I used to walk home from elementary school every day and my favorite part was when I would turn the corner for my street. Because as I would get closer and closer to home, I would hear my grandfather’s voice echo from our house. I would start to pick up my pace towards home because he was always singing one of my favorite songs and my heart would pitter patter. I would throw my arms in the air (as if I were conducting a choir) and I would twirl around and around singing along with him from the front yard. I always tried to time it just perfectly, bursting through the door right in time for the finale.
My grandfather was a professional opera singer in Cuba and his voice was truly magical. He would sing songs from operas like La Traviata and Carmen and as I became a bit older, I would go to the opera with him. The songs were a bit mature for my age and I never understood the words, but the melodies were heaven to my ears. I loved the opera so, so much. I didn’t know it then, but those moments with my grandfather were the reason why I fell in love with music and why I fell in love with singing all together. He taught me everything I know about singing and our after school “duets” became small lessons that have made me the singer I am today.
Do you want to learn to sing? Are you unsure of where to start? Do your friends and family tell you that you are “tone deaf”? Well, do not be discouraged. You can learn to sing. I started with small afternoon singing lessons that really helped develop my voice and you can start to learn how to sing, too. But before we jump right into a Whitney Houston song, let us start with the basics. Just like my grandfather says, “slow down and hear the music”.
You’re Most Likely Not Tone Deaf
Tone Deafness is a real thing. Just because your friends heard you sing a little off tune in the car, does not mean you’re automatically tone deaf. Only 3% of the population is actually tone deaf and you might be thinking, “okay, that’s me, I’m part of the 3%.” But, I highly doubt that. Let’s talk about Tone Deafness. What is it exactly? Pretty much, it means that if you are tone deaf you cannot tell the difference between musical pitches. There is a condition of the brain called ‘Amusia’ which covers a handful of musical inabilities, one being Tone Deafness, that determines this.
Are you still convinced that you might be tone deaf? It really is extremely rare, but if you want to confirm that you are not, you can take a test right now online. Check it out here: Tone Deaf Test (NOTE: This test does not check for hearing loss or damage, it is simply a test that determines if you may or may not be tone deaf).
Breathing Exercises Are a Thing!
I always wanted to jump right into belting out a song and my grandpa would tell me that we had to exercise instead. It was always hard for me to understand why he would make me do silly breathing exercises. Breathe in. Breathe out. Hold your breath. Tongue back. Breathe out. In. Out. Open wide. Relax. Repeat. It was like yoga for breathing. But trust me, it helped! Breathing exercises help with pitch and the duration of your singing. So start exercising and you will learn how to sing in no time.
A few tips I always remember him teaching me were:
- Breathe in so deep that you literally feel the air travel through your body and to your belly button and then to your diaphragm.
- Lay on your back and put a feather (I would steal feathers from my moms pillows) on your lips. Breathe out until the feather is floating and try to keep the feather floating (don’t let your chest drop!) for as long as possible. Breathe in. Repeat.
- Facial flexing. Smile with your lips closed then purse your lips. Smile. Purse your lips. Smile. Purse your lips (it’s a lot harder than you think after 39 or so reps!). This strengthens your jaw muscles and facial muscles.
The breathing/facial exercises continued and usually ended in giggles because they were sometimes silly (like the feather one), but they helped very much. My singing got stronger and it literally felt like I could sing for much longer periods of time, too.
Warming Up is Important
You are not about to run a marathon, so why do you need to warm-up to sing? Just like you stretch your muscles before your Pilates class or heavy lifting session at the gym, your vocal chords need some pre-workout love, too. Your vocal chords are doing a lot of work while you’re singing (especially when you are learning to sing), so it is only kind of you to help them out before your 20 minute concert in the shower, solo, or karaoke night. Whatever it may be, definitely warm up.
A few ways to warm up your vocal chords include:
- Sing your scales. Yup, that’s right, warm up by practicing your major scales. Do this slowly though. Do not jump right into it and don’t rush. Start with C and work your way down first, then up.
- Humming is good for your pre-singing warm-up. Take a breath and exhale saying “hummmmm”. Focus on the sound coming from your lips (this is actually quite relaxing).
- Jaw muscle massaging also helps! Take the palm of your hands and place them under your cheek bones and near your jaw.
Practice to Match Pitch
I love digital tuners for match pitching, but there are several ways to match pitch. What is match pitching though? Match pitching is when you listen to a note and are able to sing the same note on tune, or as you have probably heard before “hitting the right notes”. If you have been told that you’re “off tune” or “not hitting the right note”, that’s because you might not be match pitching correctly. Let’s dive right into how to fix and perfect this problem.
First things first, match pitching is connecting the relationship between your ears and your voice. Once you are able to listen and match what you are hearing, you will be able to sing every note to songs on tune.
Like I mentioned, there are many ways to practice match pitching. My ultimate go-to tool is a digital tuner. Digital tuners are very helpful and they work by first setting the tuner to a note you are comfortable singing. The tuner will then play that note in a consistent tick or “beeping”, so that you can hear the note properly. Then take a second to hear the note in your mind. The process of “hearing” the note in your head is called “audiation”, which is a very helpful tool for singing. Once you are confident with the note, take a deep breathe and sing it. You have successfully match pitched if the tuner does not move. Watch the tuner to see if the note you are singing is too high or low and adjust accordingly.
Another way to practice match pitching if you do not want to invest in a digital tuner, is simply by using a match pitch app. Back in the day with Grandpa, phone apps did not exist, if they did I probably would have used them though. There are many different apps that do the same thing as my digital tuner, so check them out!
Lastly, you can record, record, record! Recording your voice can be scary and awkward (the first time my grandpa told me to sing into a recorder, I busted up laughing for twenty minutes because I thought I sounded so ridiculous — this is normal). Hearing yourself on a recorder is actually the way your voice sounds to other people, so make sure to get use to it and love it. Recording helps you take a step back and listen to your voice from a different perspective. Try it out!
Understanding Vocal Range
You know when you’re singing along to a Mariah Carey song and she hits that high note and you try to do the same and it sounds awful? Maybe not, but I do and I sound like an injured pigeon. That’s because I cannot sing those high notes and I am okay with that. Everyone has a different vocal range which is the range in which you can stay on tune. Once I hit those Mariah Carey high notes, I know that I am out of my comfort zone and out of my vocal range.
Understanding your vocal range is very, very important. You might think that you are tone deaf or a horrible singer, but you are just straining your voice and outside the limits that your voice can go. Now don’t get me wrong, you can practice extending your vocal range, but make sure to take baby steps. Don’t hurt your vocal chords.
I also suggest staying in control of your vocal range. You tell your voice how to sign, how long to sign and in what note, so make sure to have full control over this. Try not to strain your voice or push it too much, you might just end with a terrible finale and a frustrated self.
Also, staying in control during pitch jumps is incredibly important. Practice to stay in tune during a pitch climb or decline because that is what will have you singing a song on tune. Use scales and exercises to work on vocal control. Everyone knows the “do re mi” climb, so give it a try and master it.
Be as Confident as You Can
You have spent months practicing and endless hours dreaming of the day you will hit that stage to sing, so do it with confidence. I get it, I love to sing, but I am not ready to jump on stage to perform. So, start small. Get a group of friends together around a campfire and sing your favorite song. Put a tune on in the car with your partner, and show them what you got! Chug that beer and get up on that karaoke stage! Start small to start building your confidence (and repertoire) and soon enough you will be running up on that stage to perform like it is no big deal!
My grandfather was a professional. I would tell all my friends at school how great of a singer he was ”the best singer in the whole world!” And to me he really was, but he spent hours practicing and years perfecting his voice and I didn’t know that as a little one. All of those after school songs he would sing, was him practicing and all this time, I thought he was just singing. Practice truly does make perfect, so do not get discouraged or frustrated with your voice, especially while you are learning and practicing how to sing properly. Even the best singers out there are exercising their vocal chords, practicing their breathing exercises and recordings themselves over and over again.
I will tell you right now that I am definitely no professional by any means, but I love to sing and I love to sing well, and so can you. If you are passionate about singing and are willing to practice, then you can do it. Whether it be at your best friend’s wedding or at a hole-in-the-wall karaoke bar, grab that mic with confidence and sing your heart out.
Well, what are you waiting for? The music is about to start. I hope you are warmed up!