Sing, sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong!
August 13, 2009 7:56 PM   Subscribe

Teach me how to sing. Before I investigate an actual singing teacher, are there any online tutorials or guides that could help me learn how to sing better?

I like to sing, but like most people I limit this to my shower, my car and the very occasional karaoke night. Oh, and Sing Star. I'm not terrible, but I'm not great. Possibly, all I need is more confidence.

But before I fork out money for professional help, I wonder if there are things I can do/know/learn by myself to improve my singing ability. I have no particular career ambitions for this; let's consider this a hobby, an instrument I'd like to be able to play for fun.
posted by crossoverman to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I actually asked a similar question back in January 2007 that might be worth checking out.
posted by DMan at 8:12 PM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

You didn't mention what kinds of music you want to sing, but Melissa Cross is interesting in that she combines her formal training with good advice for all sorts of rock singers, including 'cookie monster vocals' and other kinds of screaming.
posted by umbú at 8:15 PM on August 13, 2009

Oops. Here's the Melissa Cross link that works.
posted by umbú at 8:16 PM on August 13, 2009

Warning: the link above plays music upon opening.
posted by umbú at 8:17 PM on August 13, 2009

Best answer: From the perspective of a trained singer, the best thing you can do is practice more. You're getting a good basic start with what you've described, but I wonder how accurately you're actually singing. Enthusiasm is key, but it's not the same!

So try recording yourself singing a few songs, and then listen carefully to the recordings to see where you could do better. Are you too breathy in places? Do you have a particular range that is comfortable (are certain notes too high or too low)? Not having a big range isn't a big deal (hey, just listen to Darius Rucker or Mike Doughty), but you can stretch it if you work carefully.

Also, you don't specify what kind of singing you'd like to do. I'm guessing you just want to be better at pop and other stuff you sing around friends. Nevertheless, one of the things common to all types of singing (and what I struggle with when I don't sing very often) is consistency. There are a couple aspects of this. First, can you produce the same notes in the same way every time? Second, can you make the different notes sound similar? You may notice (or hear) different "voices" referred to as the chest voice, head voice, falsetto, etc. Better consistency means that you can move easily between the notes without making some notes stand out more than others. (The example I always use is when LeAnn Rimes sings "How Do I Live Without You" and in the chorus she goes up on "How do I ever... ever survive?" Hopefully you can hear how those two parts sound different -- she's "belting" the first part in her chest voice and goes up to the head voice in the latter.)

The scales, etc. that trained singers do are meant to keep their voices flexible and consistent. When we warm up, we try to do things small at first, then a little higher and a little lower bit by bit. You should take the same approach. Do it little by little, and pay attention to how you sound and feel.

Good luck!
posted by Madamina at 8:22 PM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

A friendly reminder: if it ever hurts, you're doing it wrong!
posted by stray at 8:29 PM on August 13, 2009

Response by poster: I tend to do pop stuff at karaoke but I'm a big fan of musical theatre, which is what I mostly listen to in my car. Although saying I'd like to sing in a "musical theatre"-style isn't terribly specific since that really covers a wide range of styles. I like everything from Rent to The Last Five Years; A Little Night Music to Avenue Q. But that would be the type of singing I'd like to get right - or at least that's what I'll have the most fun practicing!
posted by crossoverman at 8:44 PM on August 13, 2009

In all honesty, look into just one or a couple of lessons with a professional. I'd been singing for ages until I finally decided to try a semester of lessons in my senior year of undergrad. I kept taking lessons for a whole year, but really the most useful ones were the first two or three - the voice teacher noticed and introduced solutions to problems I hadn't even fully realized were driving me crazy in almost no-time at all.

There's really no substitute for having someone sit down with you (Or, well, sit down at a piano while you stand and try not to sound silly) and address whatever your own unique idiosyncrasies are, I think. Not to say that the other sources won't be handy, but I know that I just underestimated the usefulness of formal lessons for far, far too long.
posted by Rallon at 9:16 PM on August 13, 2009

Find out if there's a local choir you can join. I'm in one that does pieces from South African, Eastern Europe, all over — and it's terrific fun. It also really builds your ear and stretches you upwards. And pay no mind to if it's cool or not. Singing with other people is absolutely joyful.
posted by argybarg at 9:31 PM on August 13, 2009

Best answer: If you are looking at learning musical-theatre-style singing, you must be VERY careful about pushing into the high ranges. That stuff is generally written to be belted in high registers, which is a fantastic way to get nodes on your vocal chords if you haven't learned how to support your voice with your breath. Unfortunately, that really does need someone who knows what they're doing spending a bit of time with you to see what you're doing now and what needs tweaking.
I speak from experience - spent a year singing from tapes by myself (all the evil spawn of Andrew Lloyd Weber) and ended up almost ending my vocal career completely when I developed nodes. The first doctor I saw was pushing for surgery, which scars the vocal chords, and it was only because I was lucky to know someone who knew a specialist in vocal damage in performers that I got non-damaging treatment - total silence for three months and time with a speech therapist to learn how to support my voice properly. Those three months of silence were unfortunately my first term in theatre school...

That said, I do highly recommend Kristin Linklater's "Freeing the Natural Voice" which we used as a textbook. It is very focused in the body and could definitely help you to avoid the dangers of self-training. Lots of focusing on the important individual body parts that are needed for singing and what they should be doing and how they should feel and react etc.
posted by Billegible at 9:44 PM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

This book has some excellent exercises that are very different from other singing exercises -- they really get at the fundamentals of the fundamentals, and I've heard them make a huge difference in myself and others, even after only a few minutes. The text is a bit dense (what, was he trying to impress the medical profession?), but if you just skip to the parts with the exercises you'll be golden. Highly recommended.

Of course, you could just read the whole thing, too.

There were also a lot of "simpler" how-to-sing books at Barnes & Noble last time I checked. A library might be worth a check, too.

Not an online resource, to be sure, but let's not forget our oldest and dearest friends, the books.
posted by amtho at 6:13 AM on August 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

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