A few weekends ago, I played and sang 30 songs for an art show on a Friday, and then led the worship team for rehearsal and four services for our church during the weekend, totaling about 60 songs and about 5 1/2 hours of singing. Sunday afternoon, my voice wasn't really that tired, and I got to thinking: what are some of the most important things I've gleaned from others about singing technique over the past 17 years? I'm not an expert, but I owe what I do know to others who were kind enough to share their knowledge and experience with me. Why not share those things with others who want to sing, lead, etc.? So, here goes, in no particular order. And pardon my pop culture references--I had to have a little fun with this... (Of these first pointers that I wanted to share, several were shared with me by my friend and vocal instructor, Amanda Terry.)
(DON'T) LET ME CLEAR MY THROAT! - (It's all caps because it's really important) Your voice is an instrument, and it is important to take good care of it if you want to keep singing. The act of clearing your throat, while it may feel like temporarily better, is actually slamming your vocal cords together and causing more wear and tear. Over time, it can cause damage. The better option? Swallow. Drink water. When you swallow, you are coating and soothing your throat rather than beating it up. Along with this goes coughing and screaming (harshly). If you want to avoid any unnecessary wear and tear on your voice, you need to avoid these things like the plague. They will limit your ability to sing well, and cause your voice to be tired prematurely.
IN THE DRINK - Room temperature water and warm/hot tea are your friends. Avoid caffeinated drinks (soda, coffee, etc.), dairy, and acidic juices (especially citrus) as much as possible. These things cause irritation, dehydration, and excess phlegm in your throat and voice box. Water and tea hydrate your body, which helps lubricate your vocal cords, therefore making it easier to sing. Cold water can constrict your throat, which is not helpful either, so room temp is best.
YOU GOTTA RELAX, MAN - This is one that I see people missing the most when singing. Tension anywhere in your body will be translated to your voice as well. When you're singing, relax your shoulders and neck, especially. Here is a great neck stretch video to help you get started. Rub your shoulders (your traps) to help loosen them up.
HOLD YOUR CHIN DOWN - When you go to hit one of those notes near the top of your range, DROP your chin. While it seems to make sense in the moment, lifting your chin only introduces more tension into your neck, making it harder to hit those high notes. Lowering your chin helps relax your neck and throat, giving you more ease when reaching for those notes. So, even though it is counterintuitive, lowering your chin on those high notes is best for your throat.
STAND AND DELIVER - Singing is a physical activity, and you need to stand in the best position possible when doing so. Put yourself in what is called an "athletic" stance. This is with one foot slightly in front of the other, with the weight on the balls of your feet. This will help with all the rest of the mechanics of singing. If you have to sit down when singing, sit on the edge of the chair with your feet in a similar position. Your posture is crucial to your singing.
BREATHE, NEO, JUST BREATHE - Use your diaphragm and breath support when singing. How do you know if you're doing it right? Put your hand on your upper stomach area; you will feel it tighten when you are singing correctly. You don't need to take huge breaths between lines, but take enough to get you through to the next break. When you do not have enough breath support, it is very difficult to maintain pitch and control of your voice. Think through and plan when you will take breaths in a song. While the rule is broken many times, it is technically not proper to take breaths in the middle of phrases (especially in the middle of a word!). Wait until the end of the phrase to breathe.
WARM IT UP, CHRIS - Take some time before singing to warm up your voice. One great exercise is to yawn loudly. Yawning covers a wide range of pitch, and actually can help you transition between notes in your "break" a little better. You can do this a couple of ways: 1) Arc from the top of your range down to the bottom repeatedly, 2) Arc from the bottom up and then back down again. Another good exercise is to run through progressively higher major scales (think "Do-Re-Mi...") with different vowel sounds. I feel the most help comes from doing "Ah" sounds while doing these scales. Go up through the scale and back down again, and then move up a half-step and proceed. You don't have to be loud, but you do need to use your diaphragm to support it (see previous point), not your head voice (falsetto). These two exercises are my favorites. There are many others, as well. Find some that work for you and go from there.
These are some of the basics that every singer needs to know. If you haven't been doing these things, I guarantee they will help you in your singing. In the next post, I will talk about some pointers regarding pitch control. Let me know if you have any questions.
In the Son,
Here are some helpful links, as well: