Singing can feel like a bit of a mystery, even to those who've got a natural talent for it. What is it that makes a good singer? What is the different between a good voice and a bad voice? If you have a “bad” voice, can you make it better?
The truth is simpler than you might think. Having a good voice is a matter of being in control of your voice, having a good tone, clear enunciation, and developing a good ear for pitch. Believe it or not, anybody can work at these things and develop their singing voice.
As Bob Ross said:
Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.Bob Ross
In this guide, we’ll go over what makes a good voice, why you’re wrong about having a bad voice, and what you can do to improve your singing.
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Why You’re Wrong About Having A Bad Voice
If you’ve never played a trombone before and are handed a trombone, you will not sound good on it. This goes for any instrument. If you do not know how to hold and achieve a good sound on a violin, you will forever sound squeaky and amateurish.
Your voice is an instrument and if you are not using it often, using it properly, taking care of it, and practicing, you will not get any better at singing.
Consider that your voice is the only instrument you are born with.
Naturally, some young people are going to explore their voice and try to sing along with songs. If they have a natural knack for singing, they are going to sing more and more, maybe take lessons, and become a good singer.
If your parents plopped you in front of a piano for hours a day at the age of three (like Mozart) you will almost certainly develop a talent for the piano.
Don’t let yourself become discouraged if your voice isn’t as good as you want it to be. It doesn't mean it's unusable.
Separate The Instrument From The Player
Often, people become convinced that they have a bad voice when they record themselves and find they sound nothing like what they sound like in their head.
When you sing, you are not hearing your true voice. The sound is vibrating in your skull and your eardrums as well as through the air around you. When you hear someone else’s voice, you hear only the sound waves coming into your ears.
That is why when you record yourself and hear you voice, you are surprised at how strange you sound.
What you are hearing is the instrument. You are the player. You can learn to play your instrument better.
Let’s find out what makes a good voice and what you can do to improve these aspects of your voice.
How To Get A Good Singing Voice
It is easy to tell a good voice when you hear one. At karaoke or around a fire, some people can impress the crowd with their voice. Some people can sing well from a young age, seemingly without much practice.
What separates a good voice from a bad voice? Here are a few key elements that make a good voice.
When you sing, do the notes and words you hear in your head come out of your mouth the way you want them to? This is vocal control. When you start out singing, being able to accurately sing pitches without being too sharp or flat is vocal control.
As singers improve, they will be able to hit more complicated strings of notes accurately, and demonstrate their excellent vocal control.
Having good vocal control also means being able to start in the right key and stay in that key. Sometimes, having a basic grasp of music theory can help with this. More importantly, consistent practice will help you stay in the right key.
Luckily, vocal control can be improved. It is one of the main things professional singers work on, and it is one of the main things an amateur should work on as well.
When you record your voice and listen back to it, how does it sound? It can be very frustrating to find that despite hitting the right notes and staying in the right key, your voice doesn’t sound as good as you want it to.
This is about tone. Developing a good tone can take years and that is nothing to be ashamed of. Personally, it took me 22 years before I figured out how to coax a good tone out of my voice – and it still doesn’t sound good on every type of music!
You can improve your tone by practicing your vowel sounds. Having open and consistent vowel sounds makes your voice sound clear and full. If you find your voice is nasally, thin, or kind of annoying, it is likely because you are pinching your vowels and not opening your mouth enough.
Tone also comes from clear and/or intentional enunciation. Singing each syllable with intention and with good technique goes a long way. Some singers (for example indie singers) will purposefully mispronounce words for effect – this is to achieve an interesting tone.
Strong Support And Dynamics
A weak sounding voice can be perceived as poor and boring. A weak voice affects everything from pitch to tone to dynamics. Good vocalists have strong support and produce clear notes that do not waver.
Having good vocal support comes from proper posture, good breathing technique, and practice.
Have a straight back, shoulders set, chin high, but not uncomfortable. Give yourself lots of breath (more than you think) and let your voice travel easily through your airways. It should not feel difficult.
As you progress, your notes should become clearer, you should have a broad, full tone, and you’ll hit notes with greater ease.
All that said, strong support needs to be paired with a good sense of dynamics. Dynamics are a huge part of what makes a good voice and should be a part of any vocal control practice.
It is a little cheesy, but check out this video of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” She starts softly, barely there. Still, her control, pitch and tone are beautiful, but she is quiet. Even the first chorus is quiet. Second chorus is slightly louder. By 3:12, she hits the key change and is full on belting, and that is what makes the song so powerful.
Many novice singers get good at hitting the right pitches and staying in the right key – even developing a nice tone – but they make the mistakes of being too timid or belting out every single note. Dynamics are key!
Stylistically Appropriate Singing
Finally, once you’ve got a nice sense of pitch, good control, proper vocal support and ability to control your dynamics, you need to develop a sense of style and sing appropriately.
If you were ever in musical theater in high school, you probably knew someone who couldn’t help but sing loud and operatically. That’s great, but it makes no sense on a Taylor Swift song.
The way you sing should suit the style of music, otherwise you will sound out of place on whatever song you are singing.
One way to practice singing with style is to imitate others. How does it feel to sing a country song? How does it feel to sing a jazz song? How about a rock or pop song?
There is nothing wrong with imitation. Imitation will lead you to new techniques and new ways of singing, and eventually you can incorporate these things into your voice and your own unique style.
How To Fall In Love With Your Voice
Once you get it in your head that you have a “bad” voice it can be hard to change your mind.
I should know. I was told when I was around 12 that I didn’t have a great voice and should practice piano and guitar more. That hurt, and it stuck with me for years!
The truth is, I was not practicing. I was singing the wrong material for my voice, I was trying to sing exactly like my idols, I had terrible technique and posture, and it wasn’t working, so of course I sounded bad.
That should not stop you. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Janis Joplin didn’t have traditionally good voices, but imagine if that had stopped them from making music – that would be a tragedy!
People who get stuck in this trap of thinking they have an unworkable voice are not making it any easier on themselves. Here are a few tips on learning to love your voice.
Sing Songs That Suit Your Range
If you have a sultry male baritone (mid-low) voice, singing Mariah Carey is going to be uncomfortable. On the other hand, singing Merle Haggard might be right up your alley!
To find songs that are in your range, think of artists that sound like you, and try to sing along to their songs. You should try recording yourself singing along on your phone – this way you can give yourself a chance to get used to your voice and hear exactly what you sound like.
As you listen, ask yourself:
How does it feel? Are you straining for notes? Do some notes seem completely out of reach or difficult to think about and sing? If so, it is probably out of your range, try another song.
If you can accompany yourself on guitar or piano, try changing the key up or down, and see if it gets any easier.
Singing songs that are in your range will go a long way towards making you a better sounding singer!
People don’t want to hear a singer who is straining for every note. They want to hear someone sing with ease. And the truth is, the more relaxed you are when you are singing, the better you will sound.
Relaxing while singing is difficult – nerves, hitting high notes, struggling to remember lyrics – all this makes it hard to relax.
Set your posture before you start. Take some deep breaths. Remember to breathe throughout the song. Close your eyes if you must. Visualize a relaxing place. Whatever you have to do, just try to relax.
Take Care Of Your Voice
Taking care of your voice is important. As I said before, your voice is an instrument. You wouldn’t douse your guitar in beer before getting on stage, so why are you doing that with your voice?
Taking care of your voice is worthy of a whole article, but here are a few fast tips: warm up before singing, avoid smoking immediately before and after singing, try not to talk too loudly before and after singing, and don’t sing if it hurts.
Singing is not supposed to hurt, and if it does, that is your body’s way of telling you to stop.
Consult a vocal coach or a more specific article on developing a full vocal care routine.
Learn To Love Your Voice
When you are told repeatedly that you have a good voice, you are going to use it more, and this just makes you better and better. Being told you have a bad voice will not help. You need to learn to love your voice.
Know your vocal range and limits. Know what kind of style suits you best. Be comfortable enough with your voice that you can relax while singing. Practice! Take lessons! Sing every day!
This is how you fall in love with your voice. For some people, it takes finding one song you can sing well to realize, “Hey, my voice isn’t too bad!.”
Once you can own and love your voice, you won't be afraid to use it more!
Write Your Own Songs
Writing my own songs completely changed my relationship with my voice. Before, I figured my voice was only good for harmonies. Suddenly, my voice became a way to express myself and my deepest feelings.
Bob Dylan’s voice wasn’t what captivated people. It was his songs, his words, the feeling behind the voice. You can achieve this as well.
The benefit of writing your own songs is also that you can write melodies and chord progressions that perfectly suit your range. You never have to write a note that doesn’t suit your voice!
If You Can Speak, You Can Sing – So Long As You Practice!
So do you need a good voice to sing? If you can speak, technically, you can sing. The physical process is the same.
Your voice is an instrument. Practice with it. Take care of it. Learn about it. Love it. You will get better, and you can become a good singer.