Roll up the windows....
January 21, 2006 3:33 PM   Subscribe

I can't sing well. At all. What are some good methods I can practice at home to improve?
posted by Mach3avelli to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm no expert in singing, but I know that we perceive our own voice in a way that may sound very different to others ...try recording yourself and listening to yourself'll notice your voice isn't the same as the one you hear while speaking.
posted by elpapacito at 3:36 PM on January 21, 2006

First off, consider taking a couple of lessons. In a very real sense you're buying the ears of the teacher, and it would be a good way for you to get some immediate feedback. If you're in college you could probably find a voice major or a music ed major who would give you some pointers pretty inexpensively (I once traded a quickie voice lesson for a 12-pack of beer).

Some information on the types of things you want to work on would be helpful here. Are you dissatisfied with your range? Do you not like the sound of your voice? Do you have trouble staying on pitch?

Unless you are truly tone deaf (a condition that is much rarer than one might think... I'm looking at a source right now stating that the condition is found only in roughly 5% of the population, predominantly in males), or have some physical condition that is holding you back, you can learn how to improve your singing.
posted by the_bone at 3:46 PM on January 21, 2006

I used to sing badly, and being self-conscious, I tended to sing quietly. Ironically, it's much easier to control your voice and sing well when you sing louder.

So I would suggest a lot of practice in private, at a good volume. If you can get the confidence to sing loudly in public, you'll find it's much easier to hit the right notes too.
posted by nomis at 3:53 PM on January 21, 2006

What are you trying to sing? Consider not only your voice, but the song style, and whether your natural voice is a good fit. Johnny Cash was a terrible singer, but his style is what carried the day. I don't think anyone is ever going to ask Madonna to sing opera. Go to a karaoke bar and try out songs from all different kinds of style.
posted by frogan at 3:59 PM on January 21, 2006

If you have a Playstation2 or an Xbox, you could try Karaoke Revolution. Great fun and instant pitch feedback. It won't help you like lessons will, but it gives a great framework in which to practice singing.
posted by ulotrichous at 3:59 PM on January 21, 2006

Response by poster: I can sing in falsetto (think Radiohead or Sigur Ros), but I'd like to expand my range. Like, transferring between pitches, I have to completely rearrange my throat. I don't know how to transition smoothly. It sounds like I'm doing voices rather than singing.

I'm definitely not tone deaf, as I can whistle a mean tune, but it's all in the throat-stomach-buttocks muscles that I need to condition.
posted by Mach3avelli at 4:07 PM on January 21, 2006

- Posture counts. Make sure you sit up or stand straight.
- Have a full column of air, take deep breaths.
- Sing loud. Louder than you think you should.
- Make sure you're singing out of your mouth and not out of your nose. Imagine projecting your voice a foot in front of your mouth.
- Practice specific transitions. Find a piece where you fail a transition, and repeat it over and over. Listen to where you have trouble. Think about the feeling in your throat and mouth when you hit it right.
- Try singing a scale. It's harder than it sounds.
- Try specific jumps. Whole notes and half notes are easy, but sixths are tough to do. Minor sixths are even harder.
- Don't be embarrassed if you mess up; we all do. If you mess up, just sing it over until you get it right.

In summary: carefully observe the mechanisms in your body that change the tone you produce. Gain control over them through practice.
posted by maschnitz at 4:28 PM on January 21, 2006

I'm a studio engineer, and I often recommend Discover Your Voice (Amazon UK link) by Tona De Brett to singers who need some help with technique. It's a book and CD set, and contains great excercises for getting the most out of your voice.

I really would consider a few lessons, if possible though. A combination of the two should show a real improvement fairly quickly. The techniques a teacher and the Tona De Brett book / CD can teach you are incredibly useful.

And most of all - enjoy it!
posted by coach_mcguirk at 4:31 PM on January 21, 2006

I'm impressed by the advice offered here -- it's thorough, but it may be a bit much to wade through. I'll try to summarize the most important bits:

What everyone else says -- relax. Tight vocal cords and concentrating too hard will strangle your voice and make it harder to control. If you can, take a yoga class or just spend some time breathing deeply. The more deeply you can breathe and the longer you can hold breaths, the more powerful your voice will be and the better you'll be able to control it.

You know how pianists practice scales? Vocal exercises, the stupidest things on earth to sing, are their equivalent. Think of "Do Re Mi" from The Sound of Music. Practicing scales helps you learn to hit the basic notes with accuracy. There are other vocal exercises designed to help you articulate better (designed like tongue twisters), breathe better, move between notes on a scale better -- and the more you practice, the more agile your voice becomes. (On preview: from what you just posted, you need to read everything you can about the chest voice. But as someone who's had lessons, personally, I was unable to fully understand these very physical concepts from a book. I needed a teacher.)

If you already love to sing you know this, but it bears underscoring -- there's also the ineffable quality, the peculiar link between your brain, the mechanics of your throat, and your soul. Your voice is like any other instrument; you can keep it in good condition, practice with it to build your abilities, consult a professional teacher if you get serious enough to see what its true limits are. But really, the damndest people make for amazing singers (I'm thinking strongly of Tom Waits of the moment, but there are so many people this could be said of). What they lack in mechanics they make up for by paying attention. Phrasing -- how you personally choose to sing each word, each note, makes so much difference I don't even know how to best describe it. Here's one example: "I Will Always Love You," as sung by Dolly Parton vs. as sung by Whitney Houston. Two mechanically beautiful voices, but one reading is intimate and heartbreaking, whereas the other is mostly diva bombast. Parton's version is not entirely dependent on her beautiful voice. She could be mechanically mediocre, but her choices of phrasing -- when to rest, what to emphasize, when to hush -- it's that instinct and feeling for the song and what it emotionally conveys that makes what could be a merely pretty voice remarkable.

You develop that instinct by developing an emotional attachment to a song. Keep listening to a lot of music, and specifically try singing those songs that move you in some way, whether to anger or sadness or joy. Think of it as a kind of conversation you're having with another person who matters to you. You're telling that person you love them or hate them, that you want them in bed or want them under the wheels of a bus. You are delivering a message, and your phrasing is what will permit it to be best heard. When you can do this, you'll have a powerful way to bypass your mechanical deficiencies, or even to turn them into modes of expression that are yours, and only yours.
posted by melissa may at 4:35 PM on January 21, 2006

Please, please find someone to take lessons from. College voice students are cheap and usually pretty good, but anyone is better than nobody.

If you do stuff the wrong way, and keep doing it the wrong way, you can permanently harm your voice. Someone really needs to listen to you and teach you from there.
posted by booksandlibretti at 5:03 PM on January 21, 2006

Or you could just let Randy and Paula give you video lessons.
posted by super_not at 11:10 PM on January 21, 2006

What others have mentioned here is good.

1. Learn what your diaphragm is -- sing from your chest, not your throat or head, or you run the risk of ruining your voice. That's where voice lessons come in, but you can figure this out from a good book as well. If you sing from your chest using your diaphragm to belt it out, you'll sound like a rock singer, not Madonna (I like Madonna's music, but her voice is very thin because she sings up in her throat.)

2. Once you can belt stuff out, practice singing things slightly out of range to strengthen your voice. Keep raising and lowering the key of what you're practicing to exercise your voice.

3. Practice practice practice - we-'re talking physical dexterity here, and like sports, a good voice, in my experience as a mentor, takes about three years of constant practice to start developing. Yes, you might have range and ability in one year, but but polish??? Keep practicing and it will come.

Good luck!
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 4:28 PM on January 22, 2006

To improve your sense of tune and intervals, I recommend whistling.

I whistle all the time, and i'm sure it's improved my singing/my ability to recall a tune.

You may be embaressed to do it public but sod 'em! Do it for yourself, not for other people.. If you do it in public, it's like performing so it's good fo teaching you to be less self-conscious.
posted by jwhittlestone at 6:58 AM on January 23, 2006

Ditto on taking lessons. And it's definitely good to be uninhibited with your singing, but I'm reticent to say "sing loud." You don't want to hurt yourself. If you're feeling tight or painful in your throat, you're doing something wrong.

Realizing how to relax and open the back of my throat really helped me reach a new level with my singing. My tendency early on, which I've noticed in a lot of inexperienced male singers, is to tighten everything up and really squeeze the throat to try and reach a high note. This is the exact opposite of what you should do. The power comes from the breath and the diaphragm. The throat should be open and relaxed.

Singing scales is good, and arpeggios, too (an arpeggio is the notes of a chord played separately. e.g., a C major arpeggio is C E G. A common vocal exercise is to cover a full octave, then go back down, so you'd sing C E G C G E C). If you have access to a guitar or piano, try playing the scale as you sing it and try to match each pitch as closely as possible. Then when you're more comfortable, only play the first and last notes as you sing, but make sure you're really listening to yourself for accuracy. Another variation on this is to harmonize with the instrument as though you were harmonizing with another singer; e.g., play a major scale on the piano and always sing a diatonic third above it, or a perfect fourth, or a perfect fifth, etc.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:14 AM on January 23, 2006

« Older best ticket price from NYC to Grand Bahama Island?   |   Name that movie - please. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.