Is there a single “powerful secret” revealing the only way to really improve the singing voice?
In the past, this theme was sometimes peddled by vocal coaches selling a “singing system”. This came complete with an obscure (and trademarkedTM) vocabulary!
The idea was that one could only get better at singing if they found the “right” teacher – preferably someone with a resume that included celebrity singers. Only then could they release their potential.
Having a skilled and qualified vocal coach or singing teacher is invaluable in the learning process, and there certainly are wonderfully informed celebrity vocal coaches.
Yet, there are dangers to the “find-the-secret” thinking that drives people to think they need a “celebrity class” coach before they can move ahead.
First, the tendency for singers to view themselves as merely the passive recipient of knowledge – their teacher was the only “expert”- not them.
Second, this approach limits what can be learned to the knowledge of just one teacher. For, that sole teacher may have worked in isolation, without the opportunity to test their ideas widely.
The biggest danger of all:
The misguided thinking that there is just one activity that will truly set free one’s singing voice.
There Are Many “Fronts” to Improving at Singing
Many singers today are viewing themselves as “active” in the process of learning.
Instead of hoping to stumble upon single “secret” from a slick coach, singers are turning to knowledge gleaned from a variety of fields. This includes the latest research on the psychology of practice to insights from medical research – and even knowledge of room-acoustics.
This means that singers will consult a variety of experts – and see themselves as becoming their own experts over time.
Even more importantly, these singers know that there is no single activity that will bring them singing success. There are many activities that need to be pursued simultaneously.
What Successful Singers Do
We want to share the activities that we see successful singers pursuing. By “successful” we don’t only mean “pop stars”.
At Singdaptive we’ve worked with pop stars – but also leading a cappella groups, classical choirs, jazz singers and leads in musical theatre in Soho and on Broadway.
These singers have been “successful” in the sense of attaining musical goals from a successful audition for an award-winning ensemble to a Grammy winning album.
The insights you see below are based on interviews with hundreds of singers. They have worked at achieving their goals in fields as diverse as rock n’ roll, a cappella vocal jazz and musical theatre.
The comes out of our research for the the book, The Ultimate Guide to Singing, which features the insights of 135 Music Industry Professionals – it’s now into its 3rdedition.
The 7 Actions of Singers Who Improve Their Singing
1. Singers make a unique commitment to practice
“Practice” conjures up a vision of a traditional windowless “practice room” with fabric walls, a music stand, and a keyboard.
But what we’ve noticed about successful singers is that their commitment to practice is as unique as they are. They have adapted their practice habits to their genre, the tech they have at hand, and the space available.
They may have found a strategic way to build-in daily practice whilst working two jobs. Most importantly, these singers have concrete goals to put their practice to the test: performances that are geared realistically to their level, yet challenge them to stay on the cutting edge.
These might range from singing to one’s dog, to a gig at the local pub; from a choral concert to a solo performance. In other words, these singers consciously use performances to give shape and direction to their practice.
In the video below Musical Director Matthew Howe shares how a strange rehearsal space helped him to get better at singing.
2. Singers identify a focussed way to “up” their music knowledge.
There are an overwhelming number of “fronts” on which a singer can push forward in their understanding of music — from learning a musical instrument, becoming more expert at rhythm – or even just listening to the music they love more intentionally.
But how does a singer choose a path from so many options? This path must be shaped by the singer’s interests, skills and aspirations. So, it’s a matter of pausing, assessing oneself and considering one’s overall goals.
These goals might range from being able to send the right musical cues to a band to understanding the Italian terms to indicate musical dynamics.
After this, singers choose a short-term theoretical edge to develop. In the video below, Music Teacher Kathy Alexander shares the many areas singers look at to improve their singing.
3. Singers discover how vocal health can support their singing dreams.
Vocal technique can differ from one genre to another, but what remains the same is the basic truth that singing should never cause pain.
Many singers get better at singing when they learn how to make sounds they want in ways that are sustainable for the pressures they face.
The way “into” vocal health can differ from singer to singer. It may be understanding some aspect of anatomy, developing their breathing technique, learning how to relax a certain muscle-group when singing. Sometimes they discover that a certain way to visualise or understand the singing process transforms their singing.
What these singers don’t do is to leave an understanding of the voice to specialists – they become fascinated by the ability of their own voice to produce sound in a healthy and efficient manner.
In the video below Speech-Language Pathologist Alysia Jeske explains the relationship between ingesting food and drink on the vocal folds.
4. Singers zero-in on a way to become more creative
Sometimes the only way forward in our lives is to think outside the box. The same is true with our singing.
Don’t think being creative is only for singer-songwriters. There are many ways for singers to be creative. This includes introducing movement into performance, writing poetry, looking at the lives of creative singers, using a tech tool such as vocal looping – even dressing differently for a concert.
Improving at singing means not waiting until everything else is “done” (which it never is!). Instead one commits to a creative practice that becomes an aspect of one’s daily routine.
We should also add that the attempt to write music, even when not intending to use it, has helped countless singers discover deeper ways to connect with their music.
In the video below, New York City-based Jazz Singer Emily Braden shares what it means to be artistically free as a singer.
See also Singing in a Culture of Judgement.
5. Singers Own the Audio
Audio technology and acoustics is something we normally associate with experts such as sound and acoustical engineers.
However, singers who push ahead in their singing have learned how to avoid being at the complete mercy of engineers and technicians. They have mastered the audio areas that lie between their voice and the ears of those listening to them.
In pop and rock singing this may include mic technique, how to set up a PA or how to set “gain” on a mixer. For classical or choral settings, it may mean an understanding of how a particular room or performance hall is likely to affect your voice or your blend. In musical theatre it may mean understanding the practical differences between different types (and placements) for headset mics.
Singers who get better at singing know something of the theory and the practice of having their voice reach their listeners’ ears. In the video below, sound engineer Kevin Alexander explains the role of natural room reflections/reverb in singing.
6. Really Connect with their Audience
At the end of the day, what an audience remembers more than the technical excellence of the singer, is the degree to which they were moved by the performance.
Some call this the “emotional connection”, “electricity” or even the “X-Factor.
Singers who get better at singing do not assume that this dimension will automatically occur. They study the factors that they most need to address for their singing to move beyond mere technical excellence to reach every singers dream: a memorable performance.
Steps ahead in this area can include how to best speak to one’s audience, how to recover – or capitalise on – a “mistake”, how to manage anxiety and how to understand, more deeply, the cares and concerns of audiences (even those who connect with the singer online!).
In the video below, Vocal Coach Juliet Russell explores the layers of emotion involved in singing.
7. Singers Improve Singing by Surrounding Themselves with the Right Team
Remember that mistaken idea about finding one “singing secret” that will suddenly unleash the power of your voice?
Singers who improve at singing learn from a variety of sources. That’s basically what we do here at Singdaptive. We’ve brought together a team of teachers which includes vocal coaches, medical specialists, audio technologists, creativity coaches – and even a makeup artist!
We provide free content on all of these areas.
More importantly we help singers identify their unique focus through our Singer Survey. If you want to get started on the journey you can simply start here with our Survey. You can learn more about the survey and profile here.
So, whether or not you surround yourself with the folks here at Singdaptive, we hope you’ll remember that the goal is not for you to find “the secret” but to get better at singing – in all of these areas!
Singdaptive is the new way to learn singing and reach your singing goals. You’ll receive personal one-on-one coaching through video exchanges with a lead instructor who is supported by a multidisciplinary instructor team. You will do this at your own time and pace. Because we have a diverse team, you can work on any singing-related goals from technique, to performance, recording, vocal health, vocal effects, promotion and more…