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!
The desire for success in the music industry is a strong as it ever was, but the game has changed and I’m seeing lots of desperate effort being made by all sorts of artists. And the result? Zilch. (Or very little.)
Not only that, but there can even be a fantasy created that stuff is happening, when really it’s only a drop in the ocean.
So I went out and I asked my contacts and those that I know have managed bands and artists signed by labels and who had seen the good, the bad and the ugly to share some top wisdom for artists who might have several pieces of the puzzle but need to organise them into the winning picture.
You must have these pieces in the puzzle IN ORDER to have a shot at industry dreams.
A Distinctive Voice
I didn’t say the best voice in the world, or even the most accomplished singer, but you do need to have a robust technique and distinctive sound along with bags of charisma. By the way, you can start without these and work your way up to them, but in a heavily saturated market nothing other than your best self will do. So stop copying other people, trying to be the next Ed Sheeran or Adele or whoever and make sure your voice has the edge and stamina as well as unique sound to stand the gigging and endurance race you want to enter into. Can there be anything worse than having worked that hard, have A&R coming your gig and your voice packs up – er no! So get your unique sound and vocal stamina sorted – get coached!
Goes without saying really, so work at your craft, write and write and write and then write and learn with others too. You need hooks and systems for writing and you need to write the record you want to hear not limit yourself by writing to a limited ability. Write so well that you have to learn to sing your own songs! If you slip a song you have written into a cover set you are doing (don’t announce it just play it) and if people are still enjoying it then you have a winner but if they suddenly move to the bar, chat to mates or go to the loo, then your song is not strong enough to hook them in. You have to test the market and lose the ego about changing it if necessary. It has to connect with an audience or you have no audience for your music.
5 song EP and an album in the wings
Singers announce their forthcoming EP like it’s the about to launch them, and to be truthful it rarely does, unless you do the following and have a following:
1) You must research the producer you use and create an EXCEPTIONAL recording with only your best songs to launch you. With today’s technology there is no excuse for a lack lustre production. It is common for singer to be a bit sheep like and all follow each other, but you need to stand out from the crowd not rush along with it. You will need a good budget for this and if you are not blown away by the recording, and feel super excited every time you listen to it, then that producer is not for you.
2) Just like the record labels in years gone by, why are you releasing it and where do you hope it will go? You need a marketing plan and a following. It’s not field of dreams – build it and they will come! Just releasing an EP will do nothing unless you do something about marketing it before hand.
Copyright and legals
This is a catch 22, as in some respects there is no point getting a music lawyer on board until you have something people are interested in buying into. So if you are worrying about putting something up on youtube and no one knows you, there is little point. That being said, there are horror stories out there of demos being made and picked up and used without permission by bigger fish who have more clout and money to fight you in court. There are some hard lessons to be learnt here, but copyrighting your music early on if you are serious and beginning to get interest in your work and performances is just common sense.
Killer live show
This is where there can be a big let down. If you have made all the effort to get an amazing EP together and are looking for A&R interest they are going to want to know two things :
Can they hear more?
You need to have more good material ready to go (hint: keep writing rather than riding the crest of a wave).
Where and when can they see you playing live.
Regular band rehearsals are a must as well as videoing you performances so you can see how it looks from the audience’s perspective. I find I am so let down by performances of bands and artists. They don’t know how to introduce songs, keep an audience entertained or even stay on pitch sometimes.
You must craft a performance like you would a great song, in a thought out manner. It’s all part of your marketing strategy to build your presence and build a fan base. It’s not unusual to see singers and bands get up on stage and behave like they would when in the rehearsal room, singing to themselves and the set lacking drive and focus.
You must learn to put together a great set and rehearse like you are about to perform. If all you want is to stand on stage and people love you without you doing much in return to earn that, you are missing the point. Be an entertainer.
A fan base – and somewhere to house them
A big mistake that up and coming singers make is not having their own website in their own name or the bands name. They think they can get away with social media only and you can’t. The website is the home that you want to direct fans to. There must be a sign up box linked to a data collection service like mailchimp, constant contact or awebber (which I use) – it means that perhaps in return for a free download people can put their names and email in (in other words they say “yes” to having emails off you) and you can keep in touch with them and nurture the relationship.
When you are ready to release your amazing EP or announce your shows, you will begin to find you have a ready made fan base waiting for you. If all you are doing is gigging and not collecting names, you are wasting a great opportunity to build your brand. Every one needs customers – and you have to find yours. There is no artist development or magic wand out there in the form of a record label who is waiting to throw money at you, unless you already have a huge following and then you may not need them anyway!
A Social Media presence
If the website is the home you want your fans to find, then social media is possibly one of the main roads in which they travel to get to your door. No one can deny the immense power of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Periscope, Youtube and even LinkedIn (which was originally for more corporate business).
Again though, social media has to be part of your overall plan. Think about the end result you want from every post you make. Do you want likes, sign ups etc, more fans to spread the word on your behalf?
But here is a MUST: You will get far more exposure if you interact with the people who interact with you. If all you do is post videos of you singing and never reply to comments then you are not engaging with fans and building relationship. It shows you are only interested in yourself and that just gets old after a while. We have possibly the most powerful platforms in the whole of history to use to reach people, so think about how you want to connect and plan it out.
A network of industry contacts
Yes it’s true, it’s really who you know not what you know that counts in the end, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get started. There is an old saying – treat ’em well on the way up because you will always meet ’em on the way down! If you want to eventually meet the movers and shakers then make sure you do the following:
- Be reliable (make sure people can count on you and they will)
- Be consistent (be good at what you do and keep crafting your skills, no one knows it all)
- Be Visible (get out at gigs and industry events and meet people)
- Be nice (don’t gossip or talk about people – it has a funny way of coming back on you.
- Be cool (don’t be a desperate social climber, chill out, remember names and make sure you follow up)
Business savvy, passion and confidence (be a cool person, not arrogant)
I’ve said it above, at the end of the day you are not just in music, you are in sales and people buy into people they know, like and trust, but if you are really wanting to make a business out of your music you can’t be fluffy about it – like Eric Morcambe (Morcambe and Wise) said show business is always business before the show.
You will need finances (so a job while you get things off the ground is super important) and bags of confidence.
You will need to know how to grow a business with your music and have unwavering passion, self belief that you can learn what you need to know and be a person people want to hang around with or inspire.
No one is born like this, we have to grow into it. You also have to have a strong character if you are not to fall prey to the rock’n’roll lifestyle choices that will lead to destruction. Artists and singers have sensitive temperaments by nature and it’s easy to fall prey to stimulants that help you wind down or pep up, none of which in the long run will see you through the long it will take to become the artist you long to be.
It’s not for the faint hearted, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get there. It’s all a risk, no one can guarantee success. I’ve known a millionaire who couldn’t buy success for his son’s band, that is solely down to being able to find, develop and nurture fans, create great music, and become savvy in getting that out into the world.
Leave me a comment below and let me know your thoughts.