled singers have the tendency to give the higher notes more volume or energy, as they should, but when the melody drops back down they are still singing strong as if the notes are still high. Not only does this not sound musical it can be damaging to the voice. Imagine that the songwriter wants a very dramatic end to his music with a lot of strength and passion. Would he make the last note low and then expect the singer to still be powerful? No, it would usually end with a high note, which of course requires the most energy. As mentioned before, breaking laws has consequences, and one consequence of under powering the voice is straining the voice and this can lead to disorders such as nodules, vocal tears and so on.

6) Never sing quieter than your speaking voice. As a rule of thumb, the perfect volume to hit any note can be measured against the speaking voice. If my first note of a scale is quieter than I would speak then it is underpowered. If the highest note of the scale sounds as if it would be akin to yelling instead of speaking then it was overpowered.