No exceptional singer muddled through. (Their muddling through is at such a high standard, we tend to call it improvisation!) They know how to improvise in the moment because they practise, they understand theory, they understand harmony. They can move, flex them and feel their voices.
If you know the habits of highly successful singers, and you start to do some of those habits, you will also be able to pull yourself forward.
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Or alternatively, here’s the scannable version:
1. They’re consistent
They do it consistently. They do it daily. They set up a practise space that feels great, and where they feel at home.
They can shut the world out and enter into the world of music in a way that they couldn’t if they were just trying to practise in the car.
To become an advanced or exceptional singer you have to learn to be in a room, on your own and work with your sound and with yourself. You need to enable yourself to learn the oral skills, the training, and the coordination to be able to handle this thing that you are wanting to do.
2. They train with a teacher
They find the right type of teacher for them – someone that understands what they need in that moment. I went to different teachers when I was at different stages of my development. When I wanted to develop a certain level of contemporary singing, I went in that direction. When I wanted to advance my classical training, I went in that direction.
You have to find the teacher that is right for your stage of development. It’s no good you going to a really advanced teacher when you are right at the beginning. You’ll find yourself struggling to pay huge fees for advanced knowledge that you’re unable to actually put into practise. You’ll become frustrated because you feel that you’re paying a lot of money and you’re not getting the best out you.
If you’re nearer the start of the journey, find a newer teacher, or somebody that comes recommended. Then, as you move through your skills, and need a different teacher to move you on, make the move. There are good teachers out there for every single level of student and that’s what you have to look for.
3. They know which area of their voice to work on
And they have the right exercises for the job. They will have picked this knowledge up from working with a mentor or a teacher, and they have also learned to hear when their voice is off. They will know which exercises to pick in order to move their voice into contemporary sound or into classical. They know when they’re a little bit bottom heavy or where they’re a little bit tight at the top. They understand their voice – and you can too.
It’ll take a while and there will be moments of confusion, but that’s the point when you should ask questions. Because the only way that you are going to become an advanced or an exceptional singer is by understanding your voice. You need to be able to choose the right areas to develop and identify the right exercises to get you there.
4. They don’t get caught up in negative drama
They just want to be the best they can be.
Have you ever heard the saying ‘you don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start to be great’? It might be corny, but it’s true. What it’s really talking about is the commitment to not get into our past conditioning: thinking that you’re not very good, and letting yourself get completely caught up in the drama of it.
I remember a time when, if I sang well, I would feel great about myself, but if I didn’t sing well, I would suddenly feel in the depths of despair. When I felt bad about myself I didn’t want to sing, so I wouldn’t practise, and when I felt good about myself I wanted to sing all day, risking damage to my voice.
Being on an emotional roller coaster won’t get you very far. Instead, you need to get on with it, regardless! Do the exercises. Ask yourself: What am I noticing? What am I feeling? Tell yourself: Okay, I can feel it a little bit better than I did yesterday. Great, lovely, job done.
You have to show up in order to be your best self.
If you’re going to be exceptional, you need to take the things that are causing you the most drama, and get them to a point where you take that emotional fire out of them. When you make your practise matter-of-fact rather than emotional, and you strive for your personal best, you will get there .
5. They know that tone is key
They work on their posture, the flexibility of their notes, and their range across the board. When they’re warming up they’re looking at their posture. They’re looking at their positioning. They’re looking at where the tension is. They know that they’ve got to get things flexible and moveable. They’re listening and feeling for when the tone becomes sweet, and it becomes round, and it becomes scented and whole.
Average singers pay no attention to tone. They think that they have to push hard, reach high, and stress themselves out to nail that note.
Exceptional singers know that is not how the anatomy or the notes work. They are starting to understand that tension kills tone. And that tone is always the things that people are buying into when they say they love your voice.
6. They use various approaches – and pay attention
They use mirror work. They slow things down. They speed things up. They reposition things, repeat things, make changes.
In other words, they’re not just going through the motions of doing the same thing day after day, and they’re not allowing themselves to be distracted by their thoughts. They’re present, and they’re paying attention.
They know that when they’re doing those exercises, if something isn’t working, they might need to change the speed. They’ll repeat things differently every single time. They’re always reacting in the moment and responding to what their voice are body are doing.
An exceptional singer is present in their practise, because they know that each performance hinges on them being able to pay attention to their voice, so that they can be present with their audience.
7. They break it down
They work on the songs in the same way that they work on an exercise, with mini challenges and goals. They look at certain phrases and sections.
They don’t simply put on YouTube and sing along with the artist.
They work on bits of the song. They work with a pianist, they work with live musicians. If they’re working with backing tracks, they listen to the backing track, they don’t just use it as an extension to try and follow them. They are thinking about the music, the phrasing, the story, the words. They are breaking that tone down in order to tell those stories.
It takes time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to practise for hours on end, at least at the beginning. It’s the quality of the time that you’re doing that makes the difference, not the quantity. Compare an hour of you singing through YouTube, paying no real attention, and 20 minutes of you really slowing things down, listening, feeling, tweaking, going through exercises, taking small sections of songs. Singing in the mirror, recording yourself, listening back, getting feedback.
When you do this type of quality practise, you will start to see very quickly that
- Your voice starts to increase, along with your love for the process
- Your singing habits start to improve
- You start to move through to exceptional and advanced
Take some of the ideas from here and have a go at changing some of your singing habits this week. Pop over to my Facebook group and let me know how it goes!
This week I want to talk to you about three things that exceptional singers do that average singers don’t. You can move through from the beginner stage into the advanced singer stage far quicker than you realise with these three tips.
If you really want to achieve your aspirations and your singing goals this year, then please listen up!
Or alternatively, here’s the scannable version:
1. Fall in love with the process of singing and the process of learning
Most singers want to have the results of singing. They want the good feelings. Singing is powerful; it gives you great feelings. But if you don’t fall in love with the process of learning in order to get those good results, then you will always say at the average level (no matter how much you want it!) and you’ll never become exceptional.
You’re not going to get those results until you actually commit. Until you fall in love with the process of learning (and that means being in a practice room, doing the exercises, singing the songs, feeling uncomfortable, not getting it right, learning new steps, working it out), you won’t ever find the exceptional capabilities that you have really capable of.
Nothing is more frustrating than feeling like you have not expanded yourself and reached your full potential. It’s why we set New Year’s resolution goals. And until you really fall in love with the process of attaining your goal, rather than the result, you won’t be able to reach your full capacity.
2. Practise the positions – and understand why
Exceptional singers get really clear on what they’re trying to practise.
They will collaborate – they’ll work with someone who can help them get some perspective on their voice, find where the problems are and help them see what they need to focus on.
If I give you a downloadable exercise, or you go and find one on YouTube, you might enjoy it and it might seem to work for you, but it will be far more effective if you know:
- How to choose an exercise
- Why you’re doing the exercise
- Which positions you’re practising
Just choosing a few songs or exercises, and singing until it feels a bit easier, won’t give you any added knowledge about your voice.
When the singing gurus say, “It’s better not to do any exercises at all than to do the wrong ones”, they’re partly correct. Because if you’re going to push past your own boundary level, not listening to your own voice, you’re going to compromise yourself – and you might even damage your voice.
An exceptional singer has started to understand a few things about voice – and about their own voice. They’ve understood their strengths, they’ve understood their weaknesses. They’ve understood which areas of their voice they really need to build their goals and challenges and workouts around, in order to improve – and they choose to practise what will benefit them most.
3. Practise your performance
Exceptional singers practise their performances before the performance. It’s called a rehearsal (and no, I’m not talking about a band rehearsal where everybody plays and shouts at each other and nobody warms up!).
They’re in the practice room in the same way that they are with their exercises, in the same way they are with their music, and they are choosing their moves. They are in the mirror. They are looking towards how they want to be on stage, where it’s a transfer of energy. It’s a dance that starts with you, and exceptional singers know this.
They don’t wait until they get on the stage, and they don’t rely on it coming from somebody else.
You need to move yourself into an energetic state where you are focused and clear. And if you can learn to do that in performance, if you can learn to do that in the silence of your practice room.
Do you feel it’s time for you to say, “It’s time for me to look towards exceptional”?
Are you ready to:
- Ditch the excuses
- Stick to a plan
- Brave disappointment (and bounce back)
- Follow through, even when you don’t feel like it?
If that’s you, then please get in touch and share what’s holding you back.
Because now is your time.
You can do it.
Want to move from average to exceptional? Get in touch and share what’s holding you back.
Would you like to feel more motivated to practise your singing? Use my 16 top tips to help you move forward. Why don’t you have a go today?
I have to say this is one of my personal favourite topics and one of the least talked about professionally. There are techniques for singing and so how it functions that it is mind-boggling. There are CDs and books written from the 1900s up to the present day giving vocal exercises galore.
I also personally think that not every method has the whole truth about singing, but brought together they form a wonderful tapestry of more skills than any singer can take and use.
But what does a singer do with these exercises and how do they know whether they are using them correctly? When as a singer you only hear a portion of your whole sound and never as the audience hear it, how do you judge whether you are getting it right and not just spending time practicing bad habits or simply getting discouraged?
Unlike an instrumentalist, a singer should not be rehearsing for hours on end, especially at full belt. If you really understand how to practise your songs, your learning time can be cut by more than half, leaving valuable time to explore other areas of your performance and work on your craft in other ways.
# 1 Loosen it up
Your first goal in practice is to generally loosen your vocal cord muscles, ligaments and reduce tension. The use of lip trills, speech exercises and siren sounds and hums can loosen up, even out your breath and stretch your ligament range when you are singing. Many singers simply add too much pressure initially or hold their breath and their posture can be slouchy and bad from long days sitting down in the office.
No athlete forces their muscles into submission but too often singers go straight in with singing their songs. Decide whether you are feeling on top form, have had a hard day at work, been unwell lately or are just a little tired as these will all determine how long you may have to warm up for (your head as much as your voice) and what your energy level is likely to be.
# 2 Have a routine
Begin with the exercise routine given to you by your teacher. In the past I sang straight open vowels as it was the traditional approach. Some naturally placed voices (and what I mean by that is a voice whose tone and pitch fit with full access to frequencies and harmonics in the voice) are able to sing in the centre of the vowel and may begin initially with open vowels, but personally I like to use consonants before vowels (as in speech level singing exercises) to fast track that process.
I’m a big fan of new approaches to exercises because we are learning more and more about how to help singers and I really don’t think that an approach that takes years of doing exercises that have little success is a great one.
# 3 Question why
While doing these exercises ask yourself “Why?” Why are you doing this particular exercise? When I asked a group of students at a university why they practiced, answers varied from feeling good, being able to sing the song to “I was actually told to in order to get it right”.
What is that exercise designed to do? If you don’t know ask your teacher, they should be able to give you a valid answer. Why have they chosen it for you? If you have a clear understanding of why you are doing a particular exercise you will be able to build up a reference library of exercises that you can tailor-make to your vocal strengths and weaknesses and not simply act mindlessly singing exercises with little idea of their effect. Exercises can be practiced wrongly and cause as much damage as not doing them at all.
# 4 Start quiet
Make sure initially you are not practising too loudly at the start, but only increase the “leaning” and “pressing” or volume aspect once your muscles can respond without constriction in the throat or locking the breath.
# 5 Little by little
Little by little increase volume in a balanced way so that all of the vocal range will sympathetically come together. No blasting the bottom at the expense of the top and vice versa.
# 6 Find a private space
If you share a house or find it difficult to get some “alone” time, consider hiring a church hall or room to practice in. This is a great way to simply let off steam. Sing your heart out, test whether you are actually a bigger voice holding yourself back through trying not to disturb the neighbour .
# 7 Slow it down
Slow exercises down if you need to concentrate on sections of the voice that need extra work. For example you may be singing an exercise and flip in the middle over the break, or it goes a little woolly. Simply stop, repeat the exercise and pay more attention to the sensations you are feeling. If it continues try another exercise, walk around, change something rather than ignore what is going on.
# 8 Be thorough
Sometimes it better to just practice one exercise for 10 minutes really thoroughly, thinking of the sensations, rather than whip through a routine which you pay little attention to.
# 9 Move!
Walk around, swing your arms, move in your practice time and make a habit of making sure you are not increasing tension at any point.
# 10 Change it up
I often advise singers when practicing songs or exercises to stop at the “stuck” point and change the rhythm or take few notes out of context and play with it. Add a different vowel/consonant combination, look at it from a different angle rather than simply singing it straight through.
# 11 Drive carefully
Lots of students (adult learners!) practise in the car. I’ve done it too… but a word of caution: combined with the road noise and obvious lack of concentration and mobility, realise it is a far from ideal method. You would be better using hums and sirens that don’t require much singing out.
# 12 Refine, refine, refine
As you get more advanced at practise you will come to realise it is more about the detail and working little by little into odd, specific areas than pounding the pavement, bashing out lots and lots of exercises. Listen out for areas of the voice that need refinement and look for exercises that deal specifically with these areas.
# 13 Be open to suggestions
There are many methods that work effectively depending on your learning style.
# 14 Keep a diary or practise journal
See if you can find consistent areas that seem to crop up time and time again.
# 15 Clear your head
At the end of detailed practise go away for 10 minutes, clear your head and then simply sing for pleasure. Practise is about training muscle memory and increasing stamina and flexibility of your voice, but performance is about connecting and communicating the song to the audience out there. So to test whether things are improving, go away and come back and simply sing the piece through. You will soon be able to tell if you’ve fixed that section or if more practise is required.
# 16 Try it three times and move on
That’s my rule. If I try something three times in different ways and it’s still not working, I move on. It’s important that your brain doesn’t get “stuck” but that you have time to come back to it at a later date.
Example 30-minute routine:
- 5 minutes – stretch, move, get head in the right frame of mind, use siren sounds, lip trills etc to get the breathing and flexibility going.
- 10 minutes – moving from gentle exercising into moderate exercising that deals with specific areas in the voice.
- 10 minutes – song work – one song only. Begin with areas that need work if you have sung it before and avoid singing it over and over again.
- Use the 80/20 rule using sounds in the songs like lip trills, hums, consonant and vowel combinations to find where the voice needs to adjust. Then take a two-minute breather.
- The last 5 minutes – sing through as if it doesn’t matter. Just perform it and you will soon see where work needs to be done another time.
Please leave me your comments and what your favourite practise tips are!