I’ve been receiving a lot of feedback from an article I posted in a little while ago titled Overcoming fear of singing. If one thing has become clear from your E-mails, Facebook messages, Tweets, and face-to-face conversations, it’s that I’m not alone in these fears and insecurities. Since then, people’ve been asking to relay some tips. Here they are!
1. Go on a date
… with your voice. Be engaged, good-humored, and listen to everything it says. Get to know it.
Similar to learning an instrument, a big part of improving singing is becoming familiar with your instrument, in this case, your voice. Find your limits (how low/high can you sing?), the ranges your voice sounds best (somewhere between your limits), and the tone/volume/style that seems to fit you. More on the last bit later.
A lot of people get discouraged because they try to do covers that never quite sound very good. Many times, the cover falls short because they’re trying to sing like the artist and not like themselves. Learn songs in different keys (basically higher or lower pitched from the original recording) and see which keys feel comfortable for you. Don’t worry about how it sounds, rather, become familiar with what your body wants to do. If you listen, it’ll tell you.
2. An audience of me
Ever heard your voice through the phone and hate the way your voice sounds? (“Do I really sound like that?”) The reason why this is so shocking is because when you talk you’re not hearing your voice, you’re hearing the vocal vibration in your head. In other words, we all hear voices in our head: every time we talk! Don’t worry: you’re not going crazy, especially if that voice tells you to give me all of your money.
The voice you hear when you sing sounds different from the voice that people do. Using a mic and PA allows you to better hear what audiences will hear. If you don’t have access to that, you can simply record yourself over your phone and listen back to it (if you’re an iPhone/iPad user, this is a fantastic option). If you don’t get used to the sound of your own voice, you’re going to spend your entire life fighting it instead of forming a partnership.
3. 10 minutes of heaven
This is a singing tip from one of my favorite singers, Bobby McFerrin. Set a timer and sing for 10 minutes straight. No accompaniment, no instruments, no breaks. Just sing. Make things up. Make sounds. Make-up your own scat vowels. Don’t prepare anything or think about what to sing. Improvising for 10 minutes straight is harder than it sounds, but you’ll be surprised with what you come up with.
Do this on a regular basis (once daily for me during my commute to teach), and you’ll gradually come to see improvements in your flexibility as a singer. This is a great opportunity to incorporate a new technique you’re focusing on whether it’s falsetto, vibrato, beat boxing, scatting, etc.
Because you’re the sole musician for those 10 minutes, work on breaking down your fear and reservations; try something goofy and different. The point of this exercise is not to sound amazing for 10 minutes. It’s to work on your instincts as a singer by setting aside time to be a purely instinctual singer.
Think of this as the equivalent of having a giant piece of paper, closing your eyes, and scribbling randomly until a timer goes off. It’s not going to look like the Mona Lisa or much of anything really, but you will become aware of how you hold the pencil in your hand, what direction scribbling feels comfortable, how fast or slow you can draw, how hard or soft you can press. That awareness will become your singer’s instinct.
4. Get down with it
Mechanically, a singer is a lot like a bagpipe–every girl’s dream, I know. As a singer, you’re a wind instrument. Without the proper airflow, your singing won’t reach its maximum ability to … bagpipe. My point: posture is important. Try this out: lie down flat on the floor on your back. This position will force you to have a straight back which is good for airflow.
Take a deep-bellied breath sing, “Laaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh.” Your belly should go from looking darn-near pregnant and deflate like a balloon (disclaimer: if you actually are pregnant, your belly will still look pregnant). Repeat this 5 times, taking care to stay relaxed and not rush through the exercise.
You should strive for a similar airflow when you sing. Sing an easy song (still on your back) and see if you can recreate the sensation. Repeat until your girlfriend comes home to find you singing “Mary had a Little Lamb” on your back and institutionalizes you.
5. The jaws of a snake, the face of Jim Carrey
A lot of beginner singers lock their jaws when they sing and don’t let their mouths drop past what it normally would while talking. Try exaggerating mouth, jaw, and face movements. Watch any good performance of the Star Spangled Banner. In the closing, climatic notes of the song the singer’s mouth is probably wide open. An open jaw drastically opens the sound of your voice. You might not like it right away, but it sounds better to the listener. Like with any practice method, you want to practice by exaggerating desired results so that instinct will eventually override bade habits.
6. Go international
Sing with an accent. You might be surprised with the results! By consciously adopting a different manner of enunciating, you’ll immediately become more conscious of your spoken syllables. When you sing in your usual way, it’s easy to fall back on sloppy speaking patterns. You don’t have to be convincing, but you do have to be consistent and sincere in your effort as goof as you might feel. It can be fun, and in the process, you might stumble upon more poetic elements to the language in your songs.
7. Don’t go it alone
Go to open mics. Watch singers sing. Try it for yourself. Most open mics I’ve been to have very positive and supportive vibes; they understand that many people there just want a low-pressure outlet to be musical in a setting outside of their bedroom. You can also join a choir or amateur singing group. The main point being to get experience singing with other people. You’ll learn good habits from the bad and can often get direct tips from those you admire.
Have any singing tips that’ve worked for you? Want to see more posts like this? Disagree with something in the article? Write it in the comments below!