What makes a good singer? 2 things you should work on

I saw this topic being discussed among some of my peers on Twitter and thought it would be a good one to discuss here. What is good singing? Or, what makes a good singer? First of all I should start out by saying I understand quite well that what’s considered “good” is very subjective. There are as many opinions of what’s good as there are people. So let’s get clear about what I mean when I talk about good singing in the context of this blog.

The bible speaks of building your house on solid ground. A true foundation. No matter how beautiful the house is, it will eventually fall if the foundation is not solid and built to support it for many years to come. It’s that kind of “foundation” we’re discussing here. Let’s strip away all the vocal acrobatics, riffs and runs, looooong notes, power-house strength; everything that makes the “house” desirable. Let’s for a minute also remove from the conversation everything that has anything to do with the actual “performance” (some believers don’t like that word, but that’s the subject of another blog) of the song.

All of those things are important, don’t get me wrong. You need conviction. Power. A commanding stage presence. But all of those things are brick and mortar; the “house”, as it were. Without a solid foundation though, none of the other stuff is as effective. The basic foundation of all good singing, and in my opinion what every singer should be working on more than anything else, includes 2 elements:

1. Ease Of Range

Most people, by default, have about one octave that they can access with relative ease. They have another 3 notes or so they can “push” themselves to, and another 2 or 3 that they access with pure screaming. This age-old method of Gospel singing has been handed down through the years and is widely accepted as the norm. In fact many people have become so accustomed to listening to singing this way that it has actually become preferred.

There are two problems with this kind of singing, however. First, and most obvious (at least it should be) is the fact that it’s just not healthy for your voice. In fact it’s really bad for your voice. It would be different if we only visited those top 5 or 6 notes of our range occasionally to make an impact in a song. But that’s not the nature of Gospel music, is it?  No, Gospel music makes you go there and hang out for 5 to 7 minutes. This causes a huge amount of strain and stress on the vocal chords, which is why many Gospel singers spend most of their time hoarse.

The second problem with uncomfortable singing is how the tonal quality and pitch suffers the longer you do it. The more you sing at the top of your range in an uncomfortable, strained way, the more the actual tone and quality of your sound suffers. Many singers are simply “screaming on pitch”, by the time they’re 2 minutes into that vamp; and depending on the song, some have already been screaming on pitch several minutes before they got there. The irony of that is the fact that- well, when you sing that way, most of the time you AREN’T on pitch. Which brings us to the 2nd foundation of good singing;

2. Accuracy Of Pitch.

Nothing, in my opinion, is more important to good singing than simple accuracy of pitch. The fact is, if you sang into a machine that measures such things you’d be surprised to learn that most of us sing off pitch. But it’s undetectable without sophisticated measuring devices. However, a great many singers in Gospel are way off pitch, and way too often. I suspect the genre itself can again take some of the blame. Gospel music, like every other style of music, has it’s signatures. Big, powerful, raspy voices. Riffs, runs and trills. Really high choruses and vamps.

Most singers desire these style elements so much that they don’t have a problem at all sacrificing accuracy of pitch to get them. And many do just that. But even if you’re a well-loved, sought-after singer who is busy all the time and constantly receiving kudos for your singing, if you’re uncomfortable most of the time and off-pitch most of the time because of it, you’ve built your “house” on a foundation that will soon start to fail you.

What’s great about this whole thing is that when you fix number one, number 2 tends to fix itself. After all, if you’re straining and pushing for most of the song, then you’re literally pushing yourself off-pitch. And it’s hard to be on pitch very long if you’re not actually singing, but yelling.

What to do:

1. Start today making the tonal quality of your voice the most important thing. Don’t spend too much time working on runs or riffs. Work on singing the song on pitch, period. Even if you have to simplify things a little, don’t sacrifice pitch for anything; not power, not runs, not a super high note.

2. Don’t sing way out of your range. If the song has one or two notes that are high for you, there’s no need for you to pass on it. There are easy ways around that simply by approaching the melody in that place differently. But if a song requires you to be in a strained place or way out of your range for long periods of time, you should have the musicians drop the key. If that’s not possible, pass on it. Don’t let people insist that you do songs that aren’t right for you. You are not doing anyone any favors by singing a song that’s out of your range. Not the ministry, not the song, not yourself, and not God.

3. Every serious singer in music ministry should get some vocal training. Now we get to the sure foundation our house is built on. We’re a people that were bessed with natural musical ability, many of us. As such, most people in music ministry are just naturally gifted singers. It’s often hard for a person who has always been naturally gifted at singing to understand why they’d need vocal training or how it would benefit them. Simply put, vocal training doesn’t teach you how to sing. Often it’s the people who were born gifted singers who benefit the most from vocal lessons. Why? Because taking vocal lessons teaches you how to eliminate the common physical limitations that hinder us from taking our ministry to the next level. We’re talking about things that distract you while you’re tryng to minister and give yourself completely to that moment.

More importantly though, vocal training is the fastest, most effective way to dramatically improve points one and two above; ease of range and accuracy of pitch. You really don’t need a 3 or 4 octave range to sing most songs. A 2 octave range is plenty for most songs. The thing is though, while you don’t really need to concentrate a lot on increasing your vocal range, becoming a better singer has EVERYTHING to do with mastering the range you already have. Just getting to a place where you can sing all the notes in your current range comfortably would make a huge difference in your overall toneal quality and pitch.

I believe very strongly in the power of vocal training and it’s ability to transform your ministry. And I think it’s something every Christian singer should experience. That’s why I created a free 5 day video vocal training course to give as many people as possible a chance to see what it’s like to try real vocal training BEFORE making an investment in my full length home study course. . You can get yours by joining my mailing list below.

So remember, how good of a singer you are is a lot less about opinion and more about the foundation you build your musical house on. Concentrating on the basics; ease of range and accuracy of pitch. They’ll take you a long way.

Until next time!

-Ron

 

The one thing every great singer does…

First off, I suppose I’d better start off by defining what I mean by “great singer”. When I mention the “greats” I’m talking about those vocalists who have achieved critical acclaim for their singing. I’m talking about singers who are universally considered some of the best there is, by people across all genres, styles and backgrounds.

There are, for example, some artists in Gospel that have achieved great things and have a huge fan base. Gospel fans may think they’re the best out there but very few people who don’t listen to Gospel know who they are.

So, who are some people who have achieved this kind of universal acclaim as great singers? I’m talking about people like Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston (pre Bobby Whitney, ok?, lol) Luther Vandross. Remember Mel Tormey (sp?) Considered such a smooth vocalist his knick name was “The Velvet Fog”.

I could go on, but you get the picture. These are people who are known the world over as simply some of the best vocalists out there…by everybody, not just fans of their respective genres.

There’s one thing that every one of these singers do, that you can do too; immediately and without a single lesson.

Ready? The answer is one word…..

SIMPLIFY

I happen to know that most of my subscribers to this blog sing either R&B or Gospel. In both of these styles of music people tend to equate great singing with the ability to do lots and lots of vocal runs, riffs, trills and such. This has to be one of the most coveted vocal abilities of them all. It’s so important to many singers that they do it almost the whole time they’re singing.

But often I think we get so caught up with the fancy stuff we mistake the fancy stuff for actual singing. Riffs, runs, trills, and other “vocal acrobatics” (as Arron Nevel called it once) are style elements; they are nice touches that should be sprinkled into your singing here and there for style.

But many singers mistake riffing for singing. Because this is such a highly regarded ability in Gospel and R&B, many singers mistakenly put way too much emphasis on it in their singing.

But look at the singers I mentioned above again. I’m sure you can add a few names to the list I’m not thinking of right now. But the point I’m making here is this: all of these singers are known the world over for their ablity to create some of the most beautiful music with their voices. Why? Because they place the emphasis on pure, honest, true tone production.

I heard Whitney’s performance of the Star Spangled Banner again the other day and it gave me chills. Still considered to be one of the best renditions of it ever. No trills, runs, or riffs. She just sang the notes; pure, clean and with deadly accuracy of pitch.

There is no instrument more complex than the human voice. It is about the only instrument that can’t be accurately duplicated by any keyboard. As such, no sound is more beautiful or unique than the sound of a human voice producing pure, clean musical tones with spot-on pitch.

So, as simple as it sounds, if you want to instantly improve your sound, do what the greats do..simplify. Just sing honest, true musical tone as clean and as pure as you can. If you want to work on anything, spend as much of your time as possible working on pitch. Always be on pitch, even if you have to sacrifice style elements you want to do.

Want make that Worship song transport the audience into the very presence of God? Strip your performance of it down to nothing but the pure musical notes it calls for, and sing them as clean and simply as possible. You will move your audience to tears.

Want to make that love song have people gazing into your eyes? Same thing. Luther Vandross hardly ever did a run or riff, and was overweight most of his career. Yet he was considered one of the most amazing ballad singers of our time.

Let’s look at an interesting contrast, just to prove a point. I’m a big fan of Stevie Wonder. Now, let’s face it. Stevie Wonder does a lot of riffing, and he does it like he invented it. The man is incredible. He uses his voice like a weapon, lol. Stevie can sing, no doube about it. AND….Stevie has indeed received critical acclaim the world over.

But NOT for his singing. When you think of Stevie Wonder what do you think? “That man’s a musical genius! He’s an incredible writer”. So does everybody else. That is his claim to fame.

Now, when you think of Luther, what do you think? “That man can saaang!”So did everybody else.

Get it?

So the word for today is…..Simplify.

 

For a stronger singing voice, do this exercise!

Singer with microphoneOne thing most singers want is a more powerful singing voice. Once that is sharp, full and cuts through the music easily. Unfortunately most of us go about achieving that by simply pushing and forcing our way through notes, phrases and melodies. Today I’ll talk a little bit about what causes a weak, airy voice and give you one exercise you can do to help improve it.

The most important thing to develop in order to strengthen your voice and get rid of airiness is something we vocal coaches call “cord closure”. Cord closure refers to how well your vocal cords come together when you’re singing or speaking. For most people who have never done any kind of training to develop them, the vocal cords do come together, but they’re not very strong so that “seal” is not very good. As a result, much of the air you send up to produce the sound you’re trying to make goes unused.  This produces the airy, weak sound we hear when we sing or speak.

But then a domino effect of sorts starts to happen. You see, when your cords aren’t using air efficiently you run out of air much faster. As a result most singers start compensating by gasping for more and pushing harder. All of this wears the vocal cords out much faster and makes singing much harder. To improve this condition we have to strengthen those small, thin edges of the vocal folds that come together to produce sound. We want them to produce a much tighter seal when they’re together, so more of the air you’re sending up to produce sound actually gets used.

One example I like to use is a car window. If you’ve ever been driving down the street with your windows up, but you could still hear wind coming into the car, you understood that even though the window was up all the way, it hadn’t made a complete seal with the top of the door. So you reach over, give the button one more hit and the window moves just that small fraction it needs to make a good seal and stop the escaping air.

This is what we want to do with our vocal cords, and that’s really what “cord closure” exercises are all about. But because everything is so amazingly and wonderfully connected to everything else in our body, improving cord closure will not only give you a stronger voice. It will improve breathing, increase your range, overall vocal tone, make high notes easier….I mean, wow!  There are several such cord closure exercises you can use, but today I’ll show you just one.

The Exercise

Today we’re going to use the sound we make when speaking the word “AT”, as in “at the store”, or “at the cross”. Only we’ll get rid of the T on the end.

To start out, let’s use the same 5 tone scale we used in this lesson .  We’re going to sing this Aaa-aaa-aaa sound “Staccato”, which means very short and detatched. You’ll do it right if you simply focus on attacking the “A every time. Avoid slurrring through the notes like this: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa”. Rather, attack each note of the 5 tone scale like this: Aaa-Aaa-Aaaa-Aaaa-Aaa.

Remember to take your 5 tone scale up and then back down, then move up a half step to the next note and do it again. Keep going until you reach the highest place you can do this COMFORTABLY.

You should NOT be getting any louder as you do this. Allow that edgy, choppy, closing feeling that creates the sharp “A” for you to do all the work. Don’t use any kind of force or reach for notes in any way.

After you’re used to this exercise, I want you to try using it in a song. This is actually a great way to train when you’re singing a song that has just one note you’re having trouble reaching. The idea is to take the actual words of the song and substitute them with this Aaa-Aaa-Aaaa sound. But you must always do this “Staccato”- meaning, very short, detached and choppy. Doing it this way is what exercises the edges of your vocal folds and helps them get stronger.

If you do this on a regular basis along with the “low larynx” exercises we learned in my previous article you’re going to start hearing and feeling some amazing changes very quickly. If, like me, you’re a more visual person, this may be hard for you to grasp on paper. Most people need to see and hear it demonstrated.

That’s why I created Vocal Ministry Breakthough, my full length home study vocal training course. Vocal Ministry Breakthrough includes over 20 video vocal lessons with yours truly, taking you through powerful vocal workouts that feature exercises like these and many more. And for a limited time it’s 40% off for the holidays. Get started on your path to a stronger, more powerful singing voice now while the price is still discounted.

 

Till Next time,

Ron

 

 

A vocal exercise that makes high notes easier

I was thinking over the last several blog posts I’ve done and I realized I haven’t done anything on vocal technique in quite some time. So today I thought I’d get back to basics and talk a bit about one of the most common things we singers struggle with- strain when singing in the upper part of our ranges. Now, I could get really technical here, and if I did it would get really long and really boring. So I’m going to focus only on one element of making high notes easier.

There are several things that need to work together in order to make accessing the higher parts of your range feel easier and less straining. But at the center of all of those things-the hub that holds all the spokes on the wheel in place- is your larynx. The larynx is more commonly referred to as your “Adam’s Apple”. It’s that lump in your throat that goes up and down. In a nutshell, a higher larynx equals more strain when you sing higher notes. A lower, more stable larynx means more relaxed, easier singing in your upper range.

Today I want to give you one simple vocal exercise that will help train your larynx to be lower and more stable. This will help you feel much less strain in the choir stand singing those demanding Gospel songs, or on the praise team belting it out on Sunday morning.

These exercises engage muscles that pull your larynx down, thus helping to train your larynx not to jump up high in your throat when you start to approach higher notes in your range. I’m going to have you do this exercise two ways. Both of them will use the vowel “U”.  For the first exercise we’ll combine that U vowel with what we call a “hard consonant”.  For the second one will use a “soft consonant”. This refers to the amount of air stoppage a consonant causes in your mouth when you pronounce it.

First Exercise:

For the first exercise we’ll use the sound “GUH”. For the right pronunciation, think of the word “guppy” or “gutter”. Just leave off everything after the U. Try using this sound on a simple 5 tone scale. You remember the Major Scale we all learned that uses the words “Do Re Me Fa Sol La Ti Do”, right?  Well for this exercise we’ll sing the first 5 notes of that scale forward and backwards, using the word “GUH”. In other words, it would sound like “Do Re Me Fa So Fa Me Re Do”. Only we’ll be singing those notes using “Guh”.

Start out in a comfortable place in your range and do the 5 tone scale forward and backward, singing “GUH”. Then move up a half step and do it again. Keep doing that until you’ve reached the highest place in your range you can sing COMFORTABLY. Then simple start going back down one half note at a time.

Second Exercise:

Exercise #2 is exactly the same, only we’ll substitute the “G” for an “N”. Now we’ll sing “NUH NUH NUH”, as in the word “nothing” or “nugget”.

Do this exercise exactly the same way you did the first one, doing the 5 tone scale forward and backward, then moving up a half-step and doing it again until you reach the highest place in your range you can sing comfortably.

An added twist:

After you’ve done this a couple of days and you’re pretty comfortable with the exercises, I want you to add a new element. Instead of doing the exercises in your normal singing voice, do it in what we call a “dopey” sound. Think “Sylvester Stalone….Adrian!!! Another example of the dopey sound (and where it gets it’s name) is that sound you make when someone says something that’s really so obvious it’s almost stupid..and you go “DUUUH!”. It’s an exagerated, throaty sound. Using this with your GUH GUH and NUH NUH NUH exercises makes them even more effective because they cause this “friendly compression” that helps force the larynx down even further. Try these for a few minutes a day-5-10 minutes tops. Do them daily for a week or so and tell me what you think. Remember though, don’t overdo it and don’t do anything painful!

I’ve explained this stuff as clearly as I can, but let’s face it: It’s hard to really get the full understanding of a vocal exercise looking at printed text. If you’d like to actually see and hear vocal exercises demonstrated, try my free 5 day vocal training course!