Are you oblivious to vocal technique? Do you want to improve your singing voice but don't know where to start? We've got you covered.
In this article, we'll cover the absolutely essential tenets of vocal technique. These vocal techniques are designed to preserve your voice, make you a stronger singer, and provide you with better breath control to help you grow as a vocalist.
We'll share some of the best vocal techniques below, suggest some vocal exercises, and provide a complete singing techniques glossary so that you can cut through the jargon and start singing.
What Is Vocal Technique?
Your voice is an instrument. Like any other piece of musical equipment, there are certain ways to use your voice to achieve different sounds and best practices to maximize your voice for the better.
In this guide, we aim to uncover singing techniques as they pertain to taking care of your vocal cords, navigating different styles of music, and performing for an audience.
Chest Voice vs. Head Voice
Vocal registers or vocal registration refers to the different voicings typically recognized by vocal teachers. Essentially, these voicings are distinct vocal cord vibration patterns that usually hold a unique area within the performer. You'll find that voicing is typically separated into three spaces: head, chest, and mixed. There are also less talked about vocal fry and whistle registers, though you'll mostly work with the three following vocal types while performing:
The head voice is above the chest voice and includes the higher vocal register. Head voice refers to any high notes that are not strained or falsetto. When you sing higher notes in your range, you're likely to be in your head voice. Head voice earned its name since singing higher notes makes most singers feel more resonance localized in the head range.
Chest voice or modal voice is a more natural register that resonates towards the center of your body. The chest voice is typically fuller than the head voice and has lower, thicker, and warmer tones. Modal voice is most reminiscent of your normal speaking voice.
There is an area between singing your head and chest voice, which is referred to as mixed voice. Mixed voice is more difficult to identify and practice, but learning to master it will give you more control and create a smooth transition from the low notes and high notes of your vocal range.
There are plenty of different singing techniques based on what you're trying to achieve with your voice. Here are a handful of singing techniques you might want to explore while finding your unique voice and vocal style.
Vibrato is a slight variation in pitch while producing a sustained note. It may also be described as a warbling of the voice and mimics the vibrato seen in the instrumental world. Vibrato comes naturally to some singers while other singers are more straight-toned.
Belting is a bold, warmer sound technique where a singer is able to project some of their chest voice and mixed voice out to a crowd. This technique can be fairly difficult to master, so it's best to learn under the tutelage of a singing instructor so that you don't damage your voice.
Falsetto is typically only held by male voices and describes the frequency range just above the chest voice register. It is usually higher-pitched and is one of the most common vocal techniques heard throughout popular music. For instance, "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees is sung entirely in Falsetto:
Scatting is a form of vocal improvisation. This vocal technique is most commonly seen in jazz music and attaches sound to indistinguishable syllables. The singer improvises with rhythm in the melody in the most instrumental way possible.
This ancient form of singing is caused by the rapid shift in pitch from the low to high register or falsetto. It's still used throughout many cultures today.
Pop Vocal Technique
In most popular music, the tone is attached to a near-speaking voice that's clear and crisp. You might hear an occasional full belt from incredible singers like Christina Aguilera but you don't necessarily need to be a vocal acrobat to sing popular music.
8 Vocal Techniques Every Singer Should Use
It's still wise to seek out voice lessons to help embody proper vocal technique, but here are some vital vocal techniques that can benefit every musician.
1. Breath Support
One of the most important vocal techniques that every singer should understand is the importance of breath support. As humans, we have a natural urge to release inhaled air immediately from the diaphragm. However, we need to hold our breath longer in order to create sustained notes and phrases while singing.
You can train your body to hold onto the air for longer while singing through practices like diaphragmatic breathing. When you breathe from the diaphragm, as opposed to the upper part of your lungs, you can sustain air. The diaphragm is located directly below the lungs inside of the chest cavity and serves as the primary muscle for respiration.
You want to notice how your diaphragm reacts when you sing music. As you become with more familiar with breath control, you can start to "budget" your air or calculate how much air you should release at any given time to make it through a full vocal phrase.
When you sing, try to keep your shoulders as still as possible. Your breath movement should be concentrated in the lower part of your chest cavity rather than the upper half of your respiratory system. Notice how your abdominal muscles expand and contract as you alter the level of air pressure in your system.
Hydration is essential for proper vocal technique. Water helps lubricate your vocal cords allowing them to vibrate to their full potential. This can also help prevent injury from overuse. While the structure of vocal cords may seem fairly simple, they actually are composed of subsets of mucous membranes that need moisture to change pitch and produce a clear sound.
The best drink of choice is undoubtedly water since drinks with added sugar and caffeine can actually dehydrate you. Make sure to have plenty of room temperature water available whenever you're practicing or performing. Most people need at least 4 Liters of water a day, so be sure to drink up and drink often!
If you find that your voice becomes dried out easily, invest in a humidifier. Keep it running in your practice room to make the most out of your voice.
One of the most important vocal techniques is getting plenty of rest and relaxing to recharge your body and voice. There's a strong relationship between quality of sleep and vocal quality, so prioritize getting a good night's rest as much as possible. The average adult needs at least 7 hours of sleep a night to properly function and more when engaging in consuming activities like live performing.
When prepping for a performance, try to keep yelling and excessive talking to a minimum. Keep yourself well-fed and practice self-care to promote the best performance possible.
Holding proper singing posture makes it easy for you to take in air and sing certain styles of music. Proper singing technique involves standing up straight, and keeping your hands relaxed at the side of your body. Keep feet slightly apart, or subtly straddled with one foot slightly in front of the other.
Keep your spine straight and try to keep your face forward while performing. You might find that you naturally turn your head upwards or downwards while trying to reach certain notes on the outer limits of your vocal range. Try to resist this urge -- it will only distort your pitch and make it more difficult for you to recover your breath control.
5. Warm Up Your Voice
Warming up your voice is incredibly important and can help stretch your vocal cords so that you can sing throughout your whole range without straining yourself. It can also help relax your body to help mitigate nerves while you're up on stage or performing.
There are plenty of ways to warm up your voice, so find a style that works best for you. We'll discuss a few warm-up singing techniques below, but you can find plenty of additional exercises online or ask a vocal teacher to provide you with additional options.
While it might not feel like a singing technique, taking the time to relax your body might help air flow more freely and make for better performance. Stress in the body can cause the vocal muscles to tighten, causing you to sing breathy or lose support altogether. While it's easier said than done, practicing and training yourself to settle while performing is an incredibly effective vocal technique.
Common vocal techniques surround focusing on where and how the sound exits your body. In classical singing, it's important to focus on your mouth shape while producing vocal vowel sounds like A, E, I, O, and U. For instance, classical music may opt for a more elongated palette whereas pop vocal technique may be more spread. Pop music may prioritize clarity more than overall tone. Therefore, focus on what vocal technique makes the most sense for the context you're performing in.
Remember that your vocal cords or vocal folds are comprised of muscle. This means that they need to be exercised in order to regain strength. When it comes to singing techniques, they're only worth your time if you're allowing yourself to practice proper singing techniques on a regular basis. Build practicing and performing music into your regular routine for the best results.
Vocal Techniques Warm-Ups
Are you ready to start singing? Here are some basic vocal technique exercises designed to help you warm up your voice and maximize your vocal performance.
Humming is one of the best vocal exercises that won't wake up the neighbors. This singing technique helps stretch the vocal cords, relax your facial muscles, and improves breathing prepping you for a stellar performance.
Breathing exercises can help you build breath control while singing, allowing you to perform larger passages of music. This is also another vocal exercise that you can still engage in while your actual voice is resting.
While singers do not necessarily need to read music by any means, it's an absolute necessity for classical singers. You can warm up your voice with a little sight-reading.
Another way to warm up your voice is to jump from one octave to the next while singing. This can help you learn how to hit high notes and move from middle voice to mixed voice, to head voice with ease.
Vocal Technique Glossary
In order to understand singing techniques, you need to grasp the language surrounding music . Here are some of the most important vocal technique terms decoded:
Acapella refers to a vocal technique where a singer or group of singers performs without instrumental accompaniment or a backing track. Some famous modern acapella performers include Pentatonix:
In an SATB choir arrangement, the alto singers are the second-highest in pitch, just underneath the sopranos. Alto singers usually sing harmony to help accompany the melody.
The Bass part in an SATB choir arrangement is the lowest voicing. These singers are arguably more rhythmically focused than other singers as they help keep pace with the rest of the choir.
A canon is a piece of music where the same melody is performed by separate groups of singers at different times.
Diction refers to the enunciation of vocal expression. Vocal techniques focus on the pronunciation of crisp, clear consonants and shaping the mouth according to each vowel sound.
Technically speaking, harmony is when two or more notes are played simultaneously. When referring to singing techniques, harmony usually equates to one or more vocal parts designed to support the melody with various harmonic intervals. For instance, alto choir parts usually sing in harmony.
A vocal lick or vocal embellishment is a repeated harmonic pattern or phrase that helps add more interest to a vocal part.
Overtone singing, otherwise known as harmonic singing, requires precise manipulations of the vocal tract to simultaneously produce more than one pitch.
Parlando is a complicated vocal technique that rests somewhere between speaking and singing in classical music.
This term describes the area that serves as a transition between different vocal registers. In Italian, this term simply means "passage."
Musical phrasing refers to shaping a sequence of notes and creating a musical sentence of sorts.
Vocal placement is a singing technique where the vocalist envisions their sound in a certain part of their face. This can help singers learn how to control their unique tone and further embody the music.
A vocal register refers to a collection of tones that are produced by a particular vibration pattern in the vocal folds. Some of the vocal register types include modal or chest voice, head voice, vocal fry or pulse, and the whistle register.
Technically speaking vocal resonance occurs when vocal folds line up with the pitch in the vocal tract. It also describes your quality of amplification while singing.
A round is a type of canon where there at least 3 different voices sing the same melody. The melody is started at different times by the various parts. However, the melody is designed in such a way that the different voicings are still harmonious when played over top one another.
A vocal run, sometimes referred to as Melisma, is the art of singing multiple different notes in succession. These long series of notes usually stick out from the rest of a given song and are considered a highly skilled technique.
Sight-singing is the process by which a vocalist reads sheet music and is able to create the notes without instrumental aid. Many vocalists learn this vocal technique by learning solfeggio syllables.
Solfeggio or Solfege is a vocal technique education method where certain syllables are used to teach sight-singing and vocal embodiment. These symbols also have corresponding hand signs to further accelerate the learning process.
Vocal sirens are used to move from the lowest note in your vocal range to the highest one. This signing technique is an excellent vocal warm-up and is named after the sound of an emergency vehicle.
This is the highest voicing in an SATB choir arrangement. Soprano singers typically perform the melody in classical singing.
Tenors are the highest male voicing in an SATB choir arrangement. Like sopranos, they usually sing the melody, though they can also sing harmony at times.
Vocal timbre refers to vocal tone quality. It describes the texture and color of a vocalist's voice.
A trill is defined as the rapid alternation between two or more notes. This vocal technique is usually performed in one of the higher vocal registers, usually by a soprano singer.
Unison is when the choral parts are singing the same melody altogether.
Hopefully, this complete vocal technique guide makes it easier for you to strengthen your natural voice. A vocal coach can help take you even further, but understanding technique on your own is essential to becoming a better singer.
Enjoy building your voice with these proven singing techniques!