This article is part of a series intended for musicians that are interested in learning secondary instruments & new skills that will expand their versatility.

Also visit: 15 Guitar Tips for Non-Guitarists

This article was inspired by a handful of my instrumentalist friends recently asking me for tips on basic singing technique.  They’ve either been offered gigs in which backup vocals are involved or have to work with singers quite a bit and know that in order to better communicate with vocalists, it’s helpful to understand what they do.

While I was prompted to write this article by those specific friends, it is appropriate for anyone interested in singing.  I’m talking singers of rock, jazz, choral work, opera, hardcore, yodeling… you get the picture.

So who wants to learn how to sing? Who wants to learn how to sing with more control? Who wants to understand his/her own voice better, to be a more confident singer with more flexibility and better endurance?

I do I do!

Great! Come with me…

Helpful Tools:

1. A mirror

2. A recording device

3. Privacy. It is in your best interest to really be practicing and not performing. You want to work and rework your weaknesses, not sing the nicest parts of songs for someone you know is listening.

Diagram 1
Diagram 1

Diagram 2a
Diagram 2a

Diagram 2b
Diagram 2b

Step One- Posture:

1. Stand with your ears, over your shoulders, over your hips. It’s easy to remember and an easy alignment to achieve.

2. When you stand in the above position, your chin will be at rest. Keep your chin down. It is common to see singers lifting their chins when straining to sing a high pitch. One might think, “It’s a higher note, so I’m gonna bring my mouth up higher to sing it.” Nope! Lifting your chin actually makes singing more difficult. It cuts off the air supply traveling through your trachea (less air= less control and focused sound). It also changes the position of your soft palate, which in turn makes it difficult to achieve full resonance through your largest resonating cavity, your pharynx. (Singing is all about air being manipulated into specific vibrations through your vocal chords and then resonance cavities, which are spaces in your head.)

Step Two- Breathing:

1. Keep your shoulders still while inhaling and exhaling.

2. Breathing in is a little more controlled while singing. Physically you are filling your lungs, but it helps to let your lower abdominals release and, for the lack of a better word, your “tummy” to pop out.

3. Breathing out, in the form of singing, is very controlled. Teachers and choir directors often say, “Sing from your diaphragm.” Which is odd because your diaphragm is just below your lungs and they are normally pointing to their lower abdominals at the time. Your diaphragm sits on your stomach like a hat and is not consciously controlled. What are controlled are your lower abdominal muscles and rib-action muscles, or intercostals. (Rib-action muscles are the side muscles at and just below your ribs.) The most controlled stream of air is a combination of the steady contraction of the abdominal muscles in conjunction with the holding of an expanded position of the rib-action muscles.
In other words, your tummy pushes in, while your ribs stay expanded.

Step Three- Sing!

1. Start by singing vowel sounds by themselves (A, E, I, O, U)

2. Here are the variations of vowel sounds I would like you to start with
[ɑ] as in balm [ɛ] bet [a] base [i] bee [ɔ] ball [o] obey [u] boom

(Letters within [] belong to the International Phonetic Alphabet used by singers.)

3. Try singing [ɑ] [ɛ] [a] [i] [a] [ɛ] [ɑ] (aaahhheehhhhayyyiiiyyyaayyyeehhhahh)

4. And then [ɑ] [ɔ] [o] [u] [o] [ɔ] [ɑ] (aahhawwohhooohohhawwaahh)

If this is difficult to understand in print, just sing vowel sounds you know in this same way.

Do this on one pitch at a time, and slowly. If you really focus the sound, you might hear overtones (ringing sounds above the main note), which are beautiful and almost hypnotic. This is a slow droning exercise to help you get to know your range and how your tone sounds and your mouth feels while singing different vowels. It is also a good way to practice your slow and controlled breathing.

5. Now, sing your favorite song, or whatever you feel the need to work on. Record the first try, listen to it, record it again trying to make improvements (but don’t record over the first try.)

6. Next, try singing that same song, only singing the vowels of the words (still singing the melody of the song.)

I.E. “Blackbird singin in the dead of night…”
“aahiihh iihh ih ih uh eh uh ahhhh…” (Don’t breath in between each vowel sound. Sing it as if you were singing with the words, breathing in between sentences or phrases.)

This can be a tricky thing to do, so slow down and be patient with yourself.

7. Once you feel like you’re comfortable doing that, record yourself singing the song with the words again.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the control over your tone, air flow, phrasing, and your confidence with the song will have improved a lot between your first and latest recording. Don’t believe me? Listen back.

In Review:

Stand in front of a mirror with ears, over shoulders, over hips. Breathe in slowly, letting your tummy pop out. Sing the vowel exercise with one hand on your lower abs, feeling them push in, and one hand on one side of your ribs, feeling them stay expanded. Watch in your mirror to make sure your chin stays at rest and your shoulders stay still. Then, record yourself singing, listen back, record again with improvements, listen again, etc.

Good work student! Please leave questions in the form of comments, which I will try to answer during your next lesson. If this was helpful, I will gladly continue to give these Internet voice lessons, so let me know what you think! (I am also a voice teacher in “real life” and if you live in New York City and would like to study with me, just send me an e-mail at erikalloydmusic@gmail.com.)

Diagram #1 and #2a were taken from, The Functional Unity of the Singing Voice, Second Edition by Barbara M. Doscher.

Diagram #2b was taken from, Your Voice at its Best by David Blair McClosky

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29 Responses to Finding Your Voice: The Basics of Singing

  1. This is a great post. All too often singers in Rock and Pop have no real training and no idea what they should be doing both to improve their technique and sound. I was discussing exactly this with a prodcuer that I manage the other day and we were bemoaning the studio delay that it causes him.

    Artists need to learn that they are probably not the finished article and need to improve in all areas that they can.

    I’ll be sending my blog readers here!

    Ian

  2. how to sing says:

    This is very informative and nice. Thank you so much for this post.

  3. [...] Basics of Singing for Non-Singers – Musician Wages.com [...]

  4. Tim Hall says:

    The imagery of the “tummy” popping out was quite helpful and entertaining. I very much enjoyed this post.

  5. burt777 says:

    Thanks for this piece!

    Do you have any advice on how to sing with vibrato? I ‘ve had quite a lot of singing lessons, and i’m pretty good for backing vocals, but i can’t really sing a beautiful lead. I can only do vibrato if i shake my arms, but i don’t think that’s the “real way to do it”… Where does one start making/finding vibrato? Any help would be greatly appreciated by me and mostly by the people who happen to hear me sing. ;->

  6. Erika Lloyd says:

    Hello Burt777,

    Great question!
    By definition, vibrato is a consistent change in pitch on one tone. It is audible, but small enough that it gives the impression that one note is still being played or sung just with some added “color.”
    In singing, vibrato is more of a natural phenomenon than in say, playing the violin, where you can see your hand shake to produce the slight fluctuations in pitch. A singer’s natural vibrato is often heard as part of his or her vocal fingerprint. However, it can be controlled to a certain extent.
    I do sing without almost any vibrato at all when singing early polyphonic choral work and with a large vibrato (more time between fluctuations in pitch, and larger pitch differences from the center pitch) when singing modern opera.
    For me, it is a matter of the amount of air (more focused air= more vibrato) and a sense of freedom and relaxation in my body, especially vocal mechanism (more relaxed= more vibrato.)

    Your lack of vibrato might have to do with a lot of tension in your jaw and neck. Try doing ten minutes of stretching your entire body before singing. Let your jaw hang with your tongue loose. Sing on a very comfortable part of your range with as much air as possible. Think “free,” think “relaxed,” think “open.”
    Be patient. Try different pitches on different open vowels and record yourself if you can. You can even try doing an over exaggerated vibrato or “spooky ghost” tremolo just to feel what is happening in your mechanism.
    And try to keep your body and neck/mouth that relaxed when going for a more normal sounding vibrato.

    I hope this exercise is of some help to you! Let me know of any more questions.

  7. Bernice Oyimehfu Adebayo says:

    I’ve just discover what I’ve been looking for in my singing music. First I want to thank you for putting this information on the net.

    First I want you to tell me how I can find my voice. It is most important to me. Maybe I’ll send you other request.

    Thanks again.

  8. burt777 says:

    Thanks a lot! I’ll give it a try as soon as i get my mic hooked up to my mixer again! Your guidance is much appreciated.

  9. I am hearing this for the very first time that our shoulder’s should stand still while inhaling and exhaling.It is simply a great post.

  10. Tabitha says:

    I am a vocal student who will be attending grad school in the fall but I have been without a voice teacher for a year now. I somewhat remember the techniques she have given me but often forget to use them. How do I keep my vocal training consistent? Also I find myself rhaspy a lot what should I do? How do you produce airless tones? Also I have

  11. Erika Lloyd says:

    Hello Tabitha,

    Did you take notes or make recordings of your previous lessons? It’s always good to keep some type of record of what you go over with your teachers for later review. If you did, just look through those notes and practice the warm-ups you liked most and sing through music you’ve previously worked on, trying to remember the advice you were given and the learning process you went through with those songs.

    Being a singer is like being an athlete in many ways. Off-season, sports stars still run, swim, and lift weights even if they’re not trying to perfect a specific technique or train for a specific event. They have to keep fit in general. It’s the same for singers. To keep your support mechanism and good posture/breathing habits strong you should try to sing every day. It’s good to focus and learn new music, being your own teacher by recording yourself and listening back, and it’s also good to just relax and sing along with your car radio. In both cases you are keeping your voice “fit.”

    Is your speaking voice rhaspy sounding? Does a lot of air escape in your voice just in everyday conversation? If not, try to control some of that extra air by singing in an exaggerated nasal fashion, like Minnie Mouse or Olive Oil. Feel the sensation of resonance through your forehead and the top of your nose. Try to bring some of that sensation into your normal singing.

    If the rhaspyness is happening in conjunction with a sore throat, something is wrong and you could be damaging your singing mechanism. Are you “belting” a lot. Are you singing for long periods of time without taking breaks? Are you singing over a loud band? You might be straining and pushing in ways that are causing serious fatigue. Write it down the next time that happens. Write down what you were singing, how loudly, and for how long. If you do that every time it happens, you might be able to figure out on your own what is causing it.

    I hope you have a fantastic upcoming semester!

  12. Flora Bosh says:

    Thanks for giving the basic tips of singing. I found these tips really interesting and now I definitely try these to enhance my singing skill…

  13. moses mbanje says:

    Please post more diagrams showing actula vowel positions of the mouth. iNCLUDE DIAGRAMS OF INSPIRATION AND EXPIRATIONS.

  14. Justin says:

    Excellent article! Very helpful for a beginner like me. So clear and informative and great diagrams. Please post more!

  15. [...] Check out the full article by Erika Lloyd here! Tags: Erika Lloyd, jazz, musicianwages.com, Opera, rock, september, The Basics of Singing, Voice [...]

  16. stephen says:

    it feels like finding a bit of comfort in an entire different world.today i’m newly born to singing,tanx for helping me find a start to life in this new world of singing,i’ll make it a duty!

  17. Daniel says:

    I want to thank you for giving me this helpful knowledge…. Can you please write and article on using head voice and falsetto? I am 17 and have been singing since i was 6 but i still can’t sing falsetto or head voice…. Please help me….. Thnx:D

  18. efosa says:

    this post is educative in nature for all singers of diverse genres.
    thank you for such a great post

  19. Isaura says:

    I have a question how can I sing higher with out cracking or straining my voice? and what would you say is a normal volume for singing?

  20. Cristina says:

    Very helpful thanks so much for all of this, really helped a lot

  21. kamal-deepak says:

    I am 32years old,and a very good singer in my school time.My ambition was to became a singer but my parents not allowed to sing.now i m working as a
    supervisor in a bikes workshop.some times when i m in an open space i sing too much.But now my voice become hard and not loudy.please tell me how
    can i improve my voice.
    From-Kamal-Deepak(00919501163714) 1820-Ranjit nagar,
    city-nakodar(jalandhar){punjab}[india]

  22. Erika D. says:

    Wow, I am singing better already. I keep singing through my nose (sounds kinda how Brittany Spears sings) when I change from one high note to a low note, how do I keep myself from doing so?

  23. jack says:

    i cant believe i came on this website because i was singing blackbird and it happened to be on this page. excellent! haha

  24. yoona says:

    Hi, I am a 21yr old female.My friend and I wanted to prusue singing in highschool but had to stop for awhile because of family matter.So when we got into college we decided to pursue our dreams and actually become singers.One ex music teacher told us that we soung good but not great.In order to become singers you need to have a distinctive voice. He knows peole in the music industry.Though he said that we felt moreotivated to really become singers so we challenged him.He told us if we got better at singing then he will set us up with someone and along the way become what we wished for.So we truly want to be singers who dont sing just for fame or use auto tune.we want to improve our voices.Our problems are finding our own true voice and getting it out.Ta
    he other problems are sounding powerful,being incontrol with our voice ,being smooth and fluid also how to sing high to low,singing high pitch also singing with emotion.Pleaw help us.We are really determined

  25. yoona says:

    We really are determined.We practice everday but still a bit confused.But we did tell the guy oneday we will be famous singers and he believed in our confidence.By the way we want to be Japanese singers and we love the culture.were already fluent in japanese and he was a japanese music teache.So he is giving us a chance.Please help us.

  26. Hey there! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post
    reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this.
    I will forward this write-up to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read.
    Thanks for sharing!

  27. Adriana says:

    Hello and thanks for these tips. Can you tell me some basic recording devices to start from? All I have is stand micerophone that I use for Skype, but the sound from it doesn’t really sound well. And it doesn’t sound clear. I have no idea what I should look for. And I don’t know what software to use either.

  28. hector wisdom says:

    Wow this article is a great one.. I’ll like to know clearly the difference between a head voice and a falsetto, coz more often than not I mistake one for the other.. I will aslo like to learn how to falsate

  29. I really enjoyed this article. My experience in auditioning for the x factor, and was told I had Karaoke voice, and I am know my potential is to be the next superstar. I have learned what not to do in an audition. I just want to thank you for your article it was very helpful.

    Thanks

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