Learn How to Sing with Singing Success
Learn how to sing with Brett Manning’s systematic vocal training program. Our vocal coaches provide the best vocal training in the world from our studios here in Nashville, Tennessee! Learn from our videos here or schedule a lesson with one of our vocal training coaches. We will help you to find singing success!
How to learn to sing
by Brett Manning
Simply put, singing is sustained speech. So, you could hold out notes on a string of pitches and boom… you are singing! Really the question is “how does one improve singing?”
Are most who sing self taught singers? Do we we need to seek out a voice teacher/vocal coach before we start singing? What is chest voice, head voice and mixed voice?
Does everyone need ear training? Could someone be tone deaf? Are all warm up exercises the same? Do I need music theory to be a good singer? Can I improve my vocal range, vocal tone, high notes, vocal power, breath control and overall speaking voice?
How do I improve my singing
One of the biggest and most common hurdles to singing well is discerning right and wrong TENSION. You can identify if you are singing with wrong tension both visually and audibly.
Visually, you will see muscles flexing in your neck and audibly you will hear a tight restricted sound in your voice. Often times singers will experience tension when they run into a high note that feels like a wall they cannot bust through.
The basics of good singing technique is to get the vocal cords to function independently without the assistance of the outer muscles of the larynx.
Understanding which muscles help you sing high notes and how to sing with power in safe manner takes effective vocal training from a coach who knows effective vocal techniques, knows their own voice, has musical knowledge, can help you match pitch rapidly, fix breath support issues with simple breathing exercises and—this may sound counter intuitive—help you teach yourself to sing.
This is because, when voice lessons drastically improve singing ability, you really should continue to learn to sing when you’re not with your vocal coach.
Also, self taught singers often use tutorials and courses. I recently had a conversation with an old acquaintance I’d only met once by phone or text. Can’t remember.
Anyway, I had heaped praise on his singing that I’d heard on his Instagram and Youtube videos. He was gracious to remind me that he’d purchased my Singing Success 360 and Mastering Mix courses and gone through them repeatedly. It showed. His style, tone and overall technique had my mind blown. 🤯
The most common tension points they you can check on yourself is an overly raised larynx, the digastric muscles (muscles under the chin, involved in swallowing) neck tension, jaw tension, and your mind. We will dissect each of these.
The main issue with the larynx is it can shoot up and make a very restricted feeling in your throat. I think of the larynx like a door.
When the larynx hikes up, it chokes off the sound but when it is down or neutral (we say down because a neutral larynx feels like you are pressing the larynx low, when you’re merely countering muscles that raise the larynx) the sound is free to flow out.
There are times when the larynx can go up a little for tonal variation, but it should never cause the tight feeling. You will notice it raising slightly, yet comfortably when singing in the pharyngeal resonance and a little bit for whistle voice. Other than those it remains neutral.
The Digastric Muscle
This is your swallowing muscle. This is a stubborn muscle! If you put your thumb behind your chin bone and slide it back towards the to of the neck. Now swallow you will feel the digastric muscles activate and push downwards against your thumb.
If this happens when you sing, you will feel that tension we talked about. A tension that does not help your singing voice, that resists freedom in the vocal cords, decreases vocal range and makes singing songs less enjoyable.
Staccato exercises in vocal fry are great for disengaging digastric muscles and freeing up high notes, as well as removing constriction of your overall tone. These exercise can be accessed in our best seller Singing Success 360.
A great way to see if you are using the external muscles is to watch yourself in a mirror when you sing or do vocal exercises. If you see a flare then you have caught the tension. The neck can be tied to the mouth widening and the singer reaching for a note.
The fact that some singers may have the disrepute of ‘bulging veins’ in their neck while singing powerfully, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Some people are just more vascular and you can see the blood delivery system in action as they increase air flow and vocal cord tension, as well as the extension of range!
However…. when you see veins AND muscles bulging out, you’re witnessing an overload from outer muscles of the larynx. Muscles that were never intended to help you sing that will strain your voice. The vocal tone will be compromised. And this is usually from pulling up chest voice to hit high notes. Also is a result of undeveloped or underdeveloped head voice and consequently, lack of a balanced mixed voice.
You may be surprised at how often our mind gets in the way of our voice. Typically it is revolved around doubt or anxiety. Most the time singers are in unknown areas or constant problem spots so they get nervous and overcompensate or back out of what they were attempting to sing.
beating the mental game
To overcome the mental struggle, you have to practice singing songs in your own style, find a comfortable vocal range and keep your practice session to about 30 minutes or less. Especially if you’ve just started singing.
If you wand to sing a song that challenges you, realize that every great singer has been humbled by aiming too high too soon. The immediate goal, as you learn to sing, is NOT to sing the same note, the same way that a prodigy has been singing for 10 years. In fact, you don’t have to sing songs the same way or same key as the original artist.
The approach will insure solid vocal health, and you won’t be inn your own head trying to compete. Just be a better singer building a better voice.
Also, a good voice sounds better than many singers with great voices if you sing your song with one crucial element: CONFIDENCE!
get good practice habits
Even if you have tremendous natural talent, singing along with Mariah Carey or picking other songs you’re not ready for, will give you stage fright.
Make sure your commit to regular practice sessions. Learning to sing songs is a distinct art form and most every famous singer has had private lessons for many years.
Singing the wrong notes for the sake of unique style can bring about humiliation. And, an experienced, well-trained coach can help you identify notes that give you style choices on for trills, licks and runs.
Initially, you should limit your time from 20 to 30 minutes a day, increasing 10 minutes each week, working up to 1 hour a day at least every other day. Many pro’s can sing from 2-5 hours a day. But you should taken frequent breaks, working on breathing exercises or practicing piano and/or guitar is great way to break up monotony and give your singing voice a rest.
Finally, in the beginning, matching pitch, figuring out what notes in a song require you to sing in chest voice and which ones require chest voice, can be tricky.
Often, figuring out which vocal register should be used within your vocal range and what vocal exercises are your greatest need, can be worked on in private lessons. So singing the whole song the first practice session could easily fatigue your voice. Learn a verse at a time until you have each line comfortable and confident.
Also, this is why—if you teach yourself to sing—it might be like teaching yourself to play basketball. You can play better, but a little instruction can shave years off your development.
If you practice singing alone, you won’t have the refined, musical ears of someone who’s had years of singing lessons and/or coached for years.
When to rest
As soon as you feel any stress or ashiness in your throat, a loss of range, an airy head voice, scratchy chest voice or you simply don’t sound good singing even the easy songs, you need immediate rest!
Now each problem has a more targeted solution, but one solution that can be used for each issue is watching yourself sing in the mirror. Your goal is to not activate an external muscle. So keep the form relaxed in your neck all over the song or exercise you are doing. If you see anything flare up start over and try again. Singing lessons are a great place to get more specific attention to these tension points.
Stretch to Alleviate Neck Tension
Also, these 5 neck stretches are easy to perform:
- Yes- nod your head all the way back and all the way forward like a yes nod 10x.
- No- look all the way left and then all the way right, but don’t force it. Repeat 10x.
- I don’t know- when we don’t tilt our right ear to our right shoulder and then left ear to left shoulder. Again, don’t force it. Relax and repeat 10x.
- Do head circles- in case this seams confusing, drop your chin to your chest and roll ear to your shoulder and then tilt your head back and then to the opposite shoulder in a circular motion. Repeat 5x and then switch directions.
- Shoulder shrugs- shrug your shoulder forward, up and back and then down in a circular motion. Repeat 5x and then switch directions.
Breathing Exercises to Alleviate Muscle Tension
Then follow up with these simple breathing exercises to relax your mind and body.
What happens in the areas that have no ‘wrong’ tension?
The above tips are the areas you can work immediately! When working with a voice with no ‘harmful’ tension your voice is free to connect, break, wobble, etc. Do NOT let that worry you. It is like when you balance on one leg and you start wiggling. Your voice might lack stability and some of your notes can be a little shaky.
Control Without Muscle?
Often, when I’m coaching a singer with years of bad habit and un-needed muscle presence stifling their voice, I’ll usually hear the voice lose a little bit of control, because the singer has given up forcing their voice to hit high notes or full sound.
When this new found freedom results in some stability issues, I’ll hear a singer say “how the heck do I control my voice without all that muscle I’m used to using to sing?” I alway say “don’t try to hold your voice in place with your muscle…. hold it with your mind”
This may sound a little like the esoteric guru who is extremely difficult to grasp, but it’s actually quite simple:
Allow your vocal freedom to build like a toddler learning to walk. Trust that the exercises that brought you freedom will stabilize themselves. Healthy vocal cords will produce better singing and reflect a better voice.
Every time you sing with relaxed technique, you can take a deep breath and say ‘I’m not longer stuck in an endless feedback loop with no goal in sight. Now, you’ll hear more accurately, each time you start singing, how to quickly match pitch…. WITHOUT…. all that excess muscle tension.
Rhythm Removes Tension
This is partly true. A relaxed rhythm can almost lull you into a place where your voice seems unattached. More esoteric nonsense? Could be, if there’s no explanation.
As you continue on your quest to learn singing, either with a coach or a course that ‘helps’ you teach yourself to sing 😉 (you’d truly be the only person I’ve known to do this with no help if you were able, because…. we need each other), you can try out songs with compelling beats or subtle rhythms that keep you engaged.
The secret is….FUN! That doesn’t sound very professional, but it’s true nonetheless. For years I’ve worked with Grammy Award Winning artists and serious superstars who’d leave their rehearsals and describe how it went by saying “IT WAS FUN!”
Whether is a straight forward ‘four on the floor’ beat or groove, the entrancing rhythm of reggae or the funk of Prince’s song ‘Kiss’, the right rhythm for you, once discovered, could remove unhelpful tension from your voices.
The Power of Group Singing lessons
Now, at my studio, most of our lessons are private sessions aimed at building one great singer at a time. Using powerful diagnostic training tools, my coaches can pinpoint and fix a weakness in a singer with astonishing speed. Sometimes just using basic warm up exercises.
However…I’ve had singers feel the enormous internal psychological pressure of having their voice carry a song all by themselves until they did one thing:
They joined a community chorus!
As soon they were in a group of competent singers, the struggle to match pitch also seems to disappear. It’s like every voice around you boosts your own voice. I’ve often heard from chorus teachers, that almost NO ONE is a community chorus is tone deaf. A term I reject, because you’d have to be completely deaf for this to be real.
The real matter is whether you can coordinate your singing voice to match pitch. Tone deaf would mean you can’t tell the if bass guitar or flute is high or low.
So do your warmups and practice singing with a friend or friends. You can—if you haven’t already—use the powerful exercises in my best selling Singing Success 360 course. Learning to sing doesn’t have to be boring, painful or stressful.
Some Great Vocal Hacks and Cheats
If it sounds like I’m about to give a pitch for my one-of-a-kind program titled Vocal Hacks, it’s because I definitely am doing this! But I’m going to also GIVE you (I believe we’re supposed to say ‘gift’ you, but whatever 🙄) some cheats to help you sing songs today.
Some of the these cheats are methods that have helped me transform regular folks (aren’t we all?) into some of the biggest singers around the world!
avoid a cappella
For those who are brand new to singing lessons, this means you sing all by yourself. No instruments, no Spotify or Apple Music playlist of songs. To test out why…take a video of you singing “happy birthday to you” or “tinkle, twinkle little star” a cappella and listen to yourself. You’ll be a little stunned. Unless, you’ve been at it for a while or have tons of natural talent.
Most people can’t stand the sound of their own voice unless they’ve had a tons of coaching, recorded some music with a discerning and reputable producer or (sorry if this comes across harsh) they are deluded. 😳 😳
Singing for your friends is often a bad idea! Especially those who only criticize instead of correct or instruct in an encouraging manner.
Your friends are either ‘kiss up’ or ‘flattery types’ or they might be jealous. Some will have a neutral place to comment. ALL of them should at least be encouraging.
Also, for the love of all that’s holy do NOT sing online yet or post any of your singing while learning to sing.
Don’t serve a half baked cake! You know what I mean!
This won’t cost you anything financially, but could be frustrating if you’ve never done a real vocal warmup before.
But….. listening to EASY singers: Neil Diamond’s ‘Play Me’ or Bette Middler’s ‘The Rose’ or any song that doesn’t feel difficult in the slightest and sing each line WITH the singer you most identify your sound with, can be a simple short cut learning to sing with the confidence the artist your listening to possesses. Wow! run-on sentence!
However, this really works if your going to teach yourself to sing. Here’s how you’re going to do this:
First listen to only 1 or 2 lines, starting from the first line of the song. Don’t THINK. JUST LISTEN AND ENJOY! Then play it 5 times total. Don’t even think of singing!
Now, you KNOW the song passively. You’ve removed the stress of singing from the process. Next step is to play 5 more times and lip sync like you’re in a music video. Make the face expressions you think the song requires and the lyrics demand. 5 times!
Now you know the TIMING of the song. You’ve memorized the melody and lyrics!
Next, sing along with the artist. Learning to sing should be fun, so keep a light-hearted spirit and sing it 5 times.
Take a break and do something else. Come back 15 minutes later and see how you sound. Your voice should immediately be more confident. I teach people—after I trick them into connecting head voice to chest voice using their mixed voice—to sing songs like this until they are confident enough to turn down the music and eventually sing with a music track. No vocal help. Just a person who knows the song front to back and back to front.
If you’re trying to teach yourself to sing, you have to have some easy vocal hacks.
Remember when you bought those memory pills, but ironically forgot to take them? 😉 😆 That is the epitome of irony.
So what’s the benefit of a great memory? The learning process speeds up and locks in permanently. The brains memory banks seem to know no limits! So, don’t worry about knowing too many songs, just as long you’ve done ONE crucial thing….
don’t forget the lyrics
Sometimes the negative is a greater reinforcer. I’ll explain.
I’ve coached 10 of 1000’s of singers throughout the last 35 years. MOST of them share this one underestimated fear: forgetting the lyrics.
You see, even I have had multiple dreams that I’m on stage doing a musical broadway type production and I’m preparing to “wing it” with my lines. In these dreams, I’ve missed all the rehearsals and I’m reading the lines right before I go on stage. The lyrics to my song are also hazy in these dreams.
This unpreparedness is one of the BIGGEST causes of stage fright, but one of the least stressed tasks as you practice singing.
Fast is, you should try and memorize all your lyrics and speak them expressively before you sing the entire song. Meaning, you can learn a couple lines at a times as described above. Once you’ve gone through the entire song, start memorizing the lyrics!
When you sing, you tell a story. This should be a chief reason why you want to learn to sing!
One more thing. The recording studio will allow you to have the lyrics in front of you, but it won’t be a great studio performance if you don’t somewhat know the lyrics.
Here’s a caveat to consider: many recording artists have an incredible ability to memorize the melody of a song rapidly. They prefer to barely know the lyrics and have a raw understanding of the song.
They do this so singing the lyrics feels new AND their voice feels fresh and not worn out. Often, singers will grow tired of their song and wear out their vocal cords before they record.
*Note: there’s a way to NEVER get tired of singing a song. Watch for my blog titled “Never get tired of singing the same ole song!”
So experiment singing a song you barely know, then perform it on the stage—after you memorize it perfectly—then go back into to the studio and see which version people prefer. But do NOT tell them which is the first version.
In this section, you might think that I’m now trying to talking you out of singing. But this is actually me telling you the truth. If you decide to teach yourself to sing, it’s going to be a longer, MUCH longer road.
Getting help from a coach can answer all the upcoming live show pitfalls! But we all have to tap out sometime and admit what we don’t know.
When you walk out on a stage, your biggest enemies are:
- Forgetting lyrics
- Singing off key
- unable to hit high notes
- Lack of knowing your singing voice in a microphone
- Weak head voice, causing you to panic and yell
- Tight vocal cords, creating a pinched sound
- Didn’t take time to warm up
- Can’t control nerves, fear of crowds
- Lack of practicing with a sound system
- You’ve NEVER sung if front of anyone…easy fix. Go singin Karaoke!
It’s import to sing all the time….in front of people who love you. Sing in front of the mirror, sing in front of an audience. But before you allow discouragement, make ONE crucial decision:
Hire a qualified coach! This takes the guess work out of trying to iron out the unknowns and then get on stage with massive confidence and sing knowing that your chief encourager—your coach—has helped you sing with confidence and tremendous skill in your chest voice, head voice and mixed voice.
Remember, your vocal coach has heard you sing at your worst and best and you learned to let go of fear because it was safe to let go c because your vocal coach can give you hope.
A great coach, teacher or mentor can help you sing well on your worst day, by diagnosing what’s holding you back and prescribing technique, style, mental, physiological or emotional methods to break through!
Then, get on that stage and do what I’ve seen SO MANY of my students do:
BLOW THEM AWAY!!!
Ready, Set, START!!!
Lets’s do an experiment that can help you all learn to sing confidently TODAY!
BEFORE AND AFTER…..
This is a powerful way to motivate you. You’ll be obsessed with success. Singing Success!