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Sight Singing Practice and Tips

6 Noteworthy Sight Reading Tips for Singers

6 Noteworthy Sight Reading Tips for SingersAre you a singer looking to improve your music reading skills? You’re in luck! In this article, voice teacher Elaina R. shares everything you need to know about sight singing exercises and tips..

 

One of the most impressive feats for a singer is the ability to pick up a piece of music and read it. How can you get to that point? With patience, dedication, and lots of practice, you can master the art of sight singing!

What Is Sight Singing?

Sight singing is sight reading for singers. When singers sight read, they need to think about three factors at once:

  • The rhythm
  • The pitches
  • The words

Singers are lucky that they only have to sight read one line at a time; pianists, organists, and some other instrumentalists have to read several lines at once! However, only we singers have to read lyrics as a well as notes. This complicates things, especially when those words are in a foreign language (as often happens for classical singers).

How to Sight Sing – Tips & Strategies

Ready to get started? Sight singing can seem daunting, but it just takes practice. Here are a few things you can do to simplify the process.

Before You Start…

Orient Yourself
Check out the key signature. What key are you in? Is it a major or minor key? How many beats are in each measure? Is there a tempo marking?

Scan
Quickly scan the piece to root out surprises. Is it in mixed meter? Are there tempo changes? Any hidden high notes? This is all helpful information.

Get Your Note
Play the opening chords, or at least your first note, on a piano. The more information you and your ears have, the better.

Tap the Beat
Establish the beat for yourself by tapping it on your leg or collarbone. This will help you stay in rhythm when things get crazy. I recommend that you practice singing with a metronome to get your rhythms as accurate as possible.

As You’re Singing…

Think Solfege
If you know what key you’re in, you should know where the movable ‘do’ is (read this article if you’re unsure what I mean). If you know where ‘do’ is, identifying ‘so’ and other key notes becomes easier. Thinking in solfege helps many singers sight read more accurately.

Rhythm, Pitches, Words
If you start to get lost, this is your order of priority. When you practice sight reading, words are not very important; sing “la la la” if you have to. Pitches, while important, are not as important as the rhythm in sight singing. If you sing the wrong pitches and the right rhythm, you’ll know exactly where you are in the music and be able to catch yourself, even if it sounds bad. If you sing the wrong rhythm, on the other hand, you’re in danger of losing your place in the music and having to stop.

Sight Singing Practice and Exercises

All you really need for sight singing practice is a piece of music you’ve never seen before. However, sight singing is a lot easier in shorter spurts. Before you start attempting to sight read full-length songs, try using one of the many resources available for singers who want to sharpen their sight singing skills.

Sight Singing Online Programs
There are online resources that provide clips to sight sing and audio tracks to check your work. If you prefer to practice at the computer rather than at the keyboard, this may be a good option for you. One popular service is SightReadingFactory.com, which costs $35 per year (about $3 per month).

Sight Singing Books with CDs
This is how us music school folks practiced sight singing in college. Although the teacher usually played starting pitches and accompaniment as needed, good sight reading books come with CDs so you can practice sight singing exercises at home. Here is one good example.

Sight Singing Apps
Need sight reading practice? There’s an app for that! These apps combine sight reading exercises with audio starting pitches and tracks to help you. Music Tutor Free seems to be the most popular free option.

Sight Singing Exercises With Others
One of the best ways to improve your sight singing skills is to join a choir. Choristers learn lots of music on a regular basis, and reading all of that music as a group really helps singers get comfortable sight reading.

And of course, working with your voice teacher on sight singing practice within your lessons is a great idea, too. Whatever route you take, learning to sight sing will help you become a better and more versatile singer. Good luck!

View all Takelessons.com Free Sheet Music Resources.

Post Author: Elaina R.
Elaina R. teaches opera voice and singing in Ann Arbor, MI, as well as through online lessons. She received her Master of Music from the University of Michigan, and she has a B.M. from the University of Southern California. Learn more about Elaina here!

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How to Enter (and Win) Singing Contests (3)

How to Enter (& Win) Singing Contests & Competitions

How to Enter (and Win) Singing Contests

Are you ready to step out of the practice room and take your talent to the stage? In this article, voice teacher Milton J. shares his tips for preparing for a competition or audition, and then continue reading for our list of contests to enter!

 

For quite a few years, we’ve tuned in our televisions, phones, and tablets to our favorite singing contests and competitions every week. We’ve been picking our favorite singers, voting for them (sometimes more than once), and hoping they win the coveted record deal at the end of the season.

We’ve watched as the juggernaut American Idol, a derivative of Pop Idol from Europe, gave way to other singing competition shows like The Voice, The X-Factor, and The Sing-Off.

Other worthy and not-so-worthy opponents, such as ABC’s Rising Star, have tried to get into the singing competition game. While American Idol may be ending, there are many singing competitions locally, regionally, state-wide, and nationally that vocalists can enter into, in addition to auditioning for the current king of reality singing competitions, The Voice.

The following tips will help out vocalists who audition live, as well as those who audition through a prepared recording. Let’s first take a look at tips for those who are preparing to audition live in front of a panel of judges.

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Tips for Live Singing Auditions

More often than not, singers will have to audition in front of one or more judges in order to be considered as contestants. It may sound nerve-wracking to sing in front of others, but you’ll be glad you seized the opportunity.

Live auditions give you the benefit of having instantaneous feedback from a panel of judges who, as a standard, should be well-versed in the art of vocal performance. Let’s go through some tips to help you conquer any live audition you wish to attend.

1. Be Well-Prepared

Judges can and will recognize an auditionee who has put enough time and effort into perfecting their performance. Practice is not something that should be overlooked. Develop a routine and structure your singing practice in a manageable way.

Your degree of preparedness will only be determined by how comfortable you are with your greatest weakness. Turning that weakness into a driving force in your performance will help you get to the level of comfort you need for a live audition.

For example, if your weakness involves your voice cracking at a high note, embrace it and try to make the voice crack fit the feel of the song. Australian singer Sia has a natural voice crack that has made its way into many of her songs. She embraced what many would call a weakness and turned it into something stylistic and beautiful.

2. Choose a Song That’s Suitable for Your Voice

One issue that plagues even wonderful singers is performing a song that’s not suitable for their voice. If your voice is more Andrea Bocelli (opera) than Justin Bieber (pop), that’s ok! Being true to your own voice, which inherently has unique qualities, is what will shine instead of doing a song that’s popular but doesn’t showcase your voice in the best light.

Find out which type of music suits your voice by listening to different singing styles and genres. Once you figure that out, you can start working on perfecting your style.

3. The Judges Are Your Audience

One mistake some vocalists make in their auditions is forcefully singing to judges, which turns to ineffectively singing through the judges — this is a common singing audition mistake. Treat the judges as your audience members as opposed to your adjudicators. Take them on your journey and help them feel the emotion you’re conveying through the lyrics of your song. The more you sing FOR them and less TO them, the more effective your performance will be.

4. Always Warm-Up Your Voice

One of the things vocalists time and time again fail to realize in their rehearsals and auditions is to properly warm-up their voices. Much like how an athlete that needs to fully stretch out their body before entering a game, a singer must stretch the muscles in their vocal cavity to be as musically effective as possible.

Be sure to take ample time to go through all of the warm-ups and vocal exercises you have learned from your vocal coach. This is very important to ensure that you can hit all the notes you need to and acquire consistency throughout the song.

There’s more to warming up your singing voice than you may think. For example, reciting tongue twisters are a great way to practice syllable annunciation. Be sure to try more outside-of-the-box vocal warm-ups to increase your vocal effectiveness.

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Tips for Pre-Recorded Auditions

In many cases, vocal competitions will require you to send in an audition video in lieu of a live performance. This may be a result of limited space in the audition venue, limited time with the judges, or due to the sheer amount of auditionees that can’t possibly be given the chance to perform live.

Make no mistake, pre-recorded auditions are not necessarily easier than live ones. Sure, you’re able to record yourself as many times as you need, but in turn, the judges are able to play your tape over and over again. If you make a mistake, a simple rewind will allow the judges to hear it again.

With that said, pre-recorded auditions can be powerful when done right. Let me show you some tips on how to make an impact on the judges via a video performance.

1. Create a Performance

One interesting thing about the major singing competitions, such as The Voice, is that their video submission guidelines are straightforward, and yet they leave room for creative freedom. With that freedom afforded to you, you should create a performance video.

For this, have your camera set up with a view of a stage, makeshift stage, or perhaps even just curtains. Whether you’re able to record in a large auditorium or a small bedroom, make the best of the environment to boost your performance.

A performance is only supplemented by how well a singer can act. You need to make sure that your performance resonates with the audience behind the camera lens, which is a great reason why singers should learn how to act.

2. Eye Contact and Connection

While performing in front of the camera, understand that your audience lies behind the camera lens. You must therefore create an artificial connection toward the camera by engaging your eyes, facial expressions, and body language. Maintaining eye contact is an important facet of how to sing with confidence.

The best way to find this connection is through a couple methods: record and review your interactions with the camera or ask someone to stand behind the camera so you may sing to them. Performing in front of someone else is good practice for suppressing your nerves and building your confidence.

These tricks can help you see what’s working in your performance and what’s not.

3. Stay Loose!

With a lens in front of us, many vocalists tend to lock up and become methodical, robotic, or in layman’s terms, fake. We may lose the natural tenor of our speaking voice when introducing ourselves, or we may rush to get our words out and muddle our speech in order to meet the time requirements.

That nervous energy is then transferred into our performance, which we know isn’t the best performance we’re capable of giving. Be sure to keep yourself loose before the camera turns on. You’ll be more relaxed if you practice your introduction and conclusion, and use the natural cadences in your speaking voice to keep you grounded as you move into your vocal performance.

If you follow these tips, you’ll be sure to rock your vocal audition!

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2016 Online Singing Contests

Ready to enter? Here are some competitions to look into, most of which are online singing contests that you can enter no matter where you live. Some of them do require travel if you advance to the next round, so be sure to check out the details on the contest’s website.

Young Arts

  • Cash awards of up to $10,000
  • Must be a U.S. resident, age 15-18, or in grade 10-12
  • Submit an online application through National Young Arts website
  • Apply here

Song Door

  • Must be 16+ to enter
  • Submit your song online, along with your $10 entry fee
  • Enter here

New Song Contest

  • Open to anyone 18+
  • Submit your song online, along with your $30 application fee
  • Enter here

Mid-Atlantic Song Contest

  • No criteria currently given, check back later

Fox’s Next Empire Artist

  • Must be a U.S. resident, 18+
  • Submit a video performance of your solo or group act
  • Enter here

Song of the Year

  • Must be a U.S. resident, 18+
  • Submit your song online and pay the entry fee (varies)
  • Enter here

Unsigned Only

  • Must be amateurs 18+, younger entrants may enter with parental permission
  • Submit your song and lyrics online or through the mail, along with $30 per entry
  • Enter here

Paramount Song Contest

  • Please contact contest officials for more information
  • Enter here

American Traditions Competition

  • Must be 21+ to enter
  • Submit three songs from the categories listed on the contestant information page, and pay the entry fee of $55
  • Apply here

Hal Leonard Vocal Competition

  • All ages welcome
  • Submit a video recording
  • Enter here

Classical Singer Competition

  • Open to anyone 14+
  • Two song submission by video recording online, by mail, or audition in person, along with $85 entry fee
  • Register here

The American Prize

  • Open to U.S. residents 18+
  • Send in 3-5 recordings of arias to the email below, along with $40 entry fee and form
  • Enter here

Schmidt Competition

  • Open to high school sophomore, juniors, and seniors
  • Complete your application and pay the $45 entry fee, then perform three musical compositions live from one of the locations listed
  • Apply here

Texas Troubador

  • Anyone is welcome to enter, but finalists will be asked to travel to Clifton, TX
  • Submit one to three original songs, along with application and entry fee
  • Apply here

Singist Online Singing Contest

  • Submit a video (see guidelines on their page) and users vote on the winners
  • Contest re-starts each month

SingSnap Online Karaoke Competitions

  • Join the SingSnap network to upload videos, meet other singers, and share your talents

American Protege

  • Anyone five or older can enter (varies by category)
  • Send a video recording, $200 application fee, and application form
  • Enter here

American Guild of Music regional contests

  • Open to students with 3 months to 12 years of music study, up to age 21
  • Your teacher must be an American Guild of Music member to participate
  • Regional contests are held throughout the year; see website for details and upcoming dates

The Voice Auditions

Singing Contests for Kids

If your son or daughter has an interest in the spotlight, a few of the singing contests listed above are open to youngsters. However, it’s a good idea to start with voice lessons to help build their confidence and refine their voices before entering. And of course, make sure to show your support along the way, no matter how they place!

Singing Contests for Teens

Singing competitions can be a great resume-booster and wonderful experience if you’re thinking of pursuing a music degree or a career in music. Getting as much performance experience as you can is key! Check out the age restrictions on the singing contests listed above, or check with your teacher for local competition recommendations.

Additional Resources for Singing Contests

Readers, do you know of other singing contests for teens, singing contests for kids, or singing contests for all ages? Leave a comment and let us know the details!

MiltonJPost Author: Milton J.
Milton J. teaches guitar, piano, singing, music recording, music theory, opera voice, songwriting, speaking voice, and acting lessons in Corona, CA. He specializes in classical, R&B, soul, pop, rock, jazz, and opera styles. Learn more about Milton here!

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The Ultimate Guide to Singing Styles and Genres

The Ultimate Guide to Singing Styles (Red)

There are so many different singing styles and genres out there — how do you keep track of them? What are the best vocal exercises for singers of each genre? Music teacher Heather L. answers these questions and more in this ultimate guide…

 

We, as human beings, have been singing since we discovered that we had voices. Of course, a lot about singing has changed since that time. Different cultures around the world through the centuries came up with their own scales and modes, and different types of music and singing emerged.

These styles, or genres of music, are just as diverse and varied as the cultures themselves. Each genre has its own special characteristics that make it different from others, and each genre presents unique challenges for singers. Here’s a list of the most common genres of music, and how to sing each one.

But first:  Take our quiz to find out what genre you’re destined to sing!

Pop

If music is food, then pop is candy. It’s fun, but not necessarily funny. Romantic, but not overly sentimental. With dance and rhythm at its heart, pop music has dominated a lot of American music over the past 30 or so years, and many singers have come and gone. But several have come to be considered the greatest entertainers of all time: Whitney Houston, Madonna, Prince, and the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson.

Tips & Vocal Exercises for Pop Singers

  • Learn how to control your vibrato without tension.
  • Experiment with different vocal sounds, like short, popping sounds and fast runs.
  • Focus on improving your movement on stage and take dance lessons, if necessary.

Famous Pop Singers

  • Tori Kelly

Tori chose a really high key for this song. She also chose to accentuate the lyrics of the song with a short, light texture in her voice. That kind of texture makes everything easier to sing in your high register.

  • Whitney Houston

At 2:05 in this video, Whitney uses a fast run on the end of the word “all.” Notice how she doesn’t make it overly dramatic and uses those runs only a few times in the song. Sometimes, too many runs can be distracting from the song’s message.

  • Bruno Mars

Bruno sings tenderly because it’s a tender song. His voice is so free of tension that he seems to float up into his falsetto.

 

Rock

You might be surprised to learn that rock is a grandchild of the blues. After it became heavier and more dance-ably rhythmic, the music began to “rock” — and rock and roll was born! It grew up to become rougher and edgier, and now, rock vocal sounds are as diverse as in any other genre.

Today, rock singers include voices as different as Adam Lambert, Tom Araya of Slayer, James Hetfield of Metallica, and Bono of U2. But that rougher and edgier part of rock has to be, at least in some ways, a defining characteristic of the rock voice. Otherwise, it might be confused with an adult contemporary or pop voice.

Tips & Vocal Exercises for Rock Singers

  • Try out different vocal flairs, like a little growling or vocal fry at the end of song sections, but don’t overdo it.
  • Get comfortable singing a huge range of dynamics, from whispers (used sparingly for the health of your voice) to healthy, supported shouting.
  • Don’t be afraid of your own vibrato.

Famous Rock Singers

  • Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury was known for quite a theatrical kind of rock. Notice how easily he transitions from one dynamic to another, using subtlety when it’s needed for effect, and rough growling when the lyrics call for it, like at 2:20.

  • John Fogerty

In a great example of what I call a “defiance rock song,” John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival sings this song with the emotional sense of defiance. He clearly has a hold of being what we now call a “singing actor,” though it’s doubtful that the vocals were planned as such.

  • Ann Wilson

In this video the lead singer of Heart, paying tribute to the legendary rock band Led Zeppelin, keeps a true sense of her own voice, but doesn’t change the vocals so much that it’s disrespectful to the original. She’s clearly not afraid of her own vibrato, using it as a tool to accentuate certain lyrics, like at 4:24.

 

Opera/Classical

Often considered the most formal and restrictive of all genres of singing, classical and opera singing actually require the greatest amount of freedom. Much of it’s sung with uncontrolled vibrato and total emotional release. It is, however, the least conversational of all genres. Because it lacks the intimacy of that conversational quality with the audience (think folk music), it has the tendency to give audiences the impression of admiring a beautiful painting from afar.

The classical genre includes secular arias and religious oratorios, as well as motets. Opera singing is similar, but it’s part of a stage production, often involving dancing and speaking parts. Think of opera as a musical with classical singing instead of Broadway-style singing.

Tips & Vocal Exercises for Opera Singers

  • Don’t try to sound like how you think an opera singer sounds. Sing with an open and free voice.
  • Vibrato sometimes develops over time as we let go of more and more tension. Don’t force it or try to create it.
  • Get a voice teacher. Soon. Opera singing can seldom be taught without a good teacher. 

Famous Opera and Classical Singers

  • Bryn Terfel

In this incredibly dramatic scene from Mozart’s interpretation of the Don Juan story, Bryn Terfel is the actor in the reddish-brown cloak. Watch how intense and exaggerated his facial expressions are throughout the scene.

  • Kiri Te Kanawa

Singing one of the best-loved arias ever written is one of the best-loved sopranos to have ever lived. Amazingly, this performance was given when Dame Te Kanawa was 69 years old. She is an incredible example of how you can sing beautifully through your entire life if you take good care of your voice.

  • Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson’s distinguished career is marked not only by fantastic singing, but also by courageous defiance in the face of racism. After being rejected by the Daughters of the American Revolution for being a black performer, she sang instead for a larger group of supporters, facing the very building that she was banned from. Her voice is flawless, in spite of the shortcomings of the old recordings, but more importantly, her heart can be heard in everything she sings.

In the video above, she sang for a beautiful Christmas program. Notice her alignment. It remains consistent throughout the changes in the song.

 

Country

An overly simple way to think of the country genre is fancy folk (read: glossy folk pop). But it’s had quite a history through the years, having evolved from Appalachian mountain music, southern blues, country-western and what’s called “honky-tonk.”

I recommending listening to many different country voices so that you don’t get into the trap of imitating only the big voices. Think about how different Carrie Underwood’s voice is from Miranda Lambert’s. Check out the differences between Hank Williams, Jr. and Luke Bryan. And listen to classic singers like Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline.

Tips & Vocal Exercises for Country Singers

  • Don’t force a “country” accent. If you listen to a lot of country music, then over time, a natural twang will come when you sing.
  • Become familiar with great storytelling; that’s where country comes from! Listen to professional storytellers on YouTube.
  • Be willing to wear your heart on your sleeve. Audiences love when country singers share their feelings, and your credibility is based on your ability to be genuine.

Famous Country Singers

  • George Jones

In one of the most famous country songs of all time, the irreplaceable George Jones exemplifies the all-important skills of storytelling and a down-to-earth singing style. Notice that there isn’t a lot of vibrato here; it’s almost as if Jones is too busy telling a story to hold out a note and show off!

  • Carrie Underwood

Both this song and this video are great examples of country – images and talk of American home-grown families and open hearts. Carrie, season 4 winner of American Idol, knows just how to use her voice to a song’s advantage. She floats a note (sings it lightly) when it’s a tender moment and then sings with a heavier tone when it’s a heavier moment.

  • Loretta Lynn

The ultimate story song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” was Loretta Lynn’s biggest hit. Is it the personable nature of the lyrics? Maybe. Take note of how similar her speaking voice (at the beginning of the video) is to her singing voice. This can be achieved through the study of something called “speech level singing.”

 

Blues/Jazz

The blues were born in the American south from the spirituals of slaves and the call-and-response music of the Southern church. Think of jazz as its slightly more sophisticated child who never forgot its roots. Jazz singing is characterized by clear, “speech level” singing and distinct consonants, while blues singing has a rough or rootsy edge to it, sometimes with a natural Southern accent.

Tips & Vocal Exercises for Blues and Jazz Singers

  • You can’t sing the blues and jazz right without knowing its history, in your mind and in your heart. Watch Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary and the Thelonius Monk documentary, “Straight, No Chaser.”
  • Experiment with different vocal sounds, like pitch slides and scatting.
  • Study up on your music theory, especially your chromatic scales.

Famous Blues and Jazz Singers

  • Cassandra Wilson

Though she may not be the best-selling jazz artist, Cassandra Wilson is considered by many to be the best living jazz singer. Her voice is perfect for it — rich, thoughtful, and focused. Notice at around 3:05, she begins to use pitch slides, perhaps to accentuate a
rather creepy part of a powerful jazz classic.

  • Sarah Vaughan

Once described as having “one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century,”
Grammy award-winning Sarah Vaughan was known for a sensitive but easy tone. Notice how almost nonchalant she is throughout “Someone to Watch Over Me.” At 2:15, Vaughan effortlessly shows off an impressive vocal range and some great improvisation skills, simply by jumping up to a random note while remaining in the song’s key.

  • Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong is so important to jazz music that most experts agree that it wouldn’t have been developed, or even survived, without his contributions. Now some voice scientists and physicians might point to a few voice pathologies in Louis: that unusually rough voice. But here we have a great example of a singer who loved what he did and knew how to make people feel happy and entertained.

 

Hip Hop

Hip hop, the heavily rhythmic and rhyming singing that often accompanies rapping and beatboxing, emerged in the 1970s, and has grown steadily in popularity since then. In fact, that popularity has turned into tremendous influence on other singing genres, including pop and country. Its origins are many, but the most apparent are funk, disco, reggae, and the blues. Singers of hip hop are diverse, but the singing generally takes on an edgy, sometimes nasal qualities.

Tips & Vocal Exercises for Hip Hop Singers

  • Know hip hop’s musical ancestry. Listen to a lot of funk, disco, reggae, soul, gospel, blues, and old-school hip hop.
  • You don’t have to become a rapper, but get comfortable switching between singing and speaking lyrics to help your versatility.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with different vocal sounds, like nasality and wordplay, to create your own signature style.

Famous Hip Hop Singers

  • Lauryn Hill

See if you can hear the song’s Spanish and gospel influences. Despite these varied sounds, Lauryn stays true to her own voice, which is stunningly consistent in tone and texture. It’s important to listen to influences with respect, without allowing it to pressure you to imitate anyone.

  • Beyonce

In this heart-stopping acoustic performance of her hit “Halo,” Beyonce has full command of her voice. It’s as if her voice is an arrow, she aims at the bull’s eye, and hits it every time. In other words, her pitch is always right and her transition between the lower register in the verses and the upper register in the chorus is seamless.

  • Cee Lo Green

Originally, the hit “Crazy” was created and released by Gnarls Barkley, a musical duo consisting of rapper and hip hop singer Cee Lo Green and producer Danger Mouse. In this video, Cee Lo sings the song at a much slower tempo than the original, allowing for a lot of time for both the performer and the listener to really think about the meaningful lyrics. Green is a fabulous singer, and here is an excellent example of the courage to reinvent a song, even your very own!

Adult Contemporary

Adult contemporary is such a unique genre, because singers from relatively different genres often get put into this camp as well, or end up here at the height of their career. It’s essentially pop singing, but the lyrics are decidedly grown-up, or “adult.” Think of it as the Mom and Dad of teenage bubblegum pop. You’re not singing, for example, about that “party in the U.S.A.” You’re singing about life’s experiences gone by in the U.S.A., what you’ve learned, and the plans for your future.

Adult contemporary has been called “vanilla,” bland and boring, but often, the most magnificent songs ever are forever embedded in its charts. This means singing at your best.

Tips & Vocal Exercises for Adult Contemporary Singers

  • Learn how to sing consistently with a well-supported sound and power will come naturally.
  • Get into the habit of speaking the lyrics of the song out loud before singing them.
  • Don’t add too many effects to your voice; singing with whatever you have, in its truest form, is adult contemporary.

Famous Adult Contemporary Singers

  • Bruce Hornsby

This is a classic example of an adult contemporary theme – the songwriters here are reflecting on their own lives and on life in general. Bruce Hornsby’s easy, almost-nonchalant style comes across as utterly conversational, perfect for singing about down-to-earth themes.

  • Amy Grant

Amy Grant successfully crossed over from contemporary Christian music (which she practically created herself) to pop and adult contemporary. All the while, she never really changed her vocal sound. Throughout this video, she uses dynamics to her advantage to highlight certain words in the lyrics, like at the very end, when she gets tenderly quiet at the last “I will remember you.”

 

The Ultimate Guide to Singing Styles and Genres

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Lists of Musical Genres

Of course, that’s not all! There are so many different styles of music to discover, as well as sub-genres within each category. For a comprehensive list of musical genres, AllMusic is a great resource. We also love this interactive genre map from Every Noise at Once.

Bonus: Take our quiz, What Genre Are You Destined to Sing? (and let us know your results in the comments!) 

Final Words…

Despite all of the ways that genres of music are different, one thing connects them all. All singing, at its very base, is simply sustained speech. And while practice are utterly essential to learning the different styles, just as important is listening to plenty of music, both in that style and in others. And when you listen, remember to keep not only your ears open, but also your heart. That’s what makes us artists.

So there you have it, the ultimate guide to singing styles! There are a lot of styles and genres that I haven’t covered in this guide, which means you can still find the perfect fit for you. If you have additional questions, check in with your singing teacher for help with finding your unique voice. Happy singing!

Readers, what are your favorite genres to sing? Let us know in the comments!

HeatherLPost Author: Heather L.
Heather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in St. Augustine, FL. She is a graduate of Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, and the internationally renowned opera star Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!

Photo by *Shantel*

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How to stay motivated for singers

21 Powerful Tips to Refuel Your Passion for Singing

how to stay motivated as a singer

Struggling to find singing gigs? Not feeling inspired? If your passion is dwindling, it’s time to take action. Don’t give up singing just yet! Read on as Sacramento, CA voice teacher Kevin B. shares his advice…

 

Let’s face it — when you have a job or any kind of regular commitment, there are going to be some days when you just don’t want to do it. This goes for everyone — even musicians who couldn’t imagine doing anything else!

If you find yourself feeling this way, don’t freak out. Don’t think that you’ve become jaded or depressed, or that you don’t care about your art anymore. The fact that you’re willing to resist the call of the TV, put on the big-kid pants, and go do your craft just shows how much you do care, and it sets you apart from thousands of musicians everywhere.

But here’s where the problem lies: being a singer, much like being an actor (or any other sort of entertainer for that matter), is not a job where you get the luxury of being able to lack enthusiasm. You’re front-and-freaking-center, and when you don’t want to be there, it shows. So suck it up kid, and put on a smile!

Or better yet, refuel your passion. Here are 21 ways to do so.

1

1. Re-envision your dreams – and be specific about them!

I’m willing to bet that you remember the experience that set you on this path. Whether it was that musical that made you cry, or that singer that blew you away with his skill and presence, you haven’t forgotten what makes you hit that practice room when it’s time.

Much time has probably passed since then, and you’ve got a good grip on your skills, your strengths, and what you bring to the table. So now is the time to turn your dream from an ambiguous entity into a concrete goal: is there a certain part you want to play? An ensemble you want to join? A venue that you dream of performing in? Whatever it is, you’ve been working hard, and you’re well on your way to achieving that dream! That ought to put a smile on your face.

Keep Your Singing passion alive

2. Leave the student behind – just for a bit

Whatever you’ve been learning in your voice lessons, chances are you’ve taken it with you in your everyday music listening. When you listen to music, your head is probably racing to apply everything you’ve learned: “Oh, he’s totally singing with a high larynx in that part!” “Oh man, she was not in tune on that belt!”

This is normal, but turning off that part of the brain also has its benefits. You enjoyed music before you started taking lessons, and enjoying music with that same blank slate that you used to have can help you remember why you started doing this in the first place. Give it a try!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

3. Apply what you’ve learned to a new genre

Most of us, I’m pretty sure, have thought about singing multiple genres before. And one of the things I love about studying voice is that so much of it applies to many different genres, or even all of them!

Sure, you loved how you got that perfect vibrato going on your Italian art song, but what about using that same technique on the classical crossover song you love? You’re really nailing the breath support with your music theater repertoire, how about seeing how well that support works on that old jazz standard your grandpa used to play? You’ve worked hard on improving your instrument, you deserve to play around with it!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

4. Challenge yourself

You should feel challenged in your lessons. If you don’t, that’s definitely something you should take up with your voice teacher. However it can also feel empowering to challenge yourself on specific things.

After all, no matter how much your teacher gives you to work on, you only have them for a certain amount of time each week, and there’s bound to be more things to work on than just what you’ve talked about in your lessons. Just think of how much fun it will be at your next lesson when you get to say “Hey teach, look what I can do!”

Keep Your Singing passion alive

5. Learn from the pros

Sometimes it takes a pro’s touch to get your spark back. Fortunately, there are many opportunities available to learn from the best! The queen mother of all such opportunities is a master class: if you have the chance to attend – or better yet participate in – one of these, be there. Period. In the absence of such an opportunity, you can also find interviews or master classes on YouTube to help you stay motivated and get back on track.

Keep Your Singing passion alive

6. Keep a practice log

When I was seeing a personal trainer to keep in shape, he told me to write down all the workouts I completed. That way each time I went to work out, I would see what I did the previous week, and I could decide whether to do the same thing or try something more challenging.

For many vocal students, practicing can be the same way. In terms of keeping your passion on track, the benefit it has is that you get to look back and realize how far you’ve come.

Keep Your Singing passion alive

7. Go to a concert

This probably seems like an obvious one, but it always strikes me as odd when musicians spend all their time practicing their craft, and no time watching it! Seeing someone up on the stage doing what you love might just make you wish you were up there, and then – BAM! There’s your motivation to keep singing.

Keep Your Singing passion alive

8. Focus on finding that music job you’ve been wanting

Sure, you’ve thought about how wonderful it would be to get paid to sing. Perhaps, though, you didn’t think about how empowering it would be. When people pay you to sing, to do what you love, it boosts your confidence, and confidence is a singer’s bread and butter.

If you don’t know where to start, ask your voice teacher. They’ll be able to tell you if they think you’re ready for such a thing, or at the very least how to get you ready. For those interested in being a professional singer eventually, this is an important step!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

9. Switch it up!

When it comes to practicing, repetition is the quickest way to kill enthusiasm. There’s no more effective way to kill a piece of repertoire than to work on “that one phrase” over and over again. If you haven’t learned to spare yourself from this kind of torture, now you know.

Instead, work on “that one phrase” for a while, then switch to another piece of rep, or at the very least a different part of the song. Singing should be hard work, but there’s no reason it has to be boring work!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

10. Try on a new hat

No, not literally. What I mean to say is try a new role in music. If you haven’t tried your hand at songwriting or composing yet, you might be surprised to discover how empowering it is. If you’re not the creative type, try learning a new instrument or even learning to dance. Not only might this give you a new perspective on your singing, but it’ll help you beef up your resume!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

11. Absorb the arts – namely the ones that inspire your music

There’s a reason that they talk about painting, architecture, and literature in music history classes. It’s because the different schools of the arts influence one another. The lyrics to art songs come from poetry, and many pieces of music correlate to paintings and other art. So go to an art gallery, a poetry reading, or a play! As a student of the arts, you are a part of a rich, vast, and diverse culture, and that is something that should be celebrated!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

12. Take on a new project

Singers should have voracious appetites. You should want to get involved as often as you can with as many different projects as you can. If you’re feeling particularly unenthused about your studies, maybe you just haven’t found the project that really fuels your passion yet. There are an abundance of talented musicians out there, so go find them!

If you’re worried about the time it will take out of your week, stick to something small. Find a pianist who can pick up music really fast, practice with him or her once a week, and then just like that you’ll have another project under your belt.

Keep Your Singing passion alive

13. Make a lunch date with a teacher or mentor

The best teachers I know are the ones who will do anything for their students. If you’re struggling with how to stay motivated (or anything else related to your singing), your teacher or mentor will likely have advice for you. They’ve probably experienced what you’re going through at one point! If nothing else, you’ll get to spend a lovely afternoon with someone who cares about you!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

14. Take a break!

Perhaps your problem is that you’re just working too hard! One of my favorite pieces of life advice I ever got is: “Music should be inspiration for life, and life should be inspiration for music.” Musicians should be happy people who live a fulfilling life. So make time to do what you love, and you might just end up falling in love again with what you do!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

15. Go kill it at karaoke

As I’ve mentioned before, confidence is a singer’s life’s blood. So if your compliment reservoir is running low, go and fill it! Pick that perfect karaoke song, have a couple drinks with friends, and soak up any compliments you get from the experience.

If you’re under 21, see number 12 and find a duet partner to do open mic nights with you. Often these places are filled with lackluster musicians, so if you put even a little effort into your performance it’s bound to get noticed.

Keep Your Singing passion alive

16. Invest in your future – even if it’s something small

Sometimes in the midst of all our hard work, our destination can seem so far away. To stay motivated, find a way to bring home the reality of the next big thing in your singing life.

Have a recital coming up? Go buy the dress you’re going to wear! Have a rock show coming up? Maybe it’s time for a new mic. You’ll have to do these things anyway, so why not do it now? Spend the afternoon daydreaming and getting pumped… and then go practice, so you can nail the performance!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

17. Add to your collection

Another investment that you can make to fuel your enthusiasm is in the form of books and DVDs. Singers should have large collections of repertoire books, as well as DVDs of live performances to model their craft after. If you need an enthusiasm boost, maybe it’s time to beef up your collection. It can only help you grow!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

18. Discover something new

The best singers are curious people. So, get out there and be the first among your group of friends to discover an opera or musical that nobody has ever heard of. The music that can give you your new inspiration could be out there, but if you don’t seek it out you will never know!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

19. Research one of your favorite singers

In keeping with number 18, be curious about the people who have helped you get where you are. If you have an idol, you should know where they grew up, how old they were when they first got signed, who their first record label was, and so on. If you haven’t figured out from reading so far, I believe in learning from the pros!

(Editor’s note: You can also learn what not to do from watching famous singers!)

Keep Your Singing passion alive

20. Network

Sometimes the answer to how to stay motivated won’t come from a mentor or a professional singer, but someone a little closer to your level.

If you’re in college, you’ve got it easy – join the local chapter of a music fraternity and you’re instantly connected with individuals just like you. If you aren’t in college, go to lots of shows and network there. If you get enough musician friends, perhaps you could even start a weekly meet-up, and get fuel for your passion every week!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

21. Summer programs

There are a million reasons to look into summer music programs, one of which is that there’s nothing quite as motivating as spending a few weeks continually working and improving your voice, surrounded by individuals who are doing the same. Summer programs are often expensive, but if you can spare the dough, the rewards will be more than worth it.

 

The most important thing to remember is that you have to make time for these ideas. That might mean skipping hanging out with your girlfriend on Tuesday night so that you can rehearse with your duet partner, or taking a night to watch a recorded master class when you would normally watch Netflix.

To become a singer, you need to have a fire in your heart for it; neglecting that element of the music is just as bad as singing off-key, breathing in the middle of a word, or any other technical mistake. So go get your passion on track, if it isn’t already… and then rock that practice time like the awesome singer that you are!

Readers, how do you stay motivated and make sure singing remains a passion? Leave a comment with your own tips and advice!

 

TakeLessons Teacher Kevin BPost Author: Kevin B.
Kevin B. is a private singing instructor in Sacramento, CA. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Music at California State University, Sacramento, and has performed in many musicals and operas in Sacramento. Learn more about Kevin here!

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Songwriting Tips: 11 Helpful Examples From 7 Hit Songs

MO - Songwriting Tips 11 Helpful Examples Revised

Writing a catchy song that delivers a strong message can be quite difficult. Here, voice teacher Emmanuel N. shares the songwriting tips you can glean from several famous singers…  

 

When it comes to lyric-writing and songwriting, nobody can really teach you how to do it – it’s better to show by example. Whether you’re simply writing lyrics to a song you will one day sing (or someone else will sing for you) or you’re songwriting to a musical piece you found or created, you will have your own unique style. Songwriting and lyric-writing are some of the few artistic skills that are difficult to truly teach.

There are some songwriting tips and suggestions that can be very beneficial, but there is no real “by the book” way of writing lyrics for a song. So, the next best thing is offering examples of great songs by some very talented artists and songwriters. Although the artists listed below may not be the top singer-songwriters of all time, they represent a range of genres, including R&B (my specialty).

Listen to the lyrics in the tunes below, then check out my notes on what you can learn from each about writing songs:

“Looking At Her” – Paul McCartney [written by Paul McCartney]

  • Matching the melody of the vocals with the melody of the song is not a bad thing. Don’t be afraid to do what Paul did at [1:40] in the bridge where his vocals match the main melody of the music (“Doesn’t she know…”).

 

“Nobody Ever Told You” – Carrie Underwood [written by Carrie, Lindsey, and Laird]

  • When writing a song with a positive message, making it personal gives the song a stronger meaning. Carrie does this in the first verse as she talks about how beautiful she is despite what society says. At [0:21], for example, she says “…Don’t be shy, don’t be scared…” when pertaining to showing your real self.
  • Using similes in a song makes the lyrics more beautiful and poetic. Carrie does this at [0:51] and [2:20] with her chorus and bridge to give the listener a more vivid picture of just how beautiful they are (“You shine like a diamond, glitter like gold… you’re free as a bird… just like a flower growing wild.”)

 

“Looking In” – Mariah Carey [written by Mariah Carey & Afanasieff]

  • Similar to Carrie Underwood’s song, you’ll notice that getting personal in a song makes it that much more emotional and powerful. At [1:23] Mariah continues her second verse describing some girl by using “she,” yet not telling us who it is. She ends the verse by revealing this “she” was Mariah herself all along (“…and hides herself inside of me”), making it very personal.
  • Don’t be afraid to be passionate, emotional, and show your frustration. The bridge at [1:51] is short but straight to the point; Mariah exclaims her frustration on the lack of people understanding her pain and where she is coming from (“Don’t say she takes it all for granted… Please understand”).

 

“You Said” – Keri Hilson [written by Keri Hilson]

  • Having each line in a chorus start off the same is a good way to grab someone’s attention – and it makes the song catchy. Keri’s chorus at [0:48] starts off each line with “Thought you said…” to capture that feeling of annoyance we get when we’ve been lied to repeatedly.
  • The bridge of a song is the perfect place to get real and just say it like it is – and if you’re going to repeat it, add some harmonies like she did. At [2:11] Keri gets to the point and tells her boyfriend he lost her trust (“…now I can’t believe a word that comes from you”).

 

“Cry” – Mariah Carey [written by Mariah Carey & James Wright]

  • When the music gets stronger and more powerful, let loose and let those emotions out. During the bridge, as the piano chords get stronger, Mariah gets dynamic as she lets those emotions out at [3:06]. “…So naked…” is extended vocally to let the emotions sink in, in between emotional lyrics.

 

“Born This Way” – Lady Gaga [written by Gaga and Laursen]

  • Adding a message in the intro of a song has a good chance of capturing the listener’s attention. Lady Gaga does this in the beginning of her song with, “It doesn’t matter if you love him or capital H-I-M…” to provide a sort of prologue to the song.
  • Don’t be afraid to use the title of your song throughout the entire song itself. Lady Gaga mentions “born this way” in the intro, first verse, chorus, bridge, and outro several times to truly stress that we really are born this way (regarding what makes us different, so that we learn to love ourselves and each other).

 

“My Everything” – Ariana Grande [written by Ariana et al.]

  • Use a specific theme to give your message more dimension. At [1:10] Ariana uses the theme of distance and time to show the strain that distance has on her relationship. With “I know you’re not far… can’t handle all the distance… you’re traveling with my heart… temporary feeling,” you can see the theme play out nicely and poetically.

 

So there you have it, some examples that showcase how creative you can get when writing songs. I have written more than 100 songs and I learned by listening to songs that inspire me or make me feel something. Hopefully these songs help you in your endeavor of creating masterpieces and will lead you down the path to becoming a successful singer-songwriter!

Editor’s Note: Want even more examples of great songwriting? We love this resource by Robin Frederick, detailing the strategies behind several hit songs, including the lyrics, structure, and melody of each.

Emmanuel NoriegaPost Author: Emmanuel N.
Emmanuel N. teaches online Spanish and singing lessons. He earned his B.A. in psychology from California State University, Fullerton and has been teaching lessons since January 2015. Learn more about Emmanuel here!

Photo by Roger Blackwell

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10 Weird (But Common) Questions Voice Teachers Get – Answered!

The 8 Weirdest Questions Voice Teachers Get

As you’re learning to sing, you’ll likely have a lot of questions. And don’t worry, that’s what your voice teacher is there for! Once you’ve got the basics down, though, you might realize some of your beginner questions were a little…well… silly! Here, teacher Elaina R. answers some of the common questions and lays some rumors to rest…


As a voice teacher, I get asked some pretty weird questions about singing. In fact, I get so many that I decided to write an article about it! Here are the weirdest questions students ask voice teachers – and the answers you may have been wondering about yourself — that can help you become a better singer.

 

Doesn’t Hunching Over Help You Sing From Your Diaphragm

Let’s start with this eye-opening question. First of all, I hate it when people talk about singing from the diaphragm. Steve Martin reportedly popularized the phrase “sing from the diaphragm” in his comedy sketches, and he isn’t exactly an authority on the voice. There are three major muscle groups involved in breathing, and this statement discounts two of them.

Secondly, hunching over definitely does not help with proper breathing! Hunching over collapses the torso, reducing the volume of air that you can breathe in. Here’s a helpful infographic on proper breathing and posture.

 

Is That A Hashtag

No, it’s a sharp. Learning the basics of reading music (including key signatures, note values, and the two basic clefs) makes you much more flexible as a singer. Check out my introduction to reading music to get started!

 

Are You A Tenor

Nope. Women can’t be tenors, but I don’t blame you for getting confused. Voice types are hard to define, and the many subsections and qualifiers make it a convoluted topic. The two basic voice types for women are soprano and mezzo-soprano (known as alto in choral settings). Check out this introduction to voice types to learn more.

 

Doesn’t Stretching My Neck Up Help Me Reach High Notes

No, it doesn’t. Tilting your head up actually strains your neck, making it more difficult to sing. Go ahead and stretch your head up, then try talking. Do you hear how strained your voice sounds? That’s exactly what happens when you try to sing in this position.

 

Should I Fast Before Voice Lessons

No, no, no! I’ve had students get faint during lessons because they didn’t have enough to eat beforehand. I’ve actually had to feed one student during a lesson! While it’s true that the stomach is right under the diaphragm (an important breathing muscle) and that going to a buffet immediately before a lesson isn’t a good idea, please don’t starve yourself.

 

How Can Such A Tiny Person Sing Opera

My small stature (I am five feet tall) has made me a target of the “you have such a loud voice for such a small person!” comment ever since I can remember. But in actuality, just like the general population, opera singers come in all shapes and sizes. Singers of my voice type (coloratura soprano) are often my size.

 

Why Does Singing Make Me Burp So Much

Remember how the stomach is located directly under the diaphragm? Deep breathing compresses many of your organs, including the stomach. This causes some people to burp. To avoid excessive burping during your voice lessons, don’t drink anything carbonated on your way to class.

 

The Many Weird Questions About Head Voice and Chest Voice

These questions get their own category because I have gotten so many of them. Here are some of the strangest ones:

  • Is singing in head voice bad for you?
  • Is head voice “fake singing”?
  • Does chest voice come from your chest?

Head voice and chest voice are just the two main registers of the human voice. They both come from the vocal cords, not the actual head and chest (names can be deceptive). And no, neither of them is bad for you.

Bring On The Weird Questions

Don’t worry: weird questions about the voice are good! There isn’t a lot of reliable vocal information out there, and airing out your strangest queries can help you learn about your voice. So don’t be afraid to ask your voice teacher about any of your vocal musings; the answers may help you become a better singer!

Elaina RPost Author: Elaina R.
Elaina R. teaches opera voice and singing in Ann Arbor, MI, as well as through online lessons. She received her Master of Music from the University of Michigan, and she has a B.M. from the University of Southern California. Learn more about Elaina here!

Photo by U.S. Army

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15 Awesome Facts About Your Voice

15 Awesome Facts You Never Knew About Your Voice

Vocal health for singers is an important topic. After all, as a singer, your voice — and, actually, your entire body — is your instrument! It only makes sense to fully understand how it works, and how vocal health really affects your performance.

Here on the TakeLessons Blog, we’ve shared tips for improving your tone, strange (but effective) ways to protect your vocal cords, and how posture affects your singing. We’ve debunked the myth that drinking milk is bad for your voice, and that not all lozenges and sprays marketed to singers are created equal.

But there’s even more to learn about your instrument. Check out the infographic below to learn awesome 15 facts!

Awesome Facts About Your Voice and Vocal Cords

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Vocal Health for Singers – Additional Resources

Want to learn more? Here are some articles to check out to get your voice in top shape:

Editor’s Note: Joanna from The Voice of Your Life blog pointed out a few things that we thought are worth adding in:

Lung capacity is important, but not as important as training to MANAGE the outflow of air. I agree that swimming is a great exercise for singers, because it requires both. Many people I see with damaged voices have tried to push out (expel) too much air; this is the opposite of real breath support. 

Also, recent acoustics research resonators are mainly in the throat, even though we experience them in nose and face. 

Thanks Joanna! 

Readers, what other resources have you found helpful for vocal health tips? Let us know in the comments!

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13 Famous Singers With Surprisingly Bad Vocal Habits

6 Singers Who Made Vocal MistakesBelieve it or not, your favorite singers aren’t always perfect. Read on as voice teacher Elaina R. reveals the bad vocal habits you can learn from… 

 

It’s easy to turn on the radio and assume that famous singers always sound incredible. I promise, though, that’s not the case. Every single singer has experienced vocal faults at some point (even if editing and Auto-Tune buffs every track to perfection).

Here are just a few examples of some of the things that can go wrong, as demonstrated by some of the rich and famous.

Vocal Fault - PitchyWho:

    1. Régine Chassagne (Arcade Fire)
    2. Taylor Swift

What:

Singing a pitch is a complicated coordination between the brain, vocal cords, and breath. Some people don’t have this coordination quite right all the time, and therefore they don’t always sing the notes they want to sing.

In the video above, Taylor Swift is singing flat, meaning she is singing just slightly below the correct pitches. Even good singers sing flat every once in a while. Régine, on the other hand, has trouble hitting accurate pitches in general and tends to go sharp (higher than she intended). Listen to her last note in the song for a good example.

How to Avoid It:

Like any other skill, learning to match pitch requires practice. If you have a lot of trouble singing in tune, devote five to 10 minutes a day to practicing this. I have my students use Pitch Analyzer ($1.99 in the Apple App store) and a keyboard to do this. Just open the app, play a pitch on the keyboard, and try to match it with your voice. Pitch Analyzer helps you figure out if you are flat, sharp, or just right.

Vocal Fault: Nasal Singing

Who:

  1. Rebecca Black
  2. Miley Cyrus

What:

Humans can breathe (and therefore sing) through both the nose and the mouth. The soft palate, located on the roof of the mouth behind the hard palate, lifts and lowers to block off the nasal passages from the rest of the breathing apparatus. Singing with a lowered soft palate lets air out through the nose, causing a nasal tone.

How to Avoid It:

Learn to lift your soft palate. If you have ever “plugged” your nose without touching it (when changing a diaper or jumping into a pool, for instance), you already know how to do this. If not, try making a really nasal sound, then doing the exact opposite. If your soft palate is all the way up, you will not sound any different if you plug your nose with your fingers.

Vocal Fault - Throat Tension

Who:

  1. Katy Perry
  2. Christina Aguilera (last note especially, at 1:53)

What:

Throat tension is not only damaging, it sounds more like yelling than singing. In these videos of Katy and Christina, the vocals often sound closer to yelling than to singing. Note the frayed, pressed tone and the lack of vibrato. If you watch closely, you will also notice that you can see both women’s necks visibly straining.

How to Avoid It:

There are two ways to decrease throat tension in singers. First and foremost, try to relax your throat. Work in front of a mirror or place your hand around your neck so you can feel your throat muscles better. You can also move your neck around while you sing (from side to side, as though you are shaking your head “no”) to keep it from stiffening.

The second way to decrease throat tension is to focus on the fundamentals of singing. Singers throats usually tense up to compensate for a lack of proper technique. Make sure your breath support is working, your soft palate is up, your posture is relaxed, and your energy levels are high as you sing.

Vocal Fault: Tongue Tension

Who:

  1. Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam)
  2. Kermit the Frog
  3. Sarah Brightman

What:

Your tongue is a huge muscle that stretches from the front of your mouth all the way back and down, where it connects to the muscles under your jaw. If any part of the tongue becomes rigid during singing, a distinct, clogged sound emerges. The best example of this that I can think of actually isn’t a singer; it’s Kermit the Frog. If you tense your tongue and talk, you’ll find that you sound like the little green guy.

For singers, this clogged sound results in modified vowels, as well as a general distinct tone quality. Both Sarah Brightman and Eddie Vedder’s sounds are characterized by this sound. Singing with tongue tension causes vocal fatigue and can eventually lead to vocal problems, so it’s not something you should ignore.

How to Avoid It:

Many people are completely incapable of consciously relaxing their tongues, even when they aren’t making sound. Start by resting your tongue on your bottom lip, so you can see it well in a mirror, and relaxing it (a relaxed tongue is fat and motionless). Once you accomplish that, put your tongue back in your mouth and learn how to sing vowels without tensing your tongue. (The mirror is your best friend.) When progressing to words, focus on moving your tongue without making it unnecessarily rigid.

Vocal Fault: Jaw Tension

Who:

  1. Eddie Redmayne
  2. Kathleen Battle

What:

When singing, the jaw should be loose and free. Tensing the jaw not only makes it harder to sing, it also sounds (and looks) weird. Eddie Redmayne’s clenched, shaking jaw and matching vocals attest to this. Although Kathleen Battle (an acclaimed classical singer) still sounds lovely, it is obvious from watching her sing that her jaw is doing some bizarre and unnecessary work.

How to Avoid It:

Avoid jaw tension by paying attention. Stretch it out before you sing, look in the mirror, and put your hands on your jaw to feel the muscles. If you notice yourself clenching, stop singing, stretch it out, and try again. Always make sure that you are breathing, standing, and resonating well. Just like the throat, the jaw tends to clench when your singing technique is incomplete.

Vocal Fault: Damaged Vocal Cords

Who:

  1. Mariah Carey
  2. Kelly Clarkson

What:

Vocal cord abuse and overuse (such as singing or talking too much or too loudly, yelling, or using improper singing technique) can damage your vocal cords. Singers who perform lots of taxing music often suffer from vocal cord damage, especially after years of performing in tours and concerts.

Kelly still sounds good, but the newly acquired raspy quality and her avoidance of high notes are both red flags. In Mariah’s recording, her cloudy tone quality, squeaking, and inability to hold out notes all point to severely swollen vocal cords. Singers can even get calluses (nodes), polyps, or vocal hemorrhaging (bleeding welts) that require surgery. Adele, Sam Smith, Tove Lo, Keith Urban, John Mayer… the list of celebrity victims goes on and on.

How to Avoid It:

Be kind to your voice! Don’t scream and yell, and don’t overuse your vocal cords. If you suspect that you have hurt your cords already, or if you don’t know how to sing or speak properly for your health, consult a voice teacher or a vocal therapist immediately to avoid really hurting yourself. If it hurts to sing or speak, consider taking a few days off and going on vocal rest (no talking or singing whatsoever). It’s amazing what good a few days of quiet can do.

Banishing Vocal Faults

While celebrities sing off-key through their noses, you can learn to sing in tune, with a raised soft palate and healthy vocal cords. Find a good teacher, ask him or her about these vocal faults, and practice a little every day. Soon, you might be singing better than some of your favorite famous singers!

Elaina RPost Author: Elaina R.
Elaina R. teaches opera voice and singing in Ann Arbor, MI, as well as through online lessons. She received her Master of Music from the University of Michigan, and she has a B.M. from the University of Southern California. Learn more about Elaina here!

Photo by Jana Beamer

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How the Best Singers Structure Their Singing Practice [Infographic]

singing practice infographic

You love to sing… and you know how important it is to sing every day… but is all that practice really helping? Here, Brooklyn, NY voice teacher Liz T. shares how to make the most of your singing practice routine…

 

If you’re not sure how to balance your singing practice routine at home, you’re not alone! Many vocal students get overwhelmed trying to figure out how long to spend warming up, working on vocal technique, and running through songs. While your voice teacher should be your first resource for determining your specific practice routine, I’ve outlined some tips below to get you thinking.

Let’s look at a one-hour voice practice, typically for a high school or college student who is serious about pursuing music, broken into three 20-minute sessions.

20 minutes: Warm-ups

It’s very important that you start your practice singing session off right away with warming up your voice. Just as an athlete warms up his or her muscles and joints before a game or practice, singers need to warm up their vocal cords, tone, and range before a performance or practice. There are many different warm-ups a singer can do, including ones that work on:

  • Breath Support
  • Low Range/High Range
  • Arpeggios
  • Diction
  • Vibrato
  • Head voice/Chest voice

20 minutes: Song study

Use this time to work on that song you are trying to make performance-ready. This time should be spent on:

– Learning the melody and rhythm
Memorizing lyrics, and working on good diction and pronunciation
– Mastering the vocal style and genre of the song, and making sure you are using the appropriate vocal tone
– Making the song your own by incorporating your own musical interpretation and acting technique

20 minutes: Vocal technique

Just as ballet dancers focus on their body technique, by perfecting footsteps, singers must work on their vocal technique by practicing different musical techniques. There are several ways to help you improve your singing, which will require studying and an open mind! These techniques include:

  • Improvisation (learning how to scat and sing a blues scale)
  • Solfege
  • Ear training
  • Harmony
  • Sight reading

Many singers do not take the time to learn these techniques, but the sooner you learn them, the easier they will become. If you can improvise and use solfege in your sight reading, and are proficient in ear training and harmony, you will be at the top of your game!

Are you more of a visual learner? Check out this handy infographic to learn how to break up your singing practice routine for maximum efficiency:

How to Plan Your Singing Practice

Finally, I would suggest taping or recording your voice with an iPhone, computer, or tape recorder, to hear how your voice is progressing each week, month, year, and so on as you’re learning to sing. I hope you take these tips into consideration during your next vocal practice — and if you would like more help on balancing and managing your time, book a vocal lesson with me online today through TakeLessons!

 

LizTLiz T. teaches singing, acting, and music lessons in Brooklyn, NY, as well as online. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!

 

 

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Photo by Patrick Hopf

how to be a better singer

Infographic: Check These 8 Things to Become a Better Singer

How to Be a Better Singer - The Singer's StanceAs you’re learning how to be a better singer, proper posture is bound to come up! Who knew so much could be affected by the way you stand when you sing? Take a look at the basics in this infographic by Ann Arbor, MI voice teacher Elaina R...

 

When you hear the word “posture,” what do you think of? A ballerina poised for action, or a military officer standing at attention, perhaps. Be warned: neither the ballerina nor the military officer has a good singer’s stance.

The word “posture” has so many negative connotations that I don’t use it with my students. Instead, I use the word “stance.” Singing stance is actually the healthiest possible way to stand. It lines your body up in the most comfortable and efficient way, reducing tension and maximizing your ability to breathe and phonate. By honoring your body’s construction in your stance, you gain the freedom and flexibility you need to improve your singing.

How to Be a Better Singer - The Singer's Stance

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Standing like this will feel weird at first. Use a mirror or ask your voice teacher to help you, since what you feel and what you are actually doing are often completely different. I tell my students to practice standing well whenever they remember: while waiting in line, cooking, or talking on the phone, for example.

As you get used to your singer’s stance, you may find that you feel more relaxed and better in general. That makes sense, since this is the way your body was meant to stand. Great posture is just one of the many wonderful benefits of voice lessons as you learn how to be a better singer; you will likely look taller, thinner, and more confident just by standing this way. Embrace your singer’s stance and welcome a more relaxed, poised, and musical you.

Elaina RElaina R. teaches opera voice and singing in Ann Arbor, MI, as well as through online lessons. She is currently working on a Master of Music at the University of Michigan, and she has a B.M. from the University of Southern California. Learn more about Elaina here!

 

 

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Photo by The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas