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How to teach yourself to sing better in 8 achievable steps

Everyone wants to sing better. The better command you have of your voice as an instrument the more enjoyable the act of singing can be.

Everyone can sing at a basic level – singing is what it means to be human. Whether you are singing professionally or not is irrelevant. In this article, I will guide you through achievable steps you can take to further develop your singing voice and enjoy the process!

Why you should trust me

Marye Lobb, author and contributor at Higher Hz

I’m a professional singer with over 300 songs in my repertoire. In my work as a performer and educator, I need to learn songs quickly and accurately and take top-notch care of my voice so that I show up to excel at every performance, rehearsal, and music lesson.

I am a graduate of the Berklee College of Music where I studied Vocal Performance with Lisa Thorson and Diane Richardson. To me, to become a better singer is the practice of becoming a better and more compassionate human being.

Here’s a quick list of simple steps you need to follow to teach yourself to sing better:

  1. Understand how the voice functions as an instrument
  2. Study and understand the anatomy of the voice
  3. Learn the art of breath management
  4. Create and execute an achievable practice routine
  5. Master excellent posture
  6. Become familiar with your vocal range
  7. Take the time for step-by-step song study
  8. Care for your instrument (you)

Step 1: Understand how the voice functions as an instrument

All musical instruments can be broken down into three main components: generator, vibrator, and resonator.

As an example, the voice is activated by breath from the lungs (generator) that makes the vocal cords (vibrator) move. Your vocal cords create a sound that is colored and amplified by resonance in the throat, mouth, and nasal cavity (resonator).

understanding how the voice functions

Along with these three main components, singers also have articulators (the mouth, teeth, tongue, lips, cheeks, and palates). The voice, as a musical instrument, is the only instrument that has the ability to create words with sound using articulators.

Studying the voice as an instrument is tricky because we can’t see it. We have to visualize and imagine what is going on inside of our bodies to control it. Visualizing these four elements will simplify the process.

Step 2: Study and understand the anatomy of the voice

Vocal anatomy is the structure and physiology of the human voice. There is so much going on inside of our bodies to create the sounds we sing! To understand vocal anatomy is to uncover the power of using your voice effectively.

At the heart of vocal anatomy are the vocal cords, two flexible folds of tissue located within the larynx (voice box) that are about the size of an American dime.

These cords, sometimes referred to as vocal folds, play an essential role in producing sound. When air from the lungs passes through them, they vibrate, creating sound waves. The pitch of the sound is controlled by the tension in these vocal cords and the rate of vibration.

Surrounding the vocal cords are other important structures like the trachea (windpipe) and the larynx, which create a home for the vocal cords and regulate pitch. Above the larynx, the vocal tract, consisting of the throat, mouth, and nasal passages, also contributes to the sound created by the vocal cords, by adding resonance and articulation.

In addition, we have the diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle situated below the lungs, to thank for controlling breath support, which is paramount in sustaining and controlling the voice.

To understand vocal anatomy it is important not only to know these structures but also to comprehend how they function together. When you are able to visualize this anatomy as you sing, you have taken your singing practice to the next level.

Step 3: Learn the art of breath management

Breath management begins with proper inhalation. It is important to take deep, diaphragmatic breaths, expand the lower ribcage, and engage the diaphragm muscle. This deep breath will provide an ample supply of air to effectively support singing.

After the inhale, engage the abdominal muscles to control the release of air. Learning how to exhale with control takes time and patience.

breathing technique for better singing

Timing is another important component of breath management. It is essential to coordinate the release of air with the articulation of words and the melody of the song. Properly timed breaths ensure that the voice doesn’t run out of air mid-phrase and stays in tune!

Breath management in singing is both a physical and mental skill that takes time to master. It requires practice, patience, and awareness of the body.

To learn the art of breath management is to be in control of the vocal instrument, and have the ability to convey emotion, project, and sing with confidence, ease, and artistry.

Step 4: Create and execute an achievable practice routine

How many days a week can you realistically practice for 30-60 minutes? Two days, three? Four days? Five?

Whatever is realistic for your schedule, make a commitment and stick to it. Do not sing for more than an hour. Consistency is key as that is where the real progress is made.

A great practice routine consists of the following elements*:

  1. Beginning warm-up. Physical stretches (3 minutes) – shoulder rolls, neck rolls, etc. Warm-up vocalizations (5 minutes) – light humming, lip trills, ohs, etc.
  2. Vocal technique exercises (10 minutes). These exercises are more than your warm-up. They are to address a specific challenge or a way you would like to grow. For example, if you want to expand your range, an octave arpeggio exercise would be excellent. The main purpose of this portion of your practice routine is to establish good habits that your body and mind will remember.
  3. Song study (15 minutes). This part of the practice routine focuses on the song(s) you are currently working on. There may be technical aspects that need attention like perfecting the melody or rhythm and studying the lyrics.
  4. Cool down (5 minutes). This is so important and will make all the difference in the longevity of your singing voice. Do your warm-up vocalization and physical stretches in the opposite order.

*You will find this routine in more detail in the book “The Contemporary Singer” by Anne Peckham.

Step 5: Master excellent posture

Mastering excellent posture for singing is an integral aspect of your overall vocal health. Below is a guide to achieve great posture:

  1. Stand tall. Begin by standing upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. Imagine a string pulling you gently upward from the crown of your head. This posture creates an open airway.
  2. Relax shoulders. Keep your shoulders down and relaxed, avoiding tension. Tense shoulders can interfere with breath control and strain your voice. A way to know if your shoulders are relaxed is to bring them up to your ears and then relax and let go. Remember what it feels like to relax them.
  3. Engage core muscles. Activate your abdominal muscles to provide stability and support for breath control. A strong core helps maintain good posture.
  4. Open the ribcage. Inhale deeply, expanding your ribcage horizontally. This creates space for your lungs to fill with air and helps with breath control.
  5. Balance weight. Distribute your weight evenly on both feet, with knees slightly bent to avoid locking. This stance provides balance and flexibility.
  6. Align hips. Ensure your hips are aligned with your feet and spine. Proper hip alignment maintains overall stability.
  7. Relax neck and jaw. Keep your neck relaxed and in line with your spine. Avoid excessive tension in your jaw, which can affect vocal clarity. As part of your stretches before you begin your warm-up, practice what it feels like to drop your jaw freely. Remember what this feels like so you can implement it when you sing.
  8. Practice in front of a mirror. Sing in front of a mirror to visually assess and correct your posture. Pay attention to alignment, and make adjustments as necessary.
  9. Warm-up. Include warm-up exercises that focus on posture and breath control in your singing routine. This prepares your body for optimal posture during performance.
  10. Seek professional guidance. Consider working with a vocal coach who can provide personalized feedback and exercises to improve your singing posture.

By consistently practicing and maintaining excellent posture, you will become a better singer and be at a lower risk of strain or injury and your voice will shine bright!

Step 6: Become familiar with your vocal range

Becoming familiar with your vocal range is how you learn to sing songs in your respective key. It can be confusing and overwhelming at first, that is why I created this friendly guide to break it down into manageable steps:

  1. Start with basic scales. Begin by singing basic musical scales, like the C major scale, from the lowest comfortable note to the highest comfortable note. Pay attention to where your voice feels most natural and relaxed.
  2. Use a piano or keyboard. If possible, use a piano or keyboard to play notes while you sing along. This can help you pinpoint the specific pitches that match your vocal range.
  3. Work with a coach. Consider working with a vocal coach or teacher who can accurately assess your vocal range and provide guidance. They may also help you explore your vocal range in more depth.
  4. Record yourself. Record singing sessions and listen carefully. Note the range where your voice sounds most comfortable and resonant.
  5. Experiment with songs. Sing along to songs in different keys and identify which ones suit your range best. You should feel at ease hitting both high and low notes.
  6. Stay within your comfort zone. When performing, choose songs that fall within your comfortable range. This ensures that you can sing confidently and avoid straining your voice.

Understanding your vocal range will help you select songs that fit your voice and so you will have more fun and enjoyable performances!

Step 7: Take the time for step-by-step song study

Music is all about breaking things down into achievable steps. When you are learning a new song it’s important to take the time to give the song the attention and care that it requires.

  1. Clap the rhythm.
  2. Learn the melody.
  3. Sing the rhythm and melody without lyrics.
  4. Study the lyrics.
  5. Say the lyrics out loud in the rhythm of the song.
  6. Add the chords. Its okay if you are just plucking the chords out on the piano or guitar – you need to make sure the melody fits with the chords of the song.
  7. Listen to recordings. When I learn a new song I try to listen to every version I can find so I can take an inventory of what is out there and create my own stylistic interpretation.

Step 8: Care for your instrument (you)

It’s a blessing and a curse that a singer’s instrument is inside their body. This means everywhere you go, your voice goes with you. You must learn to care for yourself in order to care for your voice.

Caring for your voice as an instrument is essential to maintain its health and longevity, especially if you’re a singer or rely on your voice for professional use.

Here are key practices to ensure your vocal instrument stays in top shape:

  • Stay hydrated. Proper hydration is fundamental. Drink plenty of water to keep your vocal cords lubricated.
  • Warm-up routine. Don’t forget your warm-up exercises before you sing! Gentle scales, lip trills, and humming can help prepare your vocal cords.
  • Healthy diet. Enjoy a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Foods with high acidity or fried or spicy food can irritate the throat, so eat them in moderation.
  • Adequate rest. Ensure you get enough sleep to allow your body, including your vocal cords, to recover properly.
  • Avoid vocal abuse. Refrain from yelling, screaming, or straining your voice. Whispering can also be harsh on the vocal cords, so use it sparingly.
  • Limit vocal stress. Reduce excessive coughing and throat clearing, which can be abrasive to the vocal cords. Try sipping water or using throat lozenges instead.
  • Avoid smoking. Smoking damages the vocal cords and increases the risk of vocal disorders. If you smoke, consider quitting or seek professional help to quit.
  • Regular vocal rest. Allow your voice to rest, especially after intense performances or illness. Silent or whisper days can give your vocal cords time to recover.
  • Professional guidance. Consult with a vocal coach or speech therapist to learn proper vocal techniques and get feedback on your vocal health.
  • Stay informed. Keep up-to-date with the latest research on vocal health and seek professional help if you notice persistent voice issues.

By following these practices, you’ll ensure that your vocal instrument remains a powerful and reliable tool for communication or artistic expression while minimizing the risk of vocal strain or injury.

In conclusion, get started today!

There are eight steps you can take today to become a better singer. Learning the anatomy and functionality of the voice as an instrument will help you visualize how the instrument works.

Take control of your voice by perfecting the art of breath management and by creating and executing a consistent and manageable practice routine.

Getting to know your vocal range and taking the time to learn your songs step by step will make a huge difference in your quality of sound. Self-care is essential to keep your instrument happy and healthy.

If you want to improve your life and overall happiness – make singing a part of your daily life. And check out my recent article to read all about the health benefits of singing.