Having read various threads, I felt the necessity to chip in my 2 cents and share what I know about singing and practicing with efficiency. Any practice in whatever form is obviously better than none, but sooner or later without a methodical approach, you will reach a point where your progress will simply come to a halt. Hereâ€™s the truth- if you take singing seriously, you have to work out a carefully planned, regimented session of practice and execute that in a disciplined fashion. Sure, I admit that I get tempted to just belt out my favorite songs as soon as I grab the guitar or turn on the stereo when driving. But I refrain from that in the interest of doing the best thing for my improvement. On non-singing days, to fully let my voice recover I try to totally refrain from singing-not to mention that I try not to even speak much. (no, I donâ€™t encourage anti-social behavior by any means. My only point is, the voice is a muscle and needs proper recovery and some things gotta give)
Before I begin, hereâ€™s one point worthy of note- it seems like the vast majority of guitar players are dedicated guitar players rather than serious singers. And most vocalists play rhythm guitar rather than lead. The point is, excelling at one thing is challenging enough. By no means am I trying to discourage anyone whoâ€™s trying to accomplish both but Iâ€™m just stating a general fact. So for guitarists, dedicating yourselves to singing is actually quite a tradeoff in terms of allotting your practice time. But whatever you may be, if you are serious about singing, then read on. It is my hope to shed some useful insight into this matter with some of the knowledge I have managed to garner through experience.
So here's the deal- scales is indeed the very cornerstone of singing. (Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ve heard this a million times but have you really practiced this in earnest?)
So why do we do these boring scales? Think of it this way- doing scales is in fact the most simplified way of singing. Singing a verse let alone a word is actually a complicated process. There are changes in pitch, and there are consonants that can block the free flow of sound. That is why doing scales is the easiest way to produce a resonant sound. Thereâ€™s no words, no consonants, no changes in pitch. Your mind can just focus on singing five familiar notes in sequence sung on elongated Ahâ€™s, Ehâ€™s, Eeeeâ€™s, Ohâ€™s, Ooohâ€™s. You must practice the scales with these vowels because singing is 90% vowels and 10% consonants. The fact of the matter is, singing just the vowels brings forth resonance. Singing a word involves, putting the consonants in between the vowels. So if you were to sing â€œpassionâ€ it would be â€œpAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAssion.â€ This word resonates because of the A. To avoid sounding goofy, make sure you put the right emphasis on the right syllable in a given word.
Among these different vowels sounds (A,E,I,O,U) mentioned above, you will find that the Ah is the easiest. But working on all the other vowels is just as important. This is one key factor in singing well. Do NOT neglect them. Iâ€™ve found that the resonance in these different vowels all progress at slightly different paces. An effective method is, start with the AHHHH, let it resonate and then just change the shape of your mouth. The real difference among the vowels is as simple as that. Easier said than done. But the idea is just to make a smooth, easy transition to facilitate the process. Being the fitness fanatic that I am, this is how I regard this phenomenon- your benching, curls, squats, or whatever all progress at their own paces and you gotta make sure you touch upon all of them because they are all necessary to build a well balanced physique. Ha, thereâ€™s my quirkiness. Yes, I tend to relate everything to working out.
So the important things that you should pay attention to when doing the scales are,
1.Nailing each note very precisely and being able to sustain without going out of tune. Any sort of shakiness in your tone has to be eliminated. When youâ€™re starting out, you might think thatâ€™s vibrato, but nope. Vibrato in singing is a quite an advanced technique. This is a totally separate topic which deserves its own analysis but, just to give you a taste of what this is, vibrato is something that requires an extremely delicate balance between relaxation and a slight degree of tension. It happens when all the basics are fully mastered- when you can do all the basics mentioned here in your sleep.
Anyway, so the shakiness you might experience in the beginning is more akin to someone capable of benching 85 pounds yet attempting to bench 135 and struggling and letting the bar and the weight wobble. So what you have to do is cultivate the ability to closely hear yourself sing AT THE SAME TIME you are singing. However, since singing itself and belting out those notes accurately demand much of your attention, one would have to take baby steps to achieve this. One very effective method to start out with is to record yourself. Surprisingly, even when you thought you were perfectly in tune when singing, when you hear your recordings, you will find parts where youâ€™re out of tune- going flat. Ugh, it sounds so bad when that happens. If youâ€™re slightly sharp itâ€™s ok, but if you go flat, (which is due to this lack of attentiveness), your singing sags and sounds lackluster. The audience responds accordingly. Why does this happen? Lack of attentiveness. Your pitch sustaining can get sloppy if youâ€™re not a 100% alert. Having complete pitch control is quite challenging. Itâ€™s like asking a muscle to hold a weight perfectly still without shaking for some time. For that to be possible, the muscle has to be strong, and well trained. Anyway so, by recording yourself you donâ€™t need to divert your attention too much and you can cultivate one skill at a time. Eventually you need to get to a point where everything becomes totally automatic, where you
1) have total control of pitch
2) are able to hear yourself closely
which in turn
3) reinforces your â€œin tuneâ€ ness and maintain that control of pitch
So this in effect becomes like a cycle. The more you practice, all this becomes totally intuitive. Iâ€™m just breaking all this down in extreme detail for people to understand easily.
2. As you do the scales, you work on your range by moving up in half steps. As you do this, you will find a set where your sound doesnâ€™t resonate as much as the scales in the lower register. You will start straining slightly. And the key here is to find that exact point where you start to strain just a TEENY bit. You must work on that very scale until you perfect it. Perfecting it means training your â€œsinging muscleâ€ so that you can sing that scale with the utmost ease and fluidity. You thereby eliminate the slightest degree of straining. Once that is done, itâ€™s time to work on the next set of scales and perfect that one. So THAT is the big secret to increasing your range. What a surprise.
How do you expect to sing a resonant high A if youâ€™re already straining on an E or an F? Quite logical isnâ€™t it? It all boils down to plain hard work. But believe me, this is effective and methodical. Itâ€™s like building a solid house from the very bottom up. Little by little. Great singers make it look so easy no? Everything seems so effortless/natural. Well, it actually IS FOR THEM because theyâ€™ve spent countless hours practicing that everything is done by sheer instinct.
So aside from scales, what else should be done in conjunction? What's even simpler than scales? Sustaining one note. One pitch, one vowel. Pick a vowel and a note you feel comfortable singing. Focus on full resonance, full control of pitch (no shakiness), steady release of the air youâ€™ve inhaled. (after all, singing is exhaling) Let this process become all automatic so that you are able to mentally detach yourself from this process and are able to HEAR yourself singing. This is where vibrato becomes within your capabilities. Like I said, itâ€™s an extremely delicate point of balance between relaxation and some degree of tension/attentiveness. Anyway, once sustaining one note has been fully mastered like this, you go up half a step. Once you perfect that one, you go up another half step. This is THE simplest way of singing. Youâ€™re just producing a sound. However, simple does not mean easy. This exercise actually gets pretty strenuous and intense. Itâ€™s quite a work-out really and I find that I'm quite tired after belting out some notes, like as though I've done an intense set of benching. So what I do is, I rest for a minute or two (sometimes longer) and then go at it again. The higher you go, the belting out will require greater exertion of energy. When doing this, the mental image I envision is that of an ancient Chinese monk, a master of martial arts gathering all his inner strength/life force and channeling all that to belt out a deafening, piercing sound which knocks out all his opponents even before the fight starts. Ah, my quirkiness. But I canâ€™t help it. This does work for me. And I think my neighbors have been tolerant and generous.(It doesn't hurt that I live on the very top floor of the apartment. When I get to the top of my range, when it gets really loud and intense- around the high G~A# I tilt my head so that my mouth is headed upwards to make sure the sound travels upwards. I'm sure the people living on the floor right below mine can hear me nevertheless. After all, I'm trying to become a Chinese monk capable of causing an earthquake. And I don't practice past 11pm. As silly as all this sounds, finding a place to practice this can become quite a concern. For me, it would be a real hassle to commute to a studio. But the bottom line is this is an extremely important method of practice and it must be done one way or another) So look at Bono or Freddie mercury sing. Iâ€™m sure in order to sing like that, they relied on some sort of visualization technique. Anyway when I do this, I record myself and hear it to make sure it sounds resonant and adjust accordingly at the slightest discordance.
So these two methods (scales and the one note sustaining drill) should be the staple of your practice sessions. Only after this is finished, should you work on your repertoire and sing your favorite songs. I spend a good hour doing the basic drills. After that, I feel fully warmed up. Yea, the voice takes quite some time to really warm up-about 30mins~ 1hr.
So all in all, my practice session usually lasts for about...2~2:30 hours? Sometimes 3. (remember, I talked about taking breaks in between sets. That's important. You're not singing for 3 straight hours without any rest. Iâ€™m saying what it adds up to in total)
Recovery is extremely important. If I practice on Monday, I usually rest until Thursday. On occasion if I feel good on Wednesday, Iâ€™ll practice on Wednesday. Iâ€™ve found this sort of rhythm through trial and error. Once, when I was so eager, I tried practicing everyday, with that â€œthe more the better â€œsort of mentality. I would find myself with my mouth wide open, exerting all the force to no avail. Literally no sound would come out. I felt listless and the session would drag on unproductively. I would try as hard as I could, and I would just sound flat. A wasted session. A bitter lesson for an eager student. Yes, itâ€™s about training hard, but itâ€™s also just as much about training smart. You have to really listen to your body. You must trust your instincts. After years of doing this, once your voice matures, you can perform more often, because you know all the tricks and because youâ€™ve become a wise veteran, a master of singing. You know how to take care of yourself. Guys like Bono and Bon jovi, who sing really high, sing half/full step(sometimes even more) lower than their original recordings. They have to make it easier on themselves because they sing everyday when touring.
During practice I do drink water constantly, bit by bit to keep my throat well lubricated. But I donâ€™t encourage you to depend on water. At a gig, you should reach out for the bottle after a song is finished- not during a guitar solo. Get into the habit of drinking just the necessary, right amount. You donâ€™t wanna be resisting the urge to pee when you canâ€™t at a gig.
When all these basics are mastered, singing does become easy. If you have all the necessary tools, actual singing of lyrics and melody becomes a mere application of everything youâ€™ve worked on. Singing becomes easy. Regarding the need to have a vocal coach, I believe in the beginning, itâ€™s very important. You must head in the right direction right off the bat. Singing is a kinesthetic activity. Itâ€™s all about getting the sound to freely move forward. When one strains oneself to sing higher, the muscle is not strong enough to let that sound freely move forward. Thatâ€™s why it sounds strained, and contained- as if the sound is blocked. The person is working so hard to let that sound come forth yet the opposite is happening. So whatever method of singing youâ€™ve been accustomed to before, has to be unlearned. Bad habits must be corrected. The thing is one must really feel true resonance with oneâ€™s own body. That entails much experience under your belt. Now, all that I have explained will make sense to you only when you start singing in earnest. Trial and error is inevitable. What a teacher can do is help you find that sensation where all the sound is moving forward with great resonance. A teacher can shorten your phase of trial and error. However, as far as mastering the basics is concerned, once youâ€™ve gotten through that phase, the bulk of work has to be done by you. Once you dig deeper and get serious about singing and find yourself in the right direction, you will naturally know when itâ€™s time to really start putting forth the effort and stay dedicated. And in that phase, a teacher really isnâ€™t necessary anymore. You become your own teacher. You know how to distinguish the right technique from the wrong because you know it by feeling from the hundreds of different ways of singing youâ€™ve experimented with.
Think of it this way, a personal trainer can only get you so far. He teaches the exercises and the proper techniques. But after that initial phase, itâ€™s really up to you to consistently put forth the effort and to stay eager and hungry. And it becomes quite a long journey filled with ups and downs and trials and errors.
The bottom line is there are no shortcuts in singing. Like anything else you have to invest at least one year to really see a drastic difference. (once it becomes a habit, give it 2 years, 3, 4 years. Singing becomes just another part of you. Time passes and your voice truly matures and you become a wise veteran of singing) Anyway, you will progress steadily, little by little. You will find your unique way of practicing which works for you. It's a long journey. I see it as an enjoyable, very fulfilling one. I have actually reached a point where I actually truly enjoy doing my scales and note sustaining exercises. A little freaky ainâ€™t it? But yea, thatâ€™s how it is. When you find yourself nearing the point of thoroughly mastering the necessary basics, you come to have a greater appreciation for it. Itâ€™s not some annoying chore anymore. You come to savior the process. Anyway, enough babbling. Singing is about- desire, discipline, enthusiasm, dedication and last not but not least PATIENCE. And you will reap some great rewards. Wow, I think Iâ€™ve spent a good 4 hours writing/editting this. Yay~ my first mini singing thesis. Anyway, I hope this helps. Feel free to ask anything that seems unclear.
Last edited by dennett340
on November 7th, 2006, 3:39 am, edited 5 times in total.