Looking to learn a new skill? Singing is something that many consider innate but there are actually so many things you can do to improve your voice. Here, an expert shares her guide to learning to sing with confidence.
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You’ve probably had that moment where you’re singing, maybe in the shower or in a car or perhaps in a drunken haze in a karaoke booth, in which you think, ‘Maybe I’m actually quite good at this.’ Your momentary pride in your voice was perhaps knocked when you heard yourself back, via a friend’s Instagram story or when you – admit it - recorded yourself singing to check if you were any good, and realized you sounded much better to your own ears in the moment.
This is something I recognised in myself when I tried to partake in TikTok’s latest singing challenge, which encourages you to try and sing a harmonised version of the classic ABBA song Dancing Queen, in one breath. Safe to say, I couldn’t sing it one breath – I struggled to even stay in tune.
It seems unfair that some people are born with beautiful voices, but research suggests that most of us do have the capabilities to sing in tune, at least. Around 2% of the population have a pitch perception deficit, which means they can’t detect detailed different between musical notes but the rest of us all have fairly similar natural abilities to understand when music is in tune or not.
So how do you hone that ability? We asked singing teacher Hannah Marie Gatt to share some techniques to help you do so, whether you’re simply looking to improve your shower singing or you want to become a TikTok star.
What makes a good singer?
“There are so many reasons why we might like the sound of someone’s voice,” Hannah says, but she adds that a lot of it comes down to tone and quality. Vocal range is also an important part of singing, which means how high and low you can sing.
On top of that, pitch and singing in tune is important, as well as breath control and the performance of the song, which, Hannah explains, often comes down to having an emotional connection with a song.
How to learn to sing in tune
If you struggle to sing in tune, working on this is a good place to start. You’ll be glad to know that it’s something that you should be able to make progress with fairly quickly.
Practise singing scales
“Practising scales is a great way to help you learn to sing in tune,” Hannah says, explaining that you can listen to scales on YouTube and try to repeat them back. “Even better, use a piano, keyboard or piano app,” she adds. You don’t need to be able to play the piano or read music – you just need to figure out where middle C is, which will be marked on a piano app. From there, play each note, moving upwards, and try to match it vocally.
“You should record yourself singing and listen back straight away so you can constructively figure out if you’re flat on any notes,” Hannah advises.
You can also record yourself singing to songs you like, to hear which notes you might be struggling with. “Most people don’t like the way they sound so try to be constructive. Even professional singers can be too critical of themselves,” Hannah adds.
How to expand your vocal range
“We are born with our vocal box so that is genetically predetermined but there are some things we can do to expand our vocal range,” Hannah says. Not everyone will have the vocal ranges of Barry White and Kate Bush (we’ve all struggled to hit the high notes in Wuthering Heights). But there are some ways that you can improve your range.
Look after your voice
“You have to look after your voice like you would an instrument,” Hannah says, explaining that drinking lots of water is important.
Find your range
The next thing you need to do is figure out what your vocal range is. Play each note from middle C and try to match the sound vocally until you can’t anymore. Then, do the same moving down from middle C. From doing this, you’ll be able to figure out if you have a higher or lower range.
Practise singing notes you struggle with
In order to improve your range, you should practise singing the notes that you struggle with regularly.
How to improve your breath control
Breath control is a really important part of being able to sing, as good breath control means you can maintain your quality of voice throughout the whole song (it also means you’ll have a much better chance of completing those TikTok challenges). “People think you should be stingy with your breath but you actually need a solid stream of air throughout the song so don’t hold your breath at any point,” Hannah says.
Learn diaphragm control
Hannah explains that breath control comes from your diaphragm. “Your diaphragm is attached to your lungs and when you sing, it expands like a balloon,” she says.
“Contemporary music always offers a place to breathe so take it,” Hannah says, explaining that when you’re listening to music that you like, listen out for moments where you could pause for breath.
Hannah explains that you can’t control your diaphragm because it’s an involuntary muscle but you can control the muscles around it. “Some people have a naturally better lung capacity than others but other than that, most people have the same capabilities to improve their breath control,” she adds.
Improve your posture
Other things you can do to support your breath are working on improving your posture and practice singing without holding your breath. “Singing should never feel difficult. Physically, it should always feel relaxed and easy,” says Hannah.
How to learn to harmonize
Although harmonizing isn’t an essential part of learning to sing, it’s a great skill to learn once you have mastered the basics. “A harmony is a tune that complements the melody,” Hannah explains. “The best way to refine your harmony skills is to practise by singing with others and trying to harmonise with songs you’re familiar with.”
“Don’t be scared of singing a bum note when you’re workshopping or trying to figure out the harmony,” Hannah adds. “One tip that works well is to imagine that the harmony you’re singing is the melody and that all the other parts are the harmony.”
Joining a choir or singing group will also help you improve your ability to harmonize and your general singing skills too.
You can find more expert tips and advice on The Curiosity Academy Instagram page.
Hannah Marie Gatt, singing teacher
Hannah is a singing teacher and vocal coach based in London, who teaches singers of all ages and abilities from all over the world, helping them to find their voice.
Images: Getty, Hannah Marie Gatt