Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Veteran vocal coach Cari Cole shares five singing tips to help beginners and experienced singers sound better during rehearsals and performances.
As a long-time vocal coach with lots of experience in the industry, I’m frequently asked, “What are your top singing tips for vocalists?” Well, I could rattle off a long list, and yammer on for hours. I’m a nerd’s nerd when it comes to vocals, and I have a ton of favorite singing tricks up my sleeve from my years of coaching singers. But I love a challenge — so I pretended I had only five minutes to tell you my best singing tips, and I wracked my brain to come up with the Top 5.
First, one of the things I am constantly teaching my private clients to be a better singer is that the singing voice is an instrument inside your body and you have to learn how to use it to get the most out of it. It’s very “physical” on a foundational level.
To have a strong voice and to have vocal consistency and wider vocal range, there are certain things you have to know and do, and there are some singing tips you can use, right now, to get a great sound out of your instrument and work to be a professional singer.
By the way, the truth is most singers — even professionals, unless they’ve trained — don’t know this stuff. I’m going to give these singing tips to you as if I were actually giving you a singing lessons: right here, right now.
So, stand in front of a mirror, because I’m going to ask you to watch your jaw and your head position to control movement as you sing.
Cari Cole’s Top 5 Singing Tips
1. Sing vowels with your jaw open
This is a beginner singing tip that makes you sound better instantly, so I call it the “Instant Fix.” Say A-E-I-O-U and watch your jaw movement in the mirror. Did your jaw close on any of the vowels? Chances are your jaw closed on the “E” and the “U” — and most likely on others too, if not all of them. Take your first two fingers and pull your jaw down two inches — or even better, use a plastic bottle cap or a wine cork to prop your jaw open. Now speak the vowels again. And repeat again (we’re trying to re-program muscle memory — so the more the better).
Now sing the vowels on one pitch: A-E-I-O-U. Your goal is to keep your jaw open (long not wide) without closing for all of your vowels. Repeat until you can do it. Now, sing a phrase of one of your songs and make sure your jaw opens to the same position on all of your vowels. You have to practice this a bunch before it becomes natural — but the more you do this vocal exercise, the sooner this new movement is programmed into your muscle memory.
And you might be one of those lucky ones who notice the improvement in the sound right away (it will sound louder and more resonant with less vocal strain). If you don’t, don’t sweat it, you will. It just takes a little practice. You might have some unwanted tension in your neck, jaw and throat muscles — try loosening them up and do it again. The next time you perform, open your jaw more on your vowels: singing vowels is one of my quick singing tips and vocal exercises that make you sound better instantly!
2. “Think down” when you sing high notes
When you sing a scale, try thinking of the way an elevator works: a heavy weight is attached to a pulley, and as the weight pulls down, the elevator goes up to the higher floors. So, the highest floor is reached when the weight is lowest. Similarly, you should use the most “weight” on your highest notes.
3. Sing with your chin down for more power without strain
Who doesn’t want more power without strain? This is one of those simple singing tips that’s easy to apply — easier than the one above. All you have to do is to keep your chin pointed slightly down and your pectoral muscles slightly flexed (sometimes it’s a lot flexed) when you go for more power. Most singers reach forward or lift their chin up to sing with more power. While it may temporarily work, it causes vocal problems. Tipping your chin down not only works better and saves your voice, it actually SOUNDS better!
Stand in front of a mirror. Sing an “ah” scale up and down in one phrase (1-2-3-4-3-2-1). Press your chin slightly in (point your chin towards the floor), only one inch or so. Don’t let your head bob up as you raise pitch — keep it firmly in place. Go all the way up the scale of your voice keeping this position. Notice how the chin wants to move up as you raise pitch. Keep it planted. This will give you more power and control and eliminate strain. Practice this vocal technique until it becomes natural!
4. Control your vocal vibrato
Here’s a quick singing exercise to get your vibrato working. Stand in front of a mirror; press on your chest with both hands, then raise your chest higher than normal. Take a breath in and then exhale, but don’t drop your chest. Sing one note and hold it as long as possible with your chest raised. Press on your chest halfway through the note (press kind of hard and raise your chest to meet the pressure). Relax the back of your neck and keep your jaw open as you’re singing “ahhh.” Imagine the air spinning around in your mouth while keeping your chin tucked down a bit and your chest raised. Keep in mind, overuse of vibrato is not a good thing in contemporary singing (pop, rock and R&B). At the same time, no vibrato is also not a good thing. So, try ending phrases with a straight tone, then into a little bit of vibrato. The bottom line is to do what’s best for you.
5. Use HearFones® to hear yourself singing as the audience does
A good vocal tone is not established by singing loudly, it’s established at medium volume. Good tone happens when vocal folds are strong enough to have a good closure without touching.
Breath control is important. Releasing too much air creates a “breathy” tone, and releasing too little air creates a “nasal” tone. Unless you’re really going for breathy or nasal as a stylistic choice, somewhere right in between the two is the perfect balance. Wearing HearFones® allows you to really hear your voice and work on your tone at medium volumes, either on your own or in the context of rehearsal with your band members or ensemble.
This post originally appeared on this blog in 2013 and Cari’s blog before that. Reprinted with permission.
Cari Cole is a celebrity vocal coach, artist development expert, and new music biz mentor with decades of experience working with independent artists and A-list performers. Her website offers tools and materials for serious vocalists, bands, and singer/songwriters, and her blog is a great resource for vocal and music industry info.