What we are going to focus on in this introduction is the fact that EVERYONE can sing. Yes, everyone. It just takes a lot of practice, and some really good advice. Following the methods throughout these chapters WILL help you become a better singer. We may not be able to make you the next Christina Aguilera, Steve Perry, or Jimmy Page, but we GUARANTEE that you will be able to carry a tune. Keep in mind that some of the most influential people in history don’t sing all that technically well. They have their own sense of style. We will talk about that later.
Perhaps the most important aspect of singing is your breathing. When you blow air into a balloon, the balloon gets bigger. If you hold the opening closed, or tie it, the air stays inside the balloon. When you let go of the opening, the air is released and the balloon gets small again.Breathing in singing works the same way. You’ve probably heard this a thousand times, but it’s really true.
When you breathe, you are supposed to fill your stomach as if you have a balloon inside. That way, when you sing out, your stomach should fall back to its original position.
It’s a big word, but it’s real easy. Without the proper amount of air coming out of your mouth, you can’t sing correctly, or even at all. Great breathing leads to great singing.
Breathe Through Your Nose
What I want you to do is take a deep breath. The back of your throat should feel pretty dry when you breathe in. That’s actually a BAD thing. Try closing your mouth and breathe in through your nose. Notice that it DOESN’T make the back part of your mouth feel dry. That is proper technique. Why? The answer is simple. There are filters in your nose that are called turbinates. When the air comes through the turbinates, the filters become moistened. What if one of your nostrils feels clogged? I know that is gross, but it is an issue that MUST be addressed. Don’t worry too much about your nose being clogged. All you need to have is a little air coming in, because you rarely will sing more than a few words at a time without breathing. At least that SHOULD be the case.
Half-Empty or Half-Full?
What do we mean? Notice that when you go out to eat somewhere, you almost always have a full beverage, because it’s the employee’s job to keep you satisfied. Well, your lungs need to stay satisfied while breathing AND singing. Always try to keep your breathing as full as possible. In other words, don’t sing an entire stanza without taking a breath, REGARDLESS of your music style. Sure some musicians do it, like Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) for example. The difference is that he has developed his singing to tailor his own sound, and in turn, his own breathing patterns. You may be surprised that he actually uses this technique too. If you watch any of their live shows, he will break certain lines that he DIDN’T break on the studio album. You MUST keep a solid stream of air flowing in and out of your body, regardless of the awkwardness. Remember, BREATHE THROUGH YOUR NOSE !
Good and Bad Breathing
Try finding a large mirror in your house. Count to three. On the count of three, take a deep breath and watch your torso (upper body) in the mirror. If you raised your chest and shoulders, it’s calledaccessory breathing. Accessory breathing gets the least amount of air in and out of your lungs. Now, place your hand on your stomach where your belly button is. This time when you breathe in, act as though you have a balloon in your stomach. When you inhale, let your stomach extend out and fill the imaginary balloon with air. This time, try NOT to raise your chest and shoulders. This is calleddiaphragmatic breathing. This method is PERFECT. When you want air to come out of your “balloon,” all you have to do is slowly release it from your stomach. Now you are in total control of your breathing, just like the balloon from earlier. You can let out just as much as you want by taking your fingers off the opening of the balloon. Believe it or not, we are born with diaphragmatic breathing. We just lost it somewhere along the way.
When your chest is raised up and your shoulders are back and down, you sing better. That’s because of the position of your rib cage. Your ribs are out of the way when your chest is up, keeping you from being restricted. If you slump down a little with your chest, notice how your rib cage blocks the air a little more. If you have ever hurt your ribs, you know how it feels when breathing. It is very painful. Long story short, you have to move your rib cage out of the way to allow the proper air flow.
Breathing Exercise –
- Take a breath in through your nose and fill your stomach up like a balloon.
- Clinch your teeth together loosely, and position your lips slightly apart. Make an “ssssss” sound like the beginning of “sing.”
- With one hand on your stomach at the belly button, breathe in a small amount of air while making the sound. Hold it for as long as you can.
- Take another breath, this time holding it a little longer. Your stomach should slowly be “deflating” as you breathe out. Keep repeating this until you have exhausted most of the air from your stomach.
Note – Don’t pass out. Go slowly, and if you feel light-headed, stop for a little while.
There are three types of voices. They are :
Chest Voice –
Chest voice is where you speak from. Your normal voice. When you speak or sing like this, you feel that since you are at a lower range, it will be easier to hit the higher notes. This is NOT true. What happens is as the notes get higher, you start feeling pressure. You may try to tighten your stomach muscles, which doesn’t work. Now it’s like you are pushing a rock up a hill. You may find yourself getting louder and louder, but not getting higher and higher. If you DO happen to get to the higher notes, it will sound strained.
There IS a way to get out of your chest voice when you need to. It’s not really supposed to be hard to hit higher notes, as long as you stay within your range. That’s where middle voice comes in.
Middle Voice –
This is probably the most important voice, as it is where you should try to sing from. Don’t worry, we’ll get you there.
Head Voice –
This is where most women and higher-pitched men (Thom Yorke, Radiohead) seem to sing. By having a higher voice, meaning, to the top of your head, it sounds like you are singing in an opera. The problem with this is that it is very hard to get to a lower sound using only head voice. When you bring the note down, it will lose its strength. To have the greatest voice you can, you need ALL three of these voices. The hard part is finding out WHEN to use them. If you sound great on the head voice, but then go down in range and sound softer, you haven’t found your range.
Let’s look at some piano keys. For men, the chest voice usually starts at around Low E or F. Then, middle voice is reached at around the E or F above middle C. Once you get around Bb or B Natural, you are in head voice.
For women, chest voice starts at around the F below middle C until the Bb above middle C. Middle Voice ends at around E or F. Once you get higher, you are in head voice.
This is just a quick guide to give you an idea :
Vocal Cords vibrate long in chest, shorter in middle, and even shorter in head voice.
Falsetto happens when the vocal cords move mostly out of the way and let a large amount of air through. Now only the outer edge of your vocal cords vibrate. Avoid falsetto until you have developed a good middle voice.
Recap – The goal as you sing from low to high is to let your vocal cords vibrate long and thick in chest voice, shorter for middle voice, and even shorter for head voice. Here are some very important rules to follow :
1. Don’t get louder as you get higher. You will increase the amount of air coming to the cords.
2. Don’t lock up the top part of your stomach. When you are singing from chest voice to middle voice, you need to make sure nothing blocks the air flow. It’s just like a kinked garden hose.
Don’t allow your larynx to go up. The larynx (voice box) can be found with your index finger. Slide it from your chin down to the bump. That is the front part of your larynx. Try keeping it still. If you feel movement, you aren’t breathing correctly.
When you hear someone holding a note, it may sound like a wiggle in their voice.
When this is done correctly, it is called vibrato. When this is done incorrectly, it sounds horrible. Stevie Nicks is known for her vibrato, but sometimes live you may hear it sounding like a sheep calling out. We want to try to avoid this.
Vibrato is an oscillation of the pitch. As you hold a note, the pitch moves up and down, higher and lower, just like waves at an ocean. When your vibrato is right, the wave will move up and down about six times per second.
The speed of your vibrato is crucial. Too fast is bad. Too slow is bad. You will want a total of SIX beats per second. When it is too fast, the vocals sound irritated. When it is too slow, it sounds like opera.
You will need the chart below for the exercise. What you will see are numbers on the top. Those are part of the exercise. The “ah” at the bottom tells you when you are to use vibrato. What you will want to do is go ahead and sing the “ah,” but don’t STOP singing it. You want to hold that note. On every number, push just a little more with each “ah” and you will be able to perform vibrato.
Sometimes when you hold a long vibrato, you will go flat. You usually can hear it when you go flat, but some people swear they are “tone deaf.” If you watch American Idol, you probably agree. This is because of how the sound travels through the air (hence – sound wave).
Vibrato Exercise –
- Take one of your fingers and point somewhere.
- Count to six, and on each number, point your finger downward. It will look like you are scolding someone.
- Sing “ahhh..” on every time you point downward. What you are trying to do is sound the same on each number. If you stay within the same voice, your vibrato should naturally come out.
Take your time on this exercise ! Try it over and over and you will see what we are talking about.
Finding Your Own Sound
Many people will say the only way to find your own sound is by working with it yourself and just figure out where you don’t go flat. This is NOT TRUE.
*NOTE – This Chapter DOES NOT suggest you imitating other musicians. All these exercises are intended to be are learning experiences. By learning from available resources, like other musicians, you learn what you are and are not able to do. Some people just can’t sing LIKE Steven Tyler. However, you CAN learn to sing ANY of Aerosmith’s songs by working with the proper voicings.
Finding Your Own Sound :
Listen to Other Singers – You need to find out if some of your favorite artists are singing where you WANT to sing. When you listen to others, the key is to find out how they use their three voices. When you have found the singer that you feel is most like you, work AWAY from that. For example, listen to “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan. Then, listen to the same song performed by Guns N Roses. What Axl Rose did was apply his own sound to a very somber original version. He never changed the key. The song is performed using the EXACT same chords as the original. That tells us he never changed anything. However, they both sound distinctly different. Why is that? The answer is simple. What Axl did was listen to Dylan’s intonation of his breathing and his words. You can tell it in his delivery. He just worked with the three voices (chest, middle, and head) and made it his own.
Find Your Song – Write down or print out your favorite song’s lyrics. Look closely at them and mark where the singer hits different voices. By doing that, you can then go back and sing it yourself. When YOU sing it, mark where you have trouble with another color pen or pencil, and go back and listen to the singer again. What did he or she do different?
Sing WITH The Song – By doing this, you can attempt to stay in key with the singer’s different voicings. When you find yourself failing, DON’T KEEP GOING. Start the song over. It is tedious but it works.
Sing A Capella – This means to sing without the music. Try finding your favorite song and remember the words. Then, when you are ready, sing it out loud to yourself. Can you keep the key without the music? If so, you are using the correct voicings.
Write Your Own Song – This should be the last step you take. How do you know if you sound right if you can create your own key? That is NOT a good thing. That keeps you from learning from your mistakes.
I know, you don’t want to hear it. This is the part I hate too. I happen to be a smoker and drinker, so this is the kind of thing we hate. However, a good singer must keep their vocals at their best.
When your vocal cords don’t get the GOOD moisture that they need, they tend to develop calluses. When these get too swollen, surgery is necessary. No matter what your favorite singer says to the general public, he or she constantly has to follow a logical diet. The ones that don’t DO NOT LAST LONG. This is proven.
You may love screaming at the top of your lungs in a song. That’s fine. That reminds me of an interview with the late Kurt Cobain. He always talked about drinking cough syrup and sucking on lemon wedges. He also talked about always having throat problems. Though his sound was very unique, it was a wreck on his vocal cords. He went further to explain that he was coughing up small white pieces of what looked like cottage cheese after a show. That is NOT a good thing. It is COMPLETELY impossible to carry your vocal styling of screaming uncontrollably through the years.
Take Metallica for example. James Hetfield has an amazing, gutteral, growl of a voice. Believe it or not, he is just in chest and middle voice. What makes him sound louder is that he controls his breathing and stays constant. That is why Metallica is STILL playing. That is why his voice STILL sounds the same.
Ok, enough talk about screaming. We already have established that though this is popular, it can still be done without the strain. Remember, you MUST find your voice.
Water – Believe it or not, you need at least a half-gallon to a gallon of water every day ON AVERAGE to perform your best vocally. Why? The water actually creates a watery phlegm that lubricates the vocal cords. When performing that day, leave OUT the ice cubes. Ice actually restricts your vocal cords. Luke warm water is a must.
Coffee / Tea / Alcohol – Sorry……They are all bad for your vocals. Enough said. Some people do not agree at all, but let’s leave that alone. Addictions, which I have, are some of the reasons we don’t sing as well as we should. I love coffee, and Kenny drinks tea like there’s no tomorrow. We are both guilty of drinking. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I personally believe that a SMALL amount of alcohol is acceptable before a show or recording, but don’t go overboard. I find that it settles my nerves. Remember, you are performing a show, not a keg stand.
Caffeine – It speeds up everything, including EXCESS phlegm. You don’t want it. Sure you get a little more energy, which makes you FEEL good, but it takes moisture out of the body. The thicker the phlegm, the harder it is to sing.
Citrus – DANGER ! It will produce more phlegm.
Sugar – Try to cut back. It’s not a big deal if you drink plenty of water, but it’s a good idea to try to lower the intake. NO CHOCOLATE BEFORE A SHOW !!!!!
Smoking – It’s just bad. We already know that. I’m guilty, so you aren’t alone.
Gum – No matter who you have seen do it, it’s bad. You need all the moisture you can get. By chewing gum, you are pulling the moisture from your mouth. That is where you need it most. There are some hydrating gums out there, but just to be safe, try to avoid them when singing. Plus, you can choke…dummy. ( Had to add some humor here )