Most beginner vocalists come across the same types of issues – such as struggling to learn how to sing higher or stay on pitch during practice and performances. Read on as Grand Rapids, MI teacher Kelsey P. explains why – along with 3 simple fixes!
Having trouble hitting those high notes? Staying on pitch? Producing a clear tone? Do you ever feel like singing is really hard work, and notice your voice feels and sounds tired after just a short amount of singing?
In most cases, all of these problems can be traced back to posture, tension, and breath.
First things first. Are you standing up straight? A lot of the time we think we are when we actually stand with a slight slouch. Proper posture frees up the space in our chest for our lungs to expand effortlessly. When we slouch, breathing is a lot harder. Pretend that you’re one of those old marionette puppets with a string attached to the top of your head pulling your head up and elongating your spine.
Feet should be shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent to avoid locking (locking your knees on stage can lead to passing out!), tailbone tucked in, chest out, and shoulders relaxed. Avoid standing like a tin soldier with raised shoulders, or lifting/shrugging the shoulders when you breathe. This brings us to…
It can be a lot to think about when you start, but eventually proper posture will feel more comfortable. The key is to relax! There should not be any tension in the shoulders or neck. These muscles are supporting your vocal cords and tension can encourage you to strain your voice, leading to all sorts of nasty damage. Relax!
Before you warm up, do some stretches. Reach your hands up over your head. Then bend over and touch your toes. Roll your shoulders back and stretch the neck by leaning the head to one side and then the other.
Yawn. Pretend to yawn and you’ll start yawning for real. This actually helps relax your voice, since it’s stretching out the soft palate in the back of the mouth. It also trains your throat to relax when you sing. You can hum lightly and pretend like you have an egg in your mouth which will also stretch the soft palate and relax the voice before singing.
And last but not at all least: BREATHE! A lot of students don’t realize that the voice is a WIND INSTRUMENT! Think of any other wind instrument. A flute, clarinet, saxophone… there’s no sound without wind. That’s just how the voice works. We only use about a third of our lung capacity when we speak, so when we sing, we’re not used to breathing as much as we need to to produce a fuller longer tone. But this is where the problems start. You aren’t breathing enough. The solution? Do some breathing exercises, which will help you sing higher and stay on pitch.
Start by laying on your back on a flat surface. Place a shoe or a book on your stomach while you breathe. Notice that the object rises and falls with your stomach and your shoulders don’t really move at all because they don’t need to!
Stand up straight with proper posture. Inhale for four counts and hiss on an “s” sound for eight counts. The next time hiss for 10 counts. Keep adding more and more counts and see how long you can hiss.
With these three points in mind, and some practice, singing should become much easier! You’ll learn how to sing higher, at the top of your range, and how to sing fuller longer and clear tones. Keep working at it and you will definitely see improvements!
Kelsey P. teaches singing, songwriting, and guitar lessons in Grand Rapids, MI. I have a Bachelor’s in Music from Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, MI and I have been a full time working musician for two and a half years. Learn more about Kelsey here!
Photo by Tracy Byrns