What does it take to be a ‘good’ singer? Can anyone sing or do you need to have a gifted voice? Can you train your voice to sound good? Here is some good news for aspiring singers! Research says that singing is an acquired skill rather than an inborn talent. So, there is a very good chance that you can learn to sing – at least to please your own ears if not to get an invite to the Tyagaraja music festival or to Carnegie Hall.
Either way, here are 9 handy tips to improve your singing voice:
1. Hydrate well
Always carry a bottle of water with you when you are about to sing or are rehearsing. Keeping your insides, particularly your throat, hydrated can help you belt out notes more easily. It helps your voice become more flexible allowing you to practise oscillations at will. 2-3 litres a day should thin the mucus and clear your trachea so your voice sounds smooth and clear. Dr. Bindu Subramaniam, Co-Founder and CEO, SaPa, advises, “Practise good vocal habits like hydrating well. It’s really important. On show days, I carry extra bottles of water to remind myself to hydrate.”
2. Sing from the diaphragm
Nasal and guttural singing can put pressure on your voice and can eventually spoil it. It is also important to take deep breaths all the way from your stomach to be able to come out with a rich and strong tone of voice. Many singers breathe from their throat or shoulders. This leads to a flatter voice than they intend. Remember to take deep breaths from your diaphragm and bring your voice from there. The deep breath will give you greater control over your voice and make you feel energetic as you go for the higher pitches.
3. Maintain correct posture
Whether you are singing while standing or sitting, your posture must be well-aligned – with your spine erect while maintaining a long neck. Keep your feet in line with your hips if you are standing. This posture enables you to get a full breath of air and you will be able to maintain your note for a longer time. These simple, good habits will free your airways so you can reach the pitch you are going for more effortlessly.
4. Practise daily
Practising every day might not sound exciting in the short run but without doubt, you will reap the benefits in the long run as you gain better control over your voice – setting your modulation, tone, and pitch. If you are practising for, say, half an hour a day just ensure you practise scales, deep breathing, and akaaras to give you confidence in your voice.
It is particularly beneficial if you can practise early in the morning as this is the time when your throat is least warmed up. So, when you manage to control your vocal cords at the time it is most difficult to do so, you will be able to sing well at any other time of the day.
Dr. Bindu Subramaniam says, “Your practice will not sound like a concert. You will be singing horrible notes that you will wish you never sang. But you need to make those ugly sounds to sound beautiful at the end.” That is possible when you practise regularly – every day.
5. Follow a warm-up routine
What should your warm-up routine consist of? Dr. Bindu Subramaniam says, “What I think is really important for every singer is to have a regular vocal warm-up routine and that can be lip trills, sarali varisai, or long notes, whatever works for you. But you need to have a regular, consistent practice.” As singing is a physically demanding practice, all singers practise exercises to warm up so their voice does not break or falter in any other way when they are singing. Like loosening the jaw, humming, opening your mouth wide like a yawn and closing, tongue trills, and akaaras. Deep breathing exercises like blowing in and out of an imaginary straw, and pranayamas like Nadi Shodhana and Bhramari can also help clear your breathing passages.
6. Remember your lines
To give as effortless a performance as possible, it is important that you know your lyrics thoroughly. This will make sure that you don’t sound like you are trying to read the lines of an imaginary sheet of paper. When you are well-rehearsed, it increases confidence which directly reflects in your voice. It also enables you to emote and play with the vibrations in the notes of the song, nuances that might be missed if your attention is on trying to recall the next line. On this note, it is important to remember to practise your accent, pronunciations, and enunciations.
You might also like to rehearse when you will pause for breath, or when breathing will be done passively or is part of the song and so on, so there are no surprises during a performance. You should not be caught out of breath.
7. Talk less and less loudly
If you have a performance or are about to sing for long hours, it would be best to avoid talking too much, or even practising too much. Both can make you tired during your rehearsal or performance. So, spending some time alone to be able to maintain silence would be a good idea. Dr. Bindu Subramaniam shares, “I try to talk a lot less (on the days I have a performance). If I am out in public places like restaurants, where the noise levels are high, I try to talk less because you end up talking louder without realising it. And that puts some strain on your vocal cords.” So, keep your breath to ‘swell your song’ as Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice said!
8. Listen to your own voice
Do you know how you sound? It is natural for singers to have a perception of their voice as they sing. But, the most realistic one is when you hear your own recorded self. You can also try to cup your palms and keep them behind your ears to get a sense of how you sound. This will help you correct what sounds off (note, beat, pitch, tone or general voice quality) to you.
9. Don’t be afraid to mix voices
All singers have a range and to go beyond that range requires them to mix up voices – head voice and chest voice. The difference between the two voices is the muscles that you use to produce sound. The chest voice engages the thyroarytenoid muscles, and the head voice engages the cricothyroid muscle. If you don’t practise mixing your voice, you will sound shaky when you attempt pitches beyond your range or you will be limiting your abilities. To avoid a bumpy tone and a voice break, mix your chest voice with your head voice. This will ensure that their voice is even-sounding.
With these singing tips, you can abandon lip syncing at those group performances and choirs and bravely let your voice be heard as you sing your heart out! Towards this end, we warmly welcome you to join our vocal singing courses at SaPa to train yourself in Western or Carnatic vocals or learn at your own pace.