When people start singing, one of their chief problems is a lack of “power.” Power means different things to different people. To some it is literally just lack of volume, to others it’s a tonal problem with a thin or nasally voice.
Of course, to some extent your singing voice is determined by genetics and what you were born with. This is not always the case. In fact, everyone can vastly improve their vocal sound and performance with some applied practice.
Improving your singing is a lot like becoming fit or learning a sport. It’s a very physical instrument (it’s literally inside your body), and the way you are using your instrument directly affects the way you sound.
Learning how to sing well on stage starts at home. Your performance has everything to do with your practice and your habits.
Here are a few practical tips to ensure you develop your vocal power, and some exercises that will improve your sound.
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Sing Songs That Are In A Comfortable Range (Pick The Right Key)
It is not difficult to learn to sing a song in a key that it wasn't written in. If you are learning songs on the internet for guitar, they usually have an option to change the key. If not, try using a capo. Keyboards often have a transpose button.
Picking a good key is imperative to a good performance. Your voice is not a machine and it will get worn out if you are constantly singing at the top of your range.
Sometimes, a certain key will work well on a recording, but won’t work live. This is normal and is nothing to worry about. When you’re singing live, you’re usually singing upwards of nine songs – no wonder you need a comfortable key!
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different keys. Sometimes you’ll find that a completely different key brings a whole new life to a song.
Don’t Over Sing
To compensate for a perceived lack of power, singers will often begin over singing to achieve the sound they are looking for. Unfortunately, this is counter-productive.
Over singing occurs when you’re trying to push too much air through your vocal chords. This is common if you’re reaching for high notes or literally trying to sing louder.
You can cure over singing with two steps:
1. Proper Technique
Stand straight up with your muscles relaxed, arms at your side.
Practice projecting forward; try humming for a while before you start singing. This prepares your voice to sing from a healthy place.
Breathe from your diaphragm. Not your stomach and not your nose.
When you are reaching up for high notes or for a powerful moment, the tendency is to lift your chin up. Avoid this. In fact, keeping your chin down and your pectorals flexed will allow you to reach higher notes and get a more powerful sound.
2. Good On-Stage Sound
One of the chief reasons singers end up over singing is poor on-stage sound.
If you are singing without monitors or are in a loud rehearsal space, you are going to have trouble hearing yourself. Naturally, this will result in you singing louder, harder, and with poor technique.
A loud on-stage sound may feel good, but it will wear out your vocal chords quickly, and you won’t get them back for the rest of the show.
Organize Your Set List In A Thoughtful Way
Put some thought into how your set list affects your voice. Do you have five songs that have you singing at the top of your range right at the beginning of the show? That might be why your voice is suffering by the end of the set.
Personally, I prefer to work up to some of the hardest songs to sing in the middle of the set, and then if there is a song that is really going to tear up my vocal chords, I try to do it last.
Thankfully, doing this also makes the set flow in a nice way. The best vocal moments spread out throughout the set.
Vocal Exercises For Improving Power
We’ve been covering some practical things that will help you deliver a powerful vocal performance, but what about things you can do at home that will help you in the long run?
Here are a few quick vocal exercises. Try to practice these for 15 to 20 minutes before you start a rehearsal or a practice session.
The Quick Fix
Many singers, both beginner and experienced, have a bad habit of closing their vowels improperly. Fixing this or improving the technique can often have an instant effect on a singer’s voice.
Stand in front of a mirror and sing “A-E-I-O-U” all on one note. Does your jaw close on the U or E? Or between all the vowels?
Try putting a wine cork or a bottle cap between your teeth and repeating this exercise. Once you can do this, take the spacer out and try it again.
Then try singing lines from a song, making sure your jaw opens to the same shape on every vowel. For some singers, this completely opens up and changes their voice for the better!
There are a thousand physical ways you can influence your singing. If you’ve been in a choir, you’ll know to raise your eyebrows when you’re falling flat or make a circle with your arms to maintain pitch on a long note.
Learning some of these physical tricks can help your precision and pitch, especially in the studio.
One of the most important things to learn is how to think “down” when you’re singing a high note.
Basically, your goal is to activate all the muscles when you’re singing in your comfortable and powerful range, and use them to hit high-notes with power and confidence.
Think of an elevator. The highest floor is reached when the weight/resistance is the heaviest. Adding weight and strength to your voice well help you reach the high notes without sounding strained and thin.