Lessons I’ve Learned in 50 Years of Singing

This post is from Musea issue #189, “This Train Goes Both Ways” issue.



Singing is fun. Here’s some tips that I’ve learned over the decades that will help singers sound better. I wish someone had told me these ‘singing secrets’ when I started out. (Though being headstrong I don’t know if I would have listened!). Anyway, I can’t change my history but I can pass along what may help others. Here goes.

1. Learn how to breathe. Breathing for singing isn’t natural, so you have to learn it. But once you do you will notice that more air, gives you a stronger voice that helps keep you on pitch and hit lower low notes and higher high notes without strain. This takes a bit of learning and practice. Consult those who know how, for more.
2. The major scale has half steps. That means you have to raise your voice, not one note but one half note. Many singers don’t get the difference, and once they come to one of these notes, it upsets the pitch of the rest of the line. Watch the half steps!
3. Don’t force low notes or high notes. Practice and good breathing will help expand your range. Don’t force them. A soft approach on a very low or high note is the best way to go. Yes it’s true, some of us don’t have the range that others do. Some were born with the gift of range – lucky folks. The rest of us have to compensate!
4. Open mouth. This helps with both very low and very high notes. Got this from someone talking about THEIR voice coaching. Tried it and it works. Open your mouth wide (without looking goofy on camera). It really helps.
5. Stand up straight young man! Standing is better than sitting, And standing straight is better than not. This helps your body get the best your voice can deliver.
6. Speak clearly when you sing. Pronunciation does matter. Don’t overdue it – that’ll look phony. But even in the most dramatic delivery, a good lyric needs to be discerned by listeners. And remember a good songwriter worked hard on those lyrics for a reason.
7. Sing don’t yell. There is a difference. You can convey any emotion in singing that you can in yelling. And you should take care of your voice – specially professional singers. When you yell in your early career, you won’t be able to sing well in your later one.
8. Learn how to cheat. One trick I’ve learned is to substitute a higher note for a too low note (or lower note for a too high one). It’s amazing how better a song sounds when you are not struggling to hit a too low or high note. And those hearing it, can seldom tell the difference on most songs.
9. Sing like you talk. Do you like acting that is way too melodramatic? Or is so bland as to be robotic? Neither do I. But you can be a bad actor in singing too. You can sing way over the top. And you can sing so mechanically that you sound like a machine. That may fit the meaning of a song here and there, but for most of us, most of the time, the most convincing singing is singing like speaking. Sing like you talk. Sing like it’s a conversation – albeit a very melodic one – with the audience.
10. Practice singing the melody with a guitar or piano. This helps you to lock in the melody and block out any bad pitch notes, that you may have fallen into. Often when I have trouble with a song not sounding ‘right’ , it’s really a passage where I’m missing the pitch on the line. Find the mistake, and fix it. Because once you have a way of singing a song in your head, it’s pretty hard to change it.
11. Warm water. Drink warm water – not hot, not cold. The warn water will relax your vocal chords. It’s amazing how well this works to fix a lot of singing problems. And watch what you eat. Dry food will stick in your throat just when you come to your favorite song!
12. Don’t end every note the same. Nothing is as boring as a singer that ends every note the same way. It’s like singing the same punch line every time. Show some variety. Let the way you finish a line fit the lyrics and the song. Give your audience some range of feelings through the way you end a melody line. That includes vibrato (that warble in a voice) sometimes, and no vibrato sometimes.
13. Rush the line, or hold back sometimes. You can bring some real drama to your song by rushing the line – singing it AHEAD of the music. That suggests you are singing about something you are in a rush to tell me. OR sing BEHIND the line. That suggests you are in a real laid back mood, relaxed and doing some swinging singing. Remember every trick an actor uses to punch up a script, a singer can use to better deliver the message, feeling, and emotion of a song.
14. Choose a good song. Most people are writing their own music now. Sadly they don’t do it well. It sounds amateurish. Somethings just not right. No matter where you get the song, get a good one. Even the best singer can’t save a no melody, no beat, bad lyric ,song. When you choose a bad song, you have lost, before you began.
15. Singing is not like a machine. You WILL have good days and bad days. Sometimes I sing better on a Wednesday, if I sang on Tuesday! Don’t know why. Remember that all singers, even the best singers have off days. It’s like the weather – it just happens. Let it go. The best you can do is do a reasonably professional singing each time. Then on those days when the magic enters – and your voice, song, and music, all come together, well celebrate the moment and share it with the audience!


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2 Responses to “Lessons I’ve Learned in 50 Years of Singing”

  1. Antti Luode Says:

    Good post!

  2. musea Says:

    Here’s one more – raise your chin to hit low notes. Opening the throat seems to help a lot.

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