Singing

There are so many things you can do to help yourself to sing better. I've put together some tips for improving your vocal performance. These tips are for everyone, whether you're an absolute beginner or an experienced opera diva.

Posture

 

The way you stand really affects the way you sing. If you slouch, all the parts of your body that you use to make a sound get squashed — your lungs, your vocal chords and your mouth. Stand up straight!

  • Relax. If you feel tense you won't sing as well.
  • Stand with your feet apart, about shoulder width.
  • Let your shoulders drop and relax your abdomen.
  • Don't let your head drop down — singers often look down to look at music or just to hide from the audience! Your head should be upright and you should look straight ahead, so imagine there is a string pulling you up from the top of your head.
  • As you learn the notes, you will need to look less frequently at the sheet music. Then it's easier to hold your head up, look at the conductor and sing with confidence.

Breathing

 

Believe it or not, it's very easy to get your breathing wrong. You don't think about breathing in day-to-day life, but for singing you need to breathe in a controlled way to keep enough air in you to support your voice. Running out of breath is a very common mistake!

  • Nervous singers often forget to breathe because they are concentrating so hard on the music.
  • Breathe before you need to. As you learn the notes with a choir, you can work out together where the best places are to breathe, so always look ahead in the music so you know where your next breath is coming from.
  • Breathe deeply from your lower lungs to get the most air in. Imagine you have a rubber ring around your waist (your diaphragm). The trick is to try and push the imaginary rubber ring outwards with your body.
  • Be careful not to raise your shoulders as you breathe in - keep them relaxed and level.
  • Deep, controlled breathing will help you to feel less nervous.
  • If you feel light-headed when you sing, there is probably a problem with the way you are breathing. Keep practising — you will get better and your capacity will improve.
  • Give up smoking!

There are some excellent video masterclasses on the BBC website which show you breathing exercises. Try these out and you'll notice the difference in your singing.

Warming up

 

Watch footballers, rugby players or athletes — they all warm up before a game to prepare their bodies for top performance by stretching and doing aerobic exercise to increase oxygen in the body. If they don't warm up, they may play badly or pull a muscle.

It's just the same for singers: the vocal chords need to be warmed up before you sing or you could strain and damage them. You can do this by a combination of breathing exercises and voice warm-ups.

The BBC has an online video demonstrating warm-up exercises — try these out yourself and learn to use them to help your singing.

footballer kicking the ball

Find your voice

 

When you first start singing you need to work out what your vocal range is. This just means finding the highest and lowest notes you can sing.

Adult voices in choirs are usually divided into four main ranges:

  • Soprano — higher female voices
  • Alto — lower female voices
  • Tenor — higher male voices
  • Bass — lower male voices

These ranges all overlap. Not everybody's voice fits exactly into these ranges — some women can sing as low as tenors (listen to Alison Moyet's voice), and some men have voices in the alto range (think of Jimmy Somerville).

To help you find your voice, try these:

 

Articulation

 

Singing words with clarity and precision is essential when giving a great choral sound.
The consonants give you sense, but the vowel is the heart of the word; it communicates the melody.

When you enjoy singing, it's easy to get so carried away with the music that you forget the words! Just as it's important to sing in tune, you need to convey the meaning of a song, so your audience needs to hear the words you are singing.

As a singer, you need to articulate words more clearly than you would when you are speaking normally, especially if you're in singing in a large venue like a concert hall.

 
 
  • Breathe deeply and use your breath to make hard consonants like a T or a K explode from your mouth. It may seem exaggerated, but it will sound ten times better.
  • If a word ends on a consonant, remember to sing the full length of the note and place the consonant at the end. The best choirs learn to do this all together — if fifty singers place a T sound in different places, it sounds like a machine gun! "T-T-T-T-T!!"
  • The same goes for words ending in S — place the S at the end of note and keep it short, or it sounds like "snakessssss"!
  • If a word begins with a letter B, D or hard G, the sound is sort of half-way between a vowel and a consonant, so you can prepare the vowel by quietly singing the note through your nose a split second before beginning the word. For example, the word "Bread" may sound like "mmBreeead" . This helps you to find the note at the beginning of a phrase.

Video

Words are important when you sing, whether it's Jerusalem or Michael Jackson!

Imram's singing lesson
Jerusalem: C. Hubert Parry, 1916, words by William Blake, 1804
You are not Alone — R. Kelly/Michael Jackson, 1995

Gareth's top tips for singing

 
  • Practice makes perfect. Try to do the warm-up and breathing exercises every day and you'll find your lung strength and capacity will get better. Even 10 minutes a day will help.
  • You can sing anytime anywhere. If you're shy, practise in private - sing in the shower or on a long car journey! If you are feeling braver, try singing in front of friends such as at a karaoke, and ask them what they think.
  • Sing along to your favourite CDs. Choose songs that have a simple melody and don't go too high or too low. A nice slushy love song will be easier than a jumping dance track. Try recording yourself singing and listen to it. Are you in tune? Are the words clear?
  • If you don't know how to read music, look out for song books which come with a CD of the music to sing along to. This will help you learn the notes.
  • When you're singing, have a bottle of water handy and take sips to stop your mouth going dry (but not in a concert — this never looks good!).
  • If you have a cold, don't sing - rest your voice until you're feeling better. Never sing with a sore throat.
  • Your voice is like any other muscle - it gets tired, it needs exercise and it needs rest, especially if you are making it do things it doesn't normally do. If you haven't done much singing before, it's particularly important to make sure you warm up properly. Never strain your voice. If you feel tired, stop. Don't risk damaging your voice.
Gareth Malone's 2015 Tour