Singing is a hobby that people of all ages and ability levels can enjoy. And if you really want to improve, working one-on-one with a qualified teacher can take you the next level even faster than teaching yourself how to sing. What’s the difference? What can a teacher give you that you can’t learn yourself? Here are seven important skills that you will gain when taking voice lessons:
Establishing Good Habits From the Start
Everyone knows the saying “practice makes perfect,” but it’s not exactly true. While it’s inevitable that you’re going to make mistakes from time to time, the way you practice is how you will continue to perform. Perfection does not just require practice – it requires perfect practice.
By taking private voice lessons as a beginner, you will learn the proper vocal techniques from day one, rather than potentially learning bad (or even dangerous) singing habits that can take months or years of hard work to break. These habits include correct posture and effective breathing, which can make a huge difference to your tone.
Learning How to Warm Up
Just like an athlete needs time to warm up before exercising, your voice needs to warm up before you start singing. Warm-up exercises are one of the first singing basics that you will learn during your lessons. These simple patterns are performed slowly and methodically before singing, and should be performed comfortably in the middle of your range. As your vocal cords warm up, you can slowly work your range higher and lower. Your voice teacher will teach you several different warm-up exercises as part of your singing basics foundation.
Developing Your Ear
Unlike an instrument where you can press a key or a certain combination of keys to create a specific note, your voice has a much wider range of flexibility. Your voice can hit notes, as well as the half, quarter, and smaller fractional steps between them. While this flexibility can be skillfully harnessed for accents or stylistic choices, it can be quite challenging for the beginning singer to hit each note precisely.
To help with this, the first singing basics step you must master is training your ear. You need to learn how to hear the difference between hitting the note perfectly and when you are sharp (above the pitch) or flat (below the pitch). Until you can recognize these subtle differences for yourself, you will not be able to perfectly replicate a tune. Your private teacher will guide you through listening and vocal exercises until you can notice the difference. One of the most common exercises to work on ear training is to listen to a tone played by an instrument or sung by your teacher and repeating it.
Exposure to a Wider Variety of Music
Different genres of music require different techniques and skills. Think about the contrast between the power behind Whitney Houston’s iconic “I Will Always Love You” with the sultry sensuality displayed in a fabulous jazz piece you’d hear at your local coffee shop, for example. Consider the big personalities and stylistic quirks in big Broadway hits in contrast to the round, harmonious sound of a classical choral ensemble.
These different and distinct sounds make music the beautiful art form that it is. And unfortunately, there are many singers with gorgeous voices who severely limit their options by only perfecting one genre. In your private lessons, your teacher will work with you to determine which styles interest you the most and best fit your voice. Many factors will come into play here, including the tone of your voice and your vocal range. You will learn which sounds and techniques to use to portray different genres.
Learning How to Read Music
While many singers go their whole life without ever knowing how to read a note of music, learning how to read music is a valuable singing basics skill. Most choirs and choral groups require at least a basic understanding of music notation, especially note count values (so you know how long to hold each note for) and intervals (the distance between two notes).
Learning how to read music is very much like learning how to speak a foreign language. While you may be able to learn some of the basics on your own, you will gain a much deeper understanding by working with a “native speaker” – your teacher, that is!
Once you have learned how to read music, you can begin to practice sight reading exercises, which many singing auditions require. You will be handed a sheet of music and given a starting pitch. After just a few minutes of practice, the starting pitch is played once again and you will sing the notes as written to the best of your ability. Although it is a challenging exercise that requires a lot of skill, it gets much easier with practice!
Learning How to Sing in Harmony
While a solo a cappella voice can make beautiful music on its own, there is something magical about the music created when multiple voices sing in harmony with each other. Harmony is when different notes that are complementary to one another are sung or played at the same time.
Most people are so used to listening to the melody, or the main tune of a song, that they find it quite challenging to sing the harmony line. While some singers seem to be born with an ear for harmony, most singers must work to develop this skill. Not only can a private vocal teacher show you how to sing harmony, you’ll have a built-in duet partner to sing with!
Although people have made music since the beginning of time, it is possible to injure yourself when singing. One of the singing basics that your teacher will show you is how to take preventative measures to avoid injuring or permanently damaging your vocal cords. Staying well-hydrated and not straining your voice, for example, are very important to help you avoid nodules, polyps, and cysts on your vocal cords. These conditions can make it difficult or painful to sing and may change the sound of your voice. In severe cases, surgery may be required.
No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to learn singing basics and start enjoying the art of singing. The more you practice, the more skilled you will become. Good luck!
Photo by Chris Tse