How to sing well
It is common for people to hear Celine Dion or the late Luciano Pavarotti belt out a glass shattering note and immediately think: “what a stunning voice, how do they sing so beautifully?” If you’re busy asking the man in the moon how and why they sing so well, then it’s probably safe to assume that you’re not really going to end up realising your own potential as a singer. Yes you read correctly, you do have the potential!
While it is true that some people are born with exceptional vocal talent and others sound like a parched baboon whenever they open their mouth and attempt to utter a tune, the ability to sing well is not actually limited to an exclusive minority. Singing well can be learned, all you need is at least a little bit of a love for music.
The legendary Queen front man Freddy Mercury might have spent years delivering perfectly harmonious and powerful local leads one after the other, but what the media doesn’t shove down your throat is the years he spent years learning how to sing, expanding his range and perfecting his pitch and tone.
Yes, unfortunately it does take time to get good. So if you were planning to attend that ever nerve wracking audition when the pop idol judges next pay a visit to your home town, but you’ve listened to yourself and your ear is telling you that you’re just not quite ready yet, then it’s ok, wait for the next round and spend the next year practising the ears off of yourself.
The fantastic news is you can get good if you just keep at it regularly, and here are some tips to get you going and help you along the way.
Remove the brainwashing
First of all, let’s start by stopping that voice in your head that keeps telling you you’re not good enough, that you can’t
Practise because people will laugh at you or tell you to shut up. I went up on stage one day and performed an original song with my band to a hall full of people. I was so nervous and something was telling me that I was going to suck, and my school friends would all laugh at me. I was doomed before I even started. Granted, back then my voice was pretty weak and timid as I hadn’t opened it up through practise. The band members were close friends so they didn’t fire me for being bad at my job, but my ego was still injured when I got up on that stage and flopped. I was very bad, but not because I was born with a poor voice, but rather because I was untrained, my attitude was all wrong and I let my nerves get me down. The looks on the faces of that audience were enough to put me off trying for good. And I didn’t pursue singing adamantly for a while after that. The embarrassment destroyed my self esteem as well as the desire to sing. Then something happened…
Get yourself a role model and identify their strengths
One day a couple years later, I discovered the nineteen ninety’s grunge band Soundgarden. I had of course heard them before, about eight years earlier they had become very popular, but this time the powerful voice of the lead singer stood up and slapped me in the face. Chris Cornel has a very well developed, powerful voice, and his mastery of the skill of singing really impressed me. He has a good voice. It’s not as pure & perfect as Andrea Bocelli’s, but very sharp and his control is excellent. Without any theoretical background knowledge to my name, I noticed something interesting about the way he managed to hit the high pitched notes, and still sound pleasing to the ear. He balances the sound throughout his throat, nasal passages and skull. He uses his own head and throat as a sort of natural amplifier. It is difficult to describe, but I could almost say it is like singing falsetto without actually using falsetto. I could describe it as clenching the back of the throat where it meets the sinus, and pushing some of the air from the lungs through the mouth, and some through the nose. Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin also utilised this technique, he is probably where Chris Cornel learned it from.
I tried it sheepishly at first, but obviously stumbled and failed. I kept singing to myself, in the shower, and generally at home when no one else was in. It was just that I really liked the way the music sounded; I didn’t exactly want to try singing publically since I had messed it up so badly in the past, but my appreciation for the sound pushed me on. I gradually learned how to mimic the “nasal” technique that Cornel had so generously presented to me. Before long I was getting the high pitch notes just right, and holding them for longer and longer.
Practise practise practise
A friend of mine likes to regularly quote a saying, “repetition equals success”. That stuck in my mind like a splinter, and I carried on singing to myself, in the shower and in the car. I was lucky enough to get a job driving around alone in a car all day, so while I was stuck in traffic, I would really push it out. It’s also a great way of relieving stress!
Enjoy vocal success
One glorious day I was on the way to my friend’s house. He was driving and I was next to him with my guitar, strumming the rhythm of and singing the song “getaway car” by Chris Cornels later band “Audioslave”. With a quiet gasp and a look of surprise, my friend offered me a really positive compliment, and I knew I had cracked it. I have since gone up and performed that song and many others in front of many people, just for fun, and the feedback has been great. My fear of singing in front of people is gone. I have been offered vocal positions in various bands and I could honestly say that if I wanted to, I could turn professional and sing for a living. The only reason I don’t is because I have other commitments that are just as important to me. That is not based purely on my own opinion of my vocal skill, but from the feedback of others. I didn’t get there by thinking I was untalented and prone to failure, I simply kept an open mind and slowly taught myself the ropes, and you can too.
Create your own style
If you haven’t already, identify the best singer out of all the music you like, and stick to them like glue. Listen to them over and over, focus, and try pick out techniques in their singing that you normally wouldn’t notice in casual listening. I have now advanced to listening to various artists and picking out their individual uniqueness and the particular style they have chosen, and how they make themselves stand out. Remember that not every great singer sounds exactly like Pavarotti, we all have our own strengths. Bob Dylan sounded like a bee buzzing around in your head, but he had something really cool and unique, he had developed his own style that is pleasing to listen to.
They way you find and develop a style all your own is to teach yourself some of the tricks of the trade used by others before you, and learn enough of them to put together to into a new blend. Don’t worry, you don’t have to master every type of singing, you don’t have to learn a perfect imitation of every artist you like and respect, but just aim to learn something about how they achieved finding their own voice. If you pursue this, you will be utterly surprised at how easy it actually is to become really good.
If you use this method to learn to sing, just remember that you can only sing as well as the artists you have studied. If you only ever listen to two singers your whole life, then they are all you will ever learn. So don’t just be content with being a mediocre vocalist, get out there and find new influences, new inspiration. Don’t be stuck in a genre either. Sure, if you like rock then fine, but not all the best singers are rock singers, so try listening to different styles of music in general, and you will be surprised what you find. You can learn to be a great pop vocalist by studying & practising opera, jazz or R&B singers.
So now it’s really up to you how good you want to become. All the best and work hard! I’ll see you when you’re rich and famous.