When you’re wondering how to get better at singing, it can be hard to know where to start. And lots of first time singing students fall into a common trap.
Have you ever had a nightmare where you arrive at school and learn there’s a huge exam that day, and you haven’t studied at all? This common stress dream leads to a huge sigh of relief when you wake up and come back to reality.
It happens when students schedule their very first voice lesson just weeks, or even days, before a big performance or audition. The common misconception is that they will learn everything they need to know in just one or two lessons.
A small handful of lessons may help you to feel a little more confident in your abilities, but they probably will not contribute to a significant change in the way you sing. If you want to truly learn how to get better at singing, here are some important things to consider before you walk into the door of a voice teacher’s studio for the first time:
Learning to Sing Takes Time
Learning to sing is a journey that can be life-long. Our instrument changes constantly, from day to day, and year to year, and it is important to remember that growth can’t be forced ahead. As a society, we are inundated with stories of “overnight success” in the talent world, but if you look deeper into those stories, you will often find a long road of training, trying, failing, and trying again.
The most important thing I want my students to understand from the minute they walk in the door of my studio is that achieving their goals will take time, patience, and perseverance.
Daily Practice is Key
Singing is a kinesthetic process, and so much of the work we do as singers is built on developing muscle memory. We are literally training our bodies to work in a way that allows us to create sound optimally.
I like to make the analogy to exercise. If you work out once a week for 30 minutes, you probably will not see results. If you work out every day for 30 minutes, you will see change over time. The same goes for practicing voice. Daily, focused practice helps us develop muscle memory that supports good singing.
Build A Strong Foundation
Before you embark on any stylistic path in singing, it is important to build a technical foundation that includes attention to breath support, proper alignment, and physical freedom.
No matter what musical style my students are interested in pursuing, I make sure to work with them on solidifying these basics. Attention to detail is extremely important early in this process, so that no bad habits are created along the way.
Have Goals in Mind
One of the most important keys to success when you begin any new endeavor is to have goals in mind. Young singers or those new to singing may not yet have the tools to articulate the goals they wish to achieve, and part of the work we do together is to help them understand what they want to do with their new skills.
Other students come to me with a specific set of goals. They may want to be cast as the lead in a school musical, or get accepted into a college music program. In those cases, I help them take those larger goals, and create a path to them with lots of smaller steps along the way. We plot out a timeline of what we need to do, and when. It is important to recognize that these timelines can span the course of months to years.
Connect to the Music You Sing—More Than Just Vocally
The music I suggest to my students always has a pedagogical purpose specific to both their vocal strengths and their technical goals. There is value in learning all kinds of music. But not every piece of music connects with you. That’s okay.
I love to study and teach Mozart, but singing it isn’t particularly moving for me. However, studying it helped me get to a place where I was able to sing the long, exposed melodic phrases in contemporary composer George Crumb’s music with the same kind of precision and attention to tone required for Mozart.
Finding music to which you connect takes internal and external exploration, trial, and error. I tell my students that studying any piece of music is a process of peeling off layers. Learning the correct notes and rhythms is one layer.
Learning the text is another layer. Then comes solidifying your vocal technique in a specific song. But these layers are just the tip of the iceberg. The interpretive work, wherein a performer really learns to connect to the music and create a moving work of art, comes after all of those basics are firmly established. That’s where the real fun begins!
Discovering How to Get Better at Singing is a Journey
When you start taking voice lessons, be prepared to go on a journey that may take you to unexpected places. There will be challenges, but there will be unbelievable rewards that will remind you why you put in all the work.
Ultimately, we are in the business of connecting people to each other on a deeper level, and allowing people to experience something moving and beautiful. If you enter into lessons with a mindset of patience, ready to build something beautiful from the ground up, you will find out just how worthwhile it can be!