World Choir Games Flanders 2021

How to sing – the definitive guide

  • [A version of this article first appeared as a post on my blog From the Front of the Choir]

     

    “How to sing” is one of the most common requests I get. The answer is simple: open your mouth and let the sound out.

     

    photo by Spekoek

     

    I’m not being facetious, it’s as simple as that. But when someone asks that question, they’re usually hiding a deeper one. Let’s look at what they really want to know and see what the answers are.

    Most people arrive on my blog via Google. And many of those searches begin “How to ...”.
    “How to be a good singer”, “How to know if you can sing”, “How to become a better singer”.

    So when someone asks “How to sing”, this is what I reckon they might really be asking.

     

    how to sing better

    Better than what? What’s wrong with how you sing now? It’s hard to answer this one because it’s too vague. The problem is that the person often has a fixed idea about how they want to sound, and it’s usually not achievable. More on this below. The secret to becoming a better singer is to be able to focus on exactly what it is you want to improve.

    See also The only thing stopping you from being a better singer is ...

     

    how to sing properly

    Similar to “How to sing better”, this assumes that there a ‘proper’ way of singing actually exists. This can be a block to anybody getting started because they’re worried about getting it ‘wrong’.

    Many people believe that they don’t have the right to sing until they’ve had singing lessons and learnt the ‘proper’ way of singing. There is no one ‘proper’ way. There are healthy ways which don’t hurt and there are ways which cause tension and pain. If you suffer from the latter, then get some technical help.



    See also Do you need singing lessons in order to sing?

     

    how to sing like ...

    ... anybody but yourself! So many people want to sound like their favourite singer, whether it’s a pop star or an opera singer. If they don’t end up sounding like them then something is ‘wrong’. But we all have a unique voice (ironically that’s why we like our favourite singer in the first place – because they sound like nobody else!) and it’s crazy trying to be someone we’re not. Learn to enjoy and delight in your own unique voice. Celebrate the fact that it’s different from everybody else’s.

    See also Learning to love the sound of your own voice and What to do if you don’t have a ‘nice’ voice



    Now that we’ve got rid of the idea that there is a ‘better’ or ‘proper’ way to sing and stopped trying to sound like someone else, there are a few specific questions that can usefully be asked. But again, none of them should stop you from just opening your mouth and letting the sound out.

     

    how to sing higher/ lower

    First off, make sure this isn’t really a “How to sing like ...” question. Your favourite singer might have a really high (or low) voice and when you try to sound like them it’s a strain.

    Trouble is, your voice might just be made like that. We can only work with the body we’ve got and some people are born to sing high and others are born to sing low. Most female pop singers have quite low voices and most male pop singers have quite high voices. Almost all male musical theatre singers are high tenors. Lots of female opera character singers have very low voices. The rest of us lie somewhere in between.

    It is possible to extend our range, but that just comes with practice. Keep singing regularly and you will notice a change over time. Don’t strain though. If it hurts, stop. Ease into the limits of your range gently and don’t do it for long periods. You might even want to take a few singing lessons. But there will always be a limit and it may just be that you’ll never get that really low (or high) note because of the way you’re made.

    See also But I can’t sing that high! and Can women sing tenor?

     

    how to sing in tune

    This is an excellent question because it implies you have a really good ear and understand when you’re in or out of tune. If someone else has told you this though, take it with a pinch of salt and get a second opinion. Also bear in mind that we all have our off days and are sometimes out of tune, but not always. And there might be particular contexts where it arises more often. For example, when I first started singing against my own voice when I was multi-tracking, I would always go out of tune. Now I’ve got used to it, it doesn’t happen so often.

    You might find these posts useful: How do I know if I’m singing in tune?  and Learn how to sing in tune and Singing out of tune isn’t always a bad thing and Are you tone deaf? Very unlikely!

     

    how to sing louder/ softer

    Assuming this is not just another version of “How to sing like ...” (because your favourite death metal lead singer has a really, really loud voice), once more it implies that you have a good ear. It also implies that you sing with others and are trying to find a balance between your voice and someone else’s. It’s a great question because it means you are aware of subtlety and finesse in singing.

    The secret to both of these questions is rooted in how you control your breath.

    See Breathing for singers: it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it

     

    how to sing harmony

    Wow, a pretty advanced question! Great that you’re trying to extend your abilities by singing with others. The fact that you’ve asked this implies that you get thrown a little when other people are singing a different part to you. Again it comes with practice, so keep at it.

    You might find these posts useful: Singing in harmony 1 – how do they do that? and Singing in harmony 2 – small group skills and Learn how to sing in tune: harmonising and Why do I end up singing the tune when I’m supposed to be singing a harmony? 

     

    how to sing professionally

    Sometimes the answer “just open your mouth and let the sound out” is not enough because you want to be in a world where your singing voice is judged.

    You might want to go on X Factor or be a pop star or get into musical theatre or make records as a singer-songwriter. Whatever, you will be judged on your singing ability and found wanting or not. In which case you need to find a way to conform to the standards expected.

    First of all you need to know what is expected of you, then you need to find a way of achieving that. It may well be that you’ll need a vocal coach or singing teacher. But whatever you do please, please try to be yourself and not try to conform to somebody else’s idea of what a singer should be.

     

    how to sing

    Once again, it’s easy: open your mouth and let the sound out.

    It’s everybody’s birthright to be able to sing. The desire to sing is part of human nature. As long as you’re having fun and enjoying your own singing voice, to hell with everybody else!

     

     

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

     

    website: chrisrowbury.com
    blog: blog.chrisrowbury.com
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