A Beginner’s Guide: 11 Secret Tips to Help You Sing Better Today
A singer is a both a vocal athlete and an artist. Our body is our instrument.
Singing is an extension of speaking, just like running is an extension of walking. When you look at singing this way, you've taken the first step towards mastering your 'instrument'.
Singing is not easy. Of all the musical instruments, the voice is one of the hardest to master and also takes the longest.
This is because singing involves wrapping your head around abstract concepts and using your imagination to create the desired sound/vocal tone.
Your body and voice needs to be generally healthy and fit for them to perform at their best. If we get sick, our instrument will also be out of order.
Ever wonder why our voice trembles when we're scared and gets louder when we're angry? That's because our voice is deeply interconnected with our psyche. That's why when we're stressed, anxious or having stage fright, it shows up in our singing voice.
Despite all of that, learning to sing well is an extremely rewarding pursuit. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Tip #1: Good Posture = Strong Frame
Whenever we think of good posture, we think of a person standing rigidly with chest sticking out too much, lower back arching inwards excessively and knees that are locked. This is actually bad posture because the body is out of alignment. When the body is out of alignment, it creates tension throughout the body and it will affect the quality of our singing voice.
Other examples of bad posture: chin tucked into the neck/"texting" neck, rounded (slumped forward) shoulders, chest in a low position/arched inwards.
• feet hip-width apart
• chest high (sternum lifted)
• looking forward
• a line running down your ear, shoulder, hip, ankles
• feet planted on the ground
• chest high (sternum lifted)
• looking forward
• a line running down your ear, shoulder, hip
Sitting on the edge of the chair will keep you in a good posture because you're not tempted to lie back against the chair.
Tip #2: Know Your Voice Type/Vocal Range
A lot of singers who have been singing for a long time don’t know their vocal range and/or voice type. This is like going into a boxing match without knowing your weight class.
(If you aren’t familiar with boxing matches, boxers are grouped into weight categories so they fight against boxers who are around the same weight. Otherwise, it can be unfair for the lighter fighter)
If you don’t know your vocal range and voice type, you’ll risk damaging your voice by singing songs that are out of your range or being in the wrong part of the choir.
Once you know your range, you’ll know your current vocal limits and work with them, and not against them.
You’ll know what part of your range sounds better and can choose songs that showcase that part of your vocal range.
The good news is your vocal range can always be extended by practicing the correct vocal techniques.
Finding out your range is simple. I outlined the steps here so you can follow them easily.
Tip #3: Manage Your Expectations
Over the years, I’ve taught hundreds of students, mostly beginners.
Many have come and gone, and this is what I noticed about the students who became long term students VS those who quit early.
The students who quit after a few months (or even weeks) were usually those who were overly enthusiastic and had unrealistic expectations about their singing.
They expected to master the art of singing in a matter of weeks or months. They had an inaccurate impression of their ability level.
This led to them putting enormous pressure on themselves to get better at singing in a short period of time. Although they’d make progress, they’d be unhappy or frustrated because the progress wasn’t as much as they expected.
Ultimately, they gave up.
On the other hand, the students who persevered understood that singing was something that took a long time to get good at. It’s a difficult but worthwhile journey.
If you celebrate all the little milestones you achieve along the way, singing will become fun and you’ll be motivated to keep practicing to get better.
Tip #4: Choose the Right Songs to Sing
Your song choice can make or break your progress in singing/performances.
The right songs for your voice and personality can really help you to shine and stand out from the crowd.
If you know your vocal range and voice type, find songs with melody that fits within your range. First, you need to find out what the highest and lowest notes/pitches are in the songs you’re singing. Second, make sure the notes are within your vocal range.
For example, the highest note in the new song you’re learning is C5. Your vocal range is A3-E5. That means the song is within your range.
Some other things you have to consider are whether the song is too fast or whether the song has too many high notes - potentially becoming taxing for your voice.
Also, choose songs with lyrics you can resonate with.
- Can I relate to the story/message of the song?
- Does the song lyric suit my personality?
- Can I make my audience believe what I’m singing about?
If you’d rather sing sad songs because you can relate to them more, then sing sad songs.
Connect with the song so you can connect with your audience.
Tip #5: Always Warm Up and Cool Down Your Voice
“Singing a few songs” isn’t warming up.
You need to do certain exercises in a specific order for your voice to gradually wake up and connect with your breath and mind.
I encourage my students to follow a warm-up structure that looks like this:
1. Physical stretches
2. Breathing exercises
4. Vocal warm-up tracks
I talk about this in Singing Confidence Academy.
You need to warm up your voice for at least 15-20 minutes before you start singing songs. Warming up is important because it creates body-mind connection that can make you sing better. Your voice will feel stronger because the muscles, tendons and ligaments in your throat are warm. Singing will feel easier.
Most importantly, you’ll avoid damaging your voice.
Sirening is one of the best warm-up exercises you can do. You can use lip trills, tongue trills or humming sounds when you do sirening. If you don’t know how to do sirening, go here.
Sirening is also an excellent cool-down exercise you can do at the end of your practice session. It helps you to bring your voice back to its normal speaking setup while massaging the vocal folds to prevent soreness.
Tip #6: Improve Your Breath Support
If your voice were a car engine, then the air you breathe would be the petrol that powers the engine.
Your voice is a wind instrument. The air from your lungs vibrate your vocal folds when you sing.
But did you know:
- How much air you breathe in
- How much air you use
- How you breathe in
- How you breathe out
- How long you hold your breath before you start singing
…all affects your singing?
Basically, you need to learn to relax your belly so you can breathe in air quicker.
When you’re singing, you need to keep your ribs expanded.
Avoid breathing in too much air because you’ll end up holding your breath and creating tension in your throat.
If you tend to take a huge gulp of air before singing high notes, it may affect how well you can sing that high note. Take smaller sips and sing that high note straight away (instead of holding your breath for too long before singing the note).
You can learn the complete breathing technique for singing in Singing Confidence Academy.
Tip #7: Practice Consistently
Having goals for your singing and making action plans to achieve them will keep you motivated on your singing journey.
Your goals give you purpose and as a result, you have a reason to be disciplined. A lot of us (myself included) find it difficult to be disciplined without working towards a goal. Being disciplined for the sake of being disciplined can feel taxing if there’s no purpose behind it.
Having goals and action plans help you to be consistent with your singing practice. By having everything set out in clear language, you’ll find it easier to focus on your singing tasks.
Break down your action plan into manageable chunks. This way, you’ll get instant satisfaction when you tick off those tasks - making you far more likely to keep working towards your ultimate goal.
How much should you practice?
It really depends on how much time you can make and how committed you are to your singing.
It sounds great to say you’ll practice for 1 hour everyday. However, if you have a full time job and you get home late almost everyday, would you really have the time to practice that much?
Set realistic practice goals. I’d say you should aim to practice at least twice a week, for at least 10-20 minutes each session.
Tip #8: Fall Down to High Notes, Go Up to Low Notes
You might have seen this trick in this masterclass.
If you haven’t, I’ll explain it to you real quick.
For any high notes you’re struggling to sing, imagine you’re falling down onto the note you’re singing. Assuming that note is within your range, this mind trick will make your throat more open and singing high notes becomes easier.
Similarly, for any low notes you’re struggling to sing, imagine you’re going up to that note. It’ll help open up and relax your throat.
In any case, you never want to push with your breath too hard when singing notes that are difficult.
Tip #9: Move Your Mouth Well
Not moving mouth enough is a common mistake many singers make.
Very few students move their mouth excessively. It’s usually the other way around.
This could be due to them not enunciating well when speaking. In many cultures, mumbling when talking is quite common. What happens is this habit continues when they start to sing.
Your articulators (lips, tongue, jaw and teeth) shape your vocal tract so you can pronounce vowels and consonants. If you don’t move them well enough, your vowels and consonants won't sound right.
As a result, you’ll tense up in your mouth and throat area. You’ll instinctively make up for that by pushing hard with your breath. This causes a pressed tone (a heavy sound, similar to yelling).
Singing will become difficult because the acoustics needed to make your voice resonant isn’t there. Your tone will sound off and you’ll lose projection. Expressing your emotions through lyrics won’t happen easily.
There are many things you can do to make your articulators more agile but first, you need to know exactly where they should be for each vowel and consonant you sing. A good place to start is to look at the IPA chart. If you don’t know what that is, it’s explained in my free ebook as part of the free Singing Confidence Training Package.
Tip #10: Stick to the Basics
A lot of beginner singers who haven’t quite mastered basic vocal technique often ask me about how to do advanced techniques like vibrato, belting and metal screaming.
If you’re just starting out in singing, or you’ve never had much formal training, then you need to build a solid foundation first. A mansion that looks grand is no good to stay in if it’s built on sinking sand.
If you don’t have a good foundation, you won’t sound or feel good when doing advanced vocal techniques like vibrato and belting. You’ll even end up damaging your voice.
When you foundation is good, advanced techniques actually come pretty easily. It’s building the foundation that’s hard.
The best place to start is getting to know the Open Throat Concept. I talk about it in my free Singing Confidence Training Package.
The concept is a collection of techniques that helps you create space in your throat and mouth - so you can sing with a better tone, sing higher and more freely.
It’s proven by voice science that having an open throat gives you a resonant tone (projection) without straining your voice.
The Open Throat Concept techniques can then be modified to suit the demands of different genres and singing styles.
Tip #11: Take Care of Your Vocal Health
A singer is a vocal athlete. Your body is your instrument and it’s irreplaceable. Take care of it like how an elite athlete treats their body.
A professional NBA basketball player knows that staying injury-free will give him the best chance of having a long career. He can train hard but he needs to be sensible and listen to his body. Doing warm-up and cool-down sessions go a long way to preventing injuries. He also gets enough rest so his body can recover. A healthy diet helps him perform better too.
Start looking at your voice that way. Treat your voice with sensibility and respect. Practice hard, push your limits but always listen to your body. If you need to rest, then rest.
There are other things you can do to get better at singing while you rest. You can do visualization and breathing exercises. You can listen to music on Spotify and pick new songs to learn.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Be aware of the foods that make you phlegmy or give you acid reflux. Avoid them if you can, especially if you have a performance coming up.
Take small, frequent breaks during your practice sessions. Avoid doing difficult songs for the whole session. Mix in some easy, familiar songs.
Get enough sleep. Eat nutritious food. Meditate. Manage your anxiety. The usual health and fitness advice you hear all the time usually works to maintain optimum vocal health.
Your journey to becoming the best singer you can be will take you on an emotional roller coaster. You feel good when you sing because your body releases feel-good hormones called endorphins. Singing activates the vagus nerve, relaxes the body and gets you into a flow state.
Being so closely connected to our emotions, our voice is the perfect instrument to express our feelings through music. Isn't that why we crank up the car stereo and sing along to songs? It is a natural extension of who we are as human beings and it pays to learn how to use our voice well.
Learning to sing well isn’t easy but it’s definitely achievable. It all starts in your mind. Believe it and you can achieve it.
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