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Sunday, 31 January 2016

Singing: say it, don't spray it

I've been singing for quite some time now. I don't see myself as a very good singer, technically or otherwise. However I do enjoy it and I get some compliments so it can't be too bad. 

I do try to improve my voice and technique constantly. I'm always looking at new exercises, getting lessons and watching videos to try to get my voice sounding the way I think I should sound. 

I've spoken about this before, but I believe that recording your voice is an extremely effective way to improve. Your ability to hear your strengths and weaknesses in your performance is much easier if you can record it and listen back. 

Even if you don't have proper recording facilities at your disposal, just using the voice recorder on your phone is a great way to listen to, and analyse yourself. In fact, I probably use my phone more than my recording interface because it's easier to set up nice and quickly. 

In my time in recording myself, I often change little things in my technique and then rerecord to hear how the given technique has helped or hindered the result. There's one technique change that turned my voice world around and it’s so simple. 

Sing it how you say it

I picked this up while getting a singing lesson and it became the biggest change in my vocal sound. It seems so simple and I was already doing this to an extent, but this was the first time that I'd done it consciously. 

The technique can only really be described as “trying not to sing it, try to say it in key”. It's trying not to worry about the melody. Forget what the original singer sounds like and forget the strange pronunciation of some of the words. 

Instead you want it to sound more like you, so you sing it how you say it. Like you were saying the sentence to a friend, only you follow a rhythm and melody. Obviously, this is easy to say when talking about covers, but it works, and is probably more important, with your original music. 

An Exercise

If you are like me and you listen to yourself singing and it all sounds a bit too forced and fake, then this is a perfect technique for you. It will definitely help out. 

Start by playing the music that you want to sing to. This can either be on your given instrument or the prerecorded backing track. Otherwise you can just try this out singing along to the song. 

On the first run through, try just talking the lyrics out over the song. Forget the rhythm, forget any kind of pitch or how the words are supposed to be pronounced. Just talk it out like you were saying the sentences to your friend. 

This might seem kind of weird at first as you might be conditioned from all the other singing techniques that you’ve learned over the years. The important thing is that you try as hard as you can to speak as naturally as you can without having to think about breathing or tongue position or vowel pronunciation. The key is to relax. 

Continue doing this until you feel like you can get through the whole track naturally and relaxed. Try recording and listening back to yourself. You might be surprised with how good it sounds. It might not be how the song is supposed to sound, but because you're not straining yourself, it should sound nice and relaxed and like a voiceover. 

Once you’ve got that done, go through again and with the song’s original vocal rhythm. Make sure you keep your focus on keeping your voice in its talking range. 

When you feel like that’s sounding good, add in the melody of the song. This will be the hardest part, as you really need to keep that same talking voice that we started with, only adding pitch to it. Again, you have to remind yourself to relax. 

If you’re like me, you’ll find that the song is much easier to sing, much easier to pitch, breathing is easier and overall everything sounds better than where you started.

The Benefits

You may be wondering what the benefits of this technique are. Why would you want to sound like you’re talking when you’re supposed to be singing?

The reason I think this works is based on sounding genuine and relatable to the audience.

As humans, we respond most to the wide range of emotions that come from the tone of someone’s voice. There are so many things that are said in the way we say something, maybe even more than in the actual words that we’re saying. 

When we’re concentrating too much on pitch, melody, pronunciation, breathing, diaphragm, mouth shape, posture, vibrato, tuning, rhythm, and the countless other things that make up the multi-task of singing, it’s easy to lose those vocal subtleties that breath the real emotion into what you’re singing. 

On top of that, we replace those important emotions with a different emotion. The sound of fear, stress and overthinking of what we’re trying to do. The sound of trying to sound a certain way. Because people are so in tune with what others are feeling by their tone, suddenly the song and the words sound fake. 

You could be singing a song of love, loss and longing, but if you're head is saying “I hope I can hit this next note. How did this prechorus go? Can I sing fast enough for the next section” then your words will sound like that. 

Sometimes it's hard to block these things out, but usually thinking them won't make your performance better… Usually worse. It's best to relax and get into the feeling of the song. Sing it how you’d say it and the rest should come together. 

A lot of people will try to mimic other singers in the way they sing. Unless you are extremely good at it, it will be noticeable and will come across as fake to the audience. People want to hear someone perform as themselves, to hear how they would sing the song. They want to hear someone confident in their own voice and genuine in their performance. 

On top of all that, you'll find that the songs become easier to sing. Because we’re now singing in the way we’ve been talking our whole lives, it's easier to relax. When you’re relaxed it's easier to hit higher notes, pitching is better and we find our breathing patterns even out more. All of this equals to a better performance. 

This becomes cyclic in that the more relaxed you are, the better you perform. The better you perform, the more relaxed you are. 

Give this a try and let me know how it worked for you. Until next time, have a good one!

If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear them in the comments section below. 

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