Singing is an art – a breathtaking form of expression in hundreds of possible ways – which comes from sources of many different kinds. Humans, birds, whales, bats, mice, and many other animals are extremely lucky to be able to produce these wonderful sounds. But how many of them can actually sing?
Millions of people wish that they could be an amazing singer yet don’t know how to use their full vocal potential. Anyone can sing – yes, anyone. Most of these people don’t realize that being an excellent singer takes practice, just like any other sport or activity that you wish to excel in requires. But, before you start practicing and learn how to sing better, you should gain knowledge about the source of your sound.
There are a number of “instruments” that you use to sing. Your lungs, diaphragm, vocal chords (vocal folds), throat muscles, and abdominal muscles are the main ones. You use them unconsciously every time you talk and sing. However, a great singer will learn how to control some of these areas and stay conscious of them while singing.
Your lungs, diaphragm, and abdominal muscles all help in the act of breathing. When you inhale, your diaphragm helps control how much air you breathe in. You can feel your stomach expand as this happens; it is filling up like a balloon. Then, as you release the air, you are exhaling.
Your vocal chords can only produce sound when there is air flowing out of your body (exhaling), so it can be said that the source of singing and talking is breathing. This is why it is important to have good breathing control if you want to become a great vocalist. We will go more into breathing later.
The vocal chords work with you while you breathe to create different levels of sound. Each vocal fold has it’s own unique qualities of pitch, tone, and volume. You can control how you use these folds as you sing to create different notes (such as the low Barry White notes and the high Mariah Carey notes). These folds are also known as different vocal registers. Don’t get too caught up in the terms, as many people refer to them as different things.
Many singers will categorize their vocal notes into two main areas: the chest voice and the head voice. Although there is no official definition for these terms, it is generally said that the chest voice deals with your lower vocal registers and the head voice deals with the higher vocal registers. It is important to have a general idea about what these two terms are because they are referred to by many vocalists.
Everyone’s vocal registers are different. One person may have a tiny vocal range while another may have an enormous one. It is all dependent on your body, especially the different shapes and sizes of the vocal “instruments.” This is why everyone has their own unique sound when they talk and sing. It is not common to be able to replicate another person’s voice exactly.
However, anyone can improve and extend their vocal range through proper practice and techniques. You can read about the best possible way to do this here: Online Singing Lessons, where we talk about the benefits of taking online singing lessons. If they don’t spike your interest, you can still change your voice by following the singing tips we have here.
Breathing Techniques for Singing
We already discussed how the source of singing and talking can be considered breathing, but how do you know if you are breathing correctly? “Breathing correctly” – Now that’s a bit of a statement. We have to breathe every day in order to survive, so you would think that we are already breathing correctly. Well, for every day use, we are. But singing is slightly different.
When you go for a jog or bike around town you might start breathing more heavily and at a faster rate. You will notice that when you do this you breathe with your chest. Your shoulders raise and your chest extends in an upward motion, and your throat is pushing the air out of your body.
While in a resting position and taking deep breaths, the same thing happens. This breathing cycle does not give you the best volume support. Singing can require lots of air in situations where long notes or phrases are held without taking a breath. So something has to be done to cater to these situations.
Correctly breathing while singing requires some small tweaks. First of all, your shoulders should stop raising. In order to do this you need to focus more on breathing with your diaphragm. The motions of your belly should be exaggerated while inhaling and exhaling.
Second, the air should be gliding through your throat and not be forcefully pushed out. Pushing the air forcefully can cause increased strain on the vocal chords and lead to problems.
Making these two adjustments can be hard to do, especially when you start singing a song. Your mind is probably not focused on how much your shoulders are raising or your stomach is expanding. But you will need to put some focus into this.
Lets start off with breathing with your diaphragm. Imagine a balloon filling with air so that it becomes a circle. It’s expanding outward, right? The same thing should happen with your diaphragm, but I bet you won’t see your belly moving outward very much without trying to do so when you take a deep breath.
Then when you let the air out of your balloon slowly (and hold it so it doesn’t fly around), the balloon will contract. Again, I doubt you can visually see this happening to your stomach when you exhale.
So what is our goal? To look down at our stomachs while taking deep breaths in and out and see our bellies moving out and in as we breathe, respectively.
As you take a deep breath in, try to slowly push your stomach outward. No, don’t thrust your hips forward. They should stay where they are. Expand your abdominal muscles and let the air flow into your diaphragm.
As you slowly release the air, start sucking your stomach back in like the outer edges of a balloon. You shouldn’t be contracting your abs with a full force, but you should be able to feel them tightening up slightly. After the air is out of your body, your protruding stomach should be back to the position it was in before you started inhaling. For future reference, we will call this whole process a singing breath.
Yep, that’s all there is to it! But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Your normal breathing habits want you to do the opposite of this and expand your chest and raise your shoulders up. It will take a bit of practice and focus to be able to breathe with your diaphragm. We will discuss a breathing exercise to aid you with this later on.
Now let’s talk about letting the air flow out of your mouth instead of forcing it out with your throat. What you don’t want to feel is the clenching and force of letting out a couple of dog barks. Yes, dog barks. Go ahead and try to do your best impression. You should feel your throat tighten up and it should actually be somewhat uncomfortable. This is exactly what you will eventually feel after singing with your throat for a prolonged amount of time.
Rest your vocal chords for a moment until there is no more stress on them. Now take a deep breath and move your mouth into a whistling position without tightening up your muscles and slowly blow the air out. What you hear shouldn’t be a whistle, but the sound of air gliding out of your mouth. It should be light and calming, and not powerful enough to blow out a small candle.
Notice how your throat feels relaxed. This is how it should be while you are singing; you don’t want to be blasting air out of your throat. For future reference we will call this process an exhale glide. If you feel like this small exercise is straining your throat, consider widening the opened space of your mouth and using less of a whistling position (be sure it’s not from the attempted dog barks).
Now we are going to use what you just learned about singing breaths and exhale glides and put them together into a breathing exercise. This exercise should be done twice a day with a decent amount of time in between. If you start to feel light headed then stop the exercise and continue on later.
We are calling the reps of this exercise controlled breaths. The exercise combines what we taught you about singing breaths and exhale glides together. You are going to do a singing breath, except on the second part of the singing breath you are going to swap your regular exhale and replace it with an exhale glide.
The whole process should actually be quite difficult and requires lots of focus. You need to make sure you are doing it slowly and that you monitor your stomach movement and throat tightness. The best way is to stand in front of a mirror to watch your stomach. Then place your hand on your throat while you perform the controlled breaths.
You want to see if you can feel lots of movement in your throat. It should be minimal, so if you notice a large amount of movement you need to get better control over your exhale glides.
The controlled breaths may be uncomfortable at first, and should be uncomfortable if you haven’t had previous training for breathing while singing. However, doing them over a prolonged period of time will increase your air capacity while you singing and allow you to hold notes for a longer period of time. They will also help to prevent vocal strain.
You are going to perform the controlled breaths 6 times to start with twice a day. The next day you will increase it by 2 reps, and continue to increase the reps by 2 every day until you reach 20. Once you feel like you can do more that is a good thing, so you should put it to use while singing instead of increasing the reps. That is the tricky part.
Breathing techniques are always a largely debated topic when talking about singing. Some vocal coaches swear that breathing is the one thing that will change your voice, while others aren’t concerned with the topic at all. In reality, breathing techniques can always be used to help with your vocal performance. But they are not essential.
If you want to be able to belt out those long notes on a ballad, then you may want to consider controlling your breathing and performing controlled breaths. If you decide that you don’t like it and feel like you have more than enough air while singing, then that is also fine.
Correct Posture for Singing
Sometimes just the slightest change in your body alignment can affect how your vocals sound. It may open up your airways or bend them into a unique shape which causes different sounds. However, this varies for everyone. As a general rule, you can assume that you will sound the best when you have an upright and natural posture.
You don’t want to look like the picture to the right. Bad Posture While Singing In fact, if your posture is normally like this you may want to see a doctor and/or a chiropractor to help fix your alignment, as it is definitely going to lead to problems. But you do want to feel relaxed while you sing. In order to be relaxed, you need to feel confident.
So let’s look at a confident posture: Your head is held high (looking at your audience), you are not slouched over, and you are not stiff. These simple adjustments will help to calm yourself and allow everything to feel more natural to you.
Wait a minute! Am I saying that the effects of posture on your vocals actually deal with confidence? For the most part, yes. Being a confident person in anything that you want to succeed in will improve your abilities. Whether you give speeches, play football, or sing, confidence will help to improve your performance.
Having a confident and natural posture is just one of a few things you can do to improve your overall confidence on stage. We will go over confidence and getting over stage fright in another article.
Toward the beginning of this page we talked about how a slight change in your body alignment can also affect how your voice sounds when you sing. Sometimes you can find a position that actually allows you to hold notes longer or hit a higher or lower vocal range. Then you can take that position and adjust it over time to be the same in the confident posture position.
One of the most common “sweet spot” positions that singers come across is laying down on their back. There is no proven scientific reason why this can make singing easier, but it could possibly be said that it is because we are more relaxed in this position. So you should try singing in this position and experiment with a few others to see if it makes a difference for you.
Take a moment and move into some random positions and try to sing the same lines from the same song. Start singing in a normal posture position and gradually move your body as you start over. Maybe bend over or lean back and side to side. Try laying down on your stomach and back. Use your imagination – you never know what could make a difference!
If you come across a certain position that makes it easier for you to sing or that even improves your sound, try to take notice as much as possible about what is going on in that state. Even take notes. How does your throat feel? Is it tight or relaxed? Is your back being pulled or is it relaxed? Etc, etc. What you want to do is try to replicate the same position while having confident posture.
It will take some time and practice, but after making small adjustments you should be able to sound the same as you do in your “sweet spot” position.
If you end up not noticing a difference at all no matter what changes you make to your posture and movements, then you can disregard this information. It makes a difference for some singers, and for others it has no effect. But hopefully this has helped you find an extra boost for your vocal talent.