Category Archives: Singing Lessons

Taking Your Bow and Leaving the Stage like a Singing Professional

The manner in which you take your bow after completing your singing performance depends on the concert. If you’re a famous diva, you may curtsy, but it’s better to wait on that until you arrive at one of the big opera houses. Until then, use the tried-and-true standard bow: Bend from the waist and bow your head to the audience.

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  • After you find your spot on the stage, stop in place (with your feet close together) and lean forward from the waist. You want your head down, looking at the floor momentarily. Otherwise, it looks like you’re looking up to make sure that everyone is clapping.

    Remember that you have to lean forward in your performance attire. If that’s a gown or tuxedo, make sure that it isn’t so tight that you can’t bend over at all or without revealing too much cleavage when you bow.

  • Your hands can be along the sides of your legs or clasped in front. Allow your hands to slide down your leg as you bend over. Remember not to put your hands in front of your zipper if you choose to clasp them.
  • Slowly count to two and raise your torso again. After you bow, acknowledge your accompanist. If the piece was a huge ensemble number, you may bow with your accompanist. You want to make that decision in advance and plan who bows when and after whom.

    Some people like to turn and extend their arm to acknowledge the accompanist. If the pianist isn’t leaving the stage with you, that’s appropriate. But if you’re a team, plan bows separately and then together.

Exiting the stage is also an art. When you finish singing and take your bow, head toward the exit. Look at your audience again and smile as you exit the stage. If the audience just loved what they heard, they may continue clapping, so you can take another bow.

Wait for the peak of the applause and then go back onto the stage. If you had an accompanist playing for you, ask the accompanist to bow with you again or bow with you at the next curtain call.

Depending on the situation, you may want to prepare an encore. How will you know when to sing the encore? Finish your last number, hear the applause, and exit the stage; return to the stage for your bow and exit the stage again; and return to the stage and sing the encore, or return for another bow and then come back out to sing the encore.

An encore is appropriate for a recital where you are the main attraction or for a performance with a group such as a band or symphony. When you do more performing, you’ll figure out when an encore is appropriate and what to prepare for the encore.

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Singing: Overcome Performance Anxiety by Forming a Game Plan

For every singing performance, make a plan of action for success. Assuming that you’re going to succeed means that you will. Assuming that you’re going to fail is the same as giving in to those voices in your head. Reframe those stupid things people have said to you in the past about your performing abilities. Being critical is human nature, but remember that it’s only one person’s opinion.

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Try these tips to get your game plan in place:

  • Make a specific timeline to get yourself ready to sing at the time of your performance. After you develop your practice routine, you’ll know how long it takes for your voice to be ready to sing at your best. You can plan your warm-up time for the day of your performance to get ready. Consider these suggestions:
    • Take time to vocalize or warm up the notes you’ll sing in the performance.
    • Vocalize long enough for your voice to be singing at your peak when you walk on the stage.
    • On the performance day, sing through your song enough times that you feel confident, but not so many times that your voice feels tired.
  • Invite someone who helps boost your confidence. Do you know someone who can encourage you as you walk out for the performance? Discuss your fears with this friend or confidant and then discuss your feelings after the performance. You may find that your perception of that awful note isn’t what your friend heard. Having a support system with you helps you quiet negative thoughts that may creep into your head.
  • Look at each performance as an opportunity to succeed. You have to expect success before you can achieve it. Success doesn’t just happen, but you can make it happen.
  • Practice what you intend to do. If you plan to take a moment and take a breath before you begin to sing your song, practice it that way. Taking that moment to quiet your mind and settle your racing heart is worth it. By practicing and visualizing your success, you can more easily make it happen.

    You can also practice walking across the stage, singing your song, and then bowing. You may have to practice this in your living room, but you want to practice what you’re going to experience in the performance.

  • Chart your improvement. Make a list of what you want to accomplish, and, with each performance, shoot to accomplish one more task on the list.

    For example, the first task may be remembering all the words. By practicing with distractions at home, you boost your ability to concentrate. When you remember all the words at your first performance, you may want to try remembering the words and breathing consistently at the second performance.

    Just getting the breath in your body and then using it helps with many other technical problems. Give yourself a gold star when you achieve each goal.

Before singing your song in public, try it in front of some friends. If you give smaller performances a few times before your big one, the song may seem familiar and not so scary.


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Tailoring Your Singing Audition for Television

Auditioning for television is thrilling, but it may feel like a different world if you’ve performed only in small theaters or the church choir. Here are some basic guidelines for auditioning your song for a televised performance:

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  • Self-confidence is a must. Being confident means letting go of your shyness but not being cocky. You want to be mentally prepared so you can handle the stress of a high-pressure audition.

    Self-confidence makes your audience feel at ease because they don’t have to worry about you — they can enjoy your performance. Being cocky may turn them off because it may look like you’re too good for them. You want to show a spark of star power without being arrogant.

  • Choose material that highlights your strength and is appropriate for the audition. You have to determine your strength and which song will show off your assets. If you aren’t sure about the material, hire a reputable coach to give you feedback.
  • The camera is your friend. If someone asks you to slate, he wants you to announce your name and your song to the camera. The camera picks up every little detail, so practice in front of a camera prior to the audition. A small hand-held camcorder is fine. Record yourself practicing your audition.

    Pay attention to your body language; do you appear confident? Ask someone who has done television auditions to give you feedback.

  • Your outfit really matters. Wearing something that shows your body at its best is key for a television audition. The outfit should show your style and represent your personality.

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Training Requirements for Singing Country Music

Country music has the good ol’ boy songs about whiskey and women, as well as heartfelt ballads about lost love. The artists put on quite a show at their performances and use a variety of sounds when they sing. The biggest common denominator in country music is the story being told. It describes how the singer feels, in a sound that’s similar to a speaking voice.

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  • Sound: Country music is slowly and surely becoming more similar to pop music. For now, you can assume that country music focuses on sounding like a real person and telling a story with simplicity in the voice. Generally, country singers use a microphone, so they don’t need to carry the hall like classical singers. Country music also has more twang than you hear in the opera house.

    Singers create the song from their speaking voice — they think of singing as an extension of speaking. For this reason, they don’t need wide, open spaces (in their mouth and throat) and round, rich tones like classical singers. You may have this ability, but you probably won’t use it when you sing country.

  • Healthy technique: You don’t want to sound cultured when singing vowels in country songs. You want to be specific with your articulation so that your audience can understand you, but you don’t want to sound like you’re in class with Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady.

    Figuring out how to create healthy belt is also a good idea, because many singers use a beltlike quality when singing their songs. Knowing the difference between a belt and chest voice helps you keep your voice in balance.

  • Naming names: Clint Black (twang and cry of country), Johnny Cash (great storytelling, similar speaking and singing techniques), Reba McEntire (easy belting, good storytelling, some twang), Trisha Yearwood (strong legit sound and belt, good storytelling ability, combination of emotions and voice to create interesting sounds).

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Developing Clarity in Your Singing Tone

Certain styles of music don’t require clarity in the tone, but you want to be singing a breathy tone by choice instead of having no idea how to sing clearly when you really want to. Sighing helps you focus on finding this clarity of tone. It allows you to make sounds without worrying about singing precise pitches, which you needn’t bother with for this exercise.

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Start a sigh at a comfortable pitch, and maintain the sound of a sigh as you slide down pitches. The sigh can also be called a siren. Sigh or siren as if the sound moves up and down a three-story building. If your sigh is clear, continue your exploration and move to higher pitches.

If your tone isn’t clear, try to make a more-energetic sigh. Adding more energy to the sigh means connecting your body to the sigh. Engage your entire body in sighing by moving as you sigh. Move your body in such a way (leaning, bending, stretching) that you feel as if your entire body is surging and sighing.

Using this exertion of energy when you sing also helps you find clarity in your tone. Your breath is flowing to complete a specific physical movement, which helps with the onset of tone. Filling a room with a clear tone is easier than filling it with a fuzzy tone. Without a microphone, you need a clear tone to be heard when you sing.

Younger singers often have a breathy tone, caused by lack of coordination. To create a clear tone, you need to use correct technique without adding pressure. Doing so involves getting the breath ready and then adding energy just described. If you have a breathy tone, work on your breathing skills to better understand that movement in your body.

When you’ve polished your breathing skills, focus on tone production. Your tone may also continue to change as you mature, which is normal. Just remember what good technique feels like and keep working to make it a habit in your body.

If you aren’t sure whether your tone is clear, record your practice session and imitate Marilyn Monroe’s unfocused tone when she sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”; then imitate Pavarotti to find clear tones.

The point is to find out what your tone sounds like and know when a clear tone is appropriate. You can use a breathy tone if you want that style and sound. Norah Jones has a breathy tone, but she’s an example of someone singing pop and jazz music, using that tone on purpose.


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Identifying the Fab Four Singing Voices

The four singing voice types are soprano, mezzo, tenor, and bass. Even though these names sound like characters in a mob movie, they’re nothing to be afraid of. Under each voice type heading, you discover specific traits about each voice type: the range, register transitions, voice tone, and any subdivisions of that voice type, as well as the names of a few famous singers to help you put a sound with the voice type.

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Soprano: Singing on top

The soprano has the highest range of the female voice types. The following aspects are characteristic of her voice type:

  • Range: Often Middle C to High C although some sopranos can vocalize way beyond High C and much lower than Middle C.
    A soprano is expected to have a High C and many sopranos can sing up to the G or A above High C. Choral directors or musical directors listen for the singer’s comfort zone when determining if the singer is a soprano. Although a mezzo can reach some of these higher notes, a soprano is capable of singing high notes more frequently than a mezzo.
  • Register transitions: Because not all sopranos are the same, the register transitions don’t occur on just one note. The transitions usually occur as the soprano shifts out of chest voice around the E-flat just above Middle C and into her head voice around F-sharp (fifth line on top of the staff) in the octave above Middle C.
  • Strength: A soprano’s strength is a strong head voice.
  • Voice tone: The soprano voice is usually bright and ringing.
  • Weakness: Sopranos have a harder time projecting in middle voice.
  • Subdivisions: High, higher, highest — okay, that’s not exactly technically accurate, but most other voice types have subdivisions that fill in the gaps.
  • Common Performance Roles: The soprano is usually the lead in the show, such as Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Marian the Librarian in The Music Man, and Mimi in La Bohème.
  • Naming Names: Famous sopranos you may know include Dolly Parton, Julie Andrews, Sara Brightman, Maria Callas, and Olivia Newton John.

Mezzo: The low female voice

The difference between a mezzo (mezzo is the abbreviated term for mezzo-soprano) and a soprano is often tessitura.(Tessitura refers to where most of the notes lie in a song — the notes that a voice feels most comfortable singing.) Many mezzos can sing as high as a soprano, but they can’t stay as high as a soprano. For example, some roles in operatic literature require the mezzo to sing as high as the soprano lead, but the mezzo doesn’t have to remain that high as long as a soprano does — thank goodness — because the mezzo comfort zone is usually different than the soprano; mezzos prefer to live in their middle voices. On the other hand, a soprano hates to live in her middle voice all day, preferring to sing high notes and soar above the orchestra.

To further confuse you, many sopranos sing mezzo repertoire. How dare they! That’s not fair, but it’s a fact. As in other aspects of life, after the soprano becomes famous, she sings repertoire that she enjoys and that may be music written for somebody else, such as mezzos. So just because a soprano sings a song doesn’t mean it’s a soprano song. You have to look at the details, such as range of the song, and decide if that range fits your voice.

  • Range: The mezzo range is usually G below Middle C to a High B or High C. Many mezzos vocalize as high as a soprano but can’t handle the repetition of the upper notes.
  • Register: The register transitions for the mezzo usually occur at E or F (first space) just above Middle C and the E or F (fifth line) one octave above that.
  • Strength: Mezzos have a strong middle voice.
  • Voice tone: The mezzo voice is usually darker or deeper than her soprano counterpart.
  • Weakness: A mezzo’s head voice is often her weakness.
  • Subdivisions: One subdivision of mezzo is contralto. Less common than mezzos, contraltos can usually sing from F below Middle C to about an F (fifth line) below High C. A contralto can vocalize or sing higher and has an even darker, richer color and is more at home in the lower part of her voice. Sometimes singers darken their voices intentionally to make themselves sound like contraltos. The contralto may take her chest voice dominated sound up to a G (second line) above Middle C and shift into head voice around the D (fourth line) an octave above Middle C. Examples of contraltos include Marian Anderson and Maureen Forrester.
  • Common Performance Roles: The mezzo is often the mother, witch, or the sleazy girl in town. Her roles include such fun ones as Miss Hannigan in Annie, Mrs. Pots in Beauty and The Beast, Carmen in the opera Carmen, and Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!
  • Naming Names: Famous mezzos you may know include Marilyn Horne, K.D. Lang, Lorrie Morgan, Patsy Cline, and Karen Carpenter.

High-singing men: Tenor

Thanks to the Three Tenors, The Irish Tenors, and even Three Mo’ Tenors, you probably have a good idea of what a tenor sounds like.

  • Range: The tenor range is about two octaves with many singing a little lower than C (second space in bass clef) and a little higher than the male High C (third space treble clef).
  • Register: The tenor voice doesn’t make a huge transition from his lower voice to his middle voice. His transition into his middle voice occurs around Middle C (or the E just above Middle C) and then a transition into head voice around F-sharp or G above Middle C.
  • Strength: The tenor’s strength is his head voice.
  • Voice tone: The tenor voice is usually bright and ringing.
  • Weakness: His weakness is often his lower voice.
  • Subdivisions: In the musical-theater world, a subdivision of the tenor, called the bari/tenor, reigns. This voice type is someone with the power to project in the middle voice and the higher ringing money notes of the tenor. The other voice type that you frequently hear of in the opera world is the countertenor — a male singer who sounds like a female. This voice type sings in the same range as the mezzo (sometimes soprano) and sounds similar. When you’ve heard the countertenor singing enough, you can distinguish him from a mezzo. Until then, just enjoy the unique quality that these gentlemen bring to the singing world.
  • Common Performance Roles: The tenor is almost always the lead, winning the girl at the end of the show. Examples include Rodolfo in La Bohème, Don José in Carmen, Tony in West Side Story, Billy in Chicago, and Rolf in The Sound of Music.
  • Naming Names: Famous tenors you may know include Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and José Carreras, whom you may recognize as the Three Tenors, as well as John Denver, Enrico Caruso, Daniel Rodriguez (the Singing Cop), Elton John, and Stevie Wonder.

The low lowdown on bass

Bass is the lowest of the voice types. The bass is the guy that sings all the cool low notes in the barbershop quartet.

  • Range: His range is usually F (below the bass clef staff) to E (first line treble clef) but can be as wide as E-flat to F.
  • Register transitions: The bass changes from chest voice into middle voice around A or A-flat just below Middle C and changes into head voice around D or D-flat just above Middle C.
  • Strength: His low voice is his strength.
  • Voice tone: His voice is the deepest, darkest, and heaviest of the male voices.
  • Weakness: His high voice is his weakness.
  • Subdivisions: Filling in the middle between tenor and bass is the baritone. The baritone can usually sing from an A (first space bass clef) or F (first space treble clef) below the male High C. The bass-baritone has some height of the baritone and some depth of the bass and his range is usually A-flat (first space bass clef) to F (first space treble clef) and sometimes as high as G below the male High C. The baritone’s register transitions usually occur at the A or B just below Middle C and the D or E above Middle C.
  • Common Performance Roles: The bass or baritone is often the villain, father, or older man. Examples include Ramfis in Aïda, the Mikado in The Mikado, and Jud Fry in Oklahoma! Some exceptions to this villain image are King Arthur in Camelot, Porgy in Porgy and Bess, and the Toreador in Carmen.
  • Naming Names: Famous basses you may know include Samuel Ramey, James Morris, José Van Dam, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Barry White.

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Performing Like a Singing Pro: Rehearsing

Even if you’re a seasoned singing pro and you’ve been practicing on your own for years, you should have at least one dress rehearsal and several more practice rehearsals before a performance. At the first couple of rehearsals, you can sing while reading from the music. For the last rehearsal and the dress rehearsal, sing the music from memory.

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Under pressure, it’s shocking how quickly the words leave your short-term memory. By rehearsing the song from memory, you get even more opportunities to test your wonderful technique while using your acting skills. At the dress rehearsal, you also want to practice walking onstage before your song so you know how winded you are after climbing up the stairs for your entrance, walking around the stage, or down a long hallway.

You can rehearse alone or with an accompanist, coach, or voice teacher. At your rehearsal, record yourself. Listen to the recording a couple of times to get used to the sound of your voice in the different hall. If you put your recorder in the audience while you sing on the stage, your recording will sound farther away — that’s the sound your audience will hear.

You can also use your video recorder. If you decide to videotape the rehearsal, you need to view the tape several times to get used to watching yourself. You may want to experiment with this at home instead of trying it for the first time at the dress rehearsal.

The night before is too late to change much. Record yourself earlier in the process so you can make adjustments. When you watch the video, check your alignment, gestures, and your entrance.


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Improving Your Singing: Sustaining Tone

Sustaining tone is a singing must. Have you ever run out of air before the end of the phrase in your song and then had to sneak in a breath? Sneaking in a breath is legal when you sing, but you should sneak a breath because you choose to, not because you have to.

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Among the times you ran out of air, you may even have had to take a breath in the middle of a word. Yikes! It’s not a federal crime, but you came to the right place for some tips on applying your breathing skills to sustain tones.

Connecting the dots with legato

Those gorgeous tones that professionals sing so effortlessly happen because they know how to connect the pitches of a song. Singers sometimes sing a melody one pitch at a time, not thinking of a continuous line or phrase.

To make the phrases legato (smooth and connected), think of the pitches as having no empty space in between. The sound needs to flow from one pitch to the other, and the feeling in the throat must be a continuous sound even while you change pitches. Singing a long line of tone is possible because of breath control.

While singing the pattern in the following illustration, focus on making the sound legato and concentrate on the connection between pitches. Find your alignment, practice the breath a few times, open the back space, and begin. Allow your body to open as you inhale and steadily move back in as you sing.


Trilling the lips or tongue

Really let those lips trill on a long, slow musical pattern. The purpose of the lip trill is to monitor the flow of air — you can’t continue the lip trill without the air flowing. By making the pattern longer, you get an opportunity to sustain the tone longer. If that lip trill is just too much for you, feel free to use a tongue trill.

The principle is the same: trilling the tongue but maintaining a consistent flow of air. For this pattern, you want to monitor how your body moves as you trill — gradually moving.

Focus on creating a legato line as you sing the pattern in the following illustration. Find your alignment, prepare your breath, and begin.


Working your breath control

The pattern in the following illustration gives you the chance to sing and put all your eggs in the basket. Instead of playing the exercise faster, slow it down to make it harder, so you really have to work the breath.

Think through all the skills that you can apply (using great posture, opening the space in your throat and mouth, and getting breath in your body) so you’re ready to put it all together when you sing this pattern.

The pattern in the following illustration is played slowly to allow you to lengthen your breath and sing long legato lines. You have time between each repetition to get your breath. Remember to find your alignment, open the back space, allow the breath to drop in your body each time, and keep your chest steady throughout the pattern.




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Discovering Your Falsetto Singing Voice

As a man, if you’ve ever imitated a woman, by either speaking or singing, you’ve found your falsetto. Your falsetto voice may not be really strong, but giving it a good workout for singing is important so that you can strengthen your head voice.

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Listen to a singer using falsetto sounds. Notice that the falsetto is light, unlike your speaking voice; it’s similar to your voice when you were younger. Now try finding your falsetto by using the following tips:

  • First slide around above Middle C. Most men can sing in falsetto from about the A below Middle C up to as high as they’re comfortable.
  • Allow yourself to just make sounds in your falsetto to get used to the feeling. You don’t have to slide high in pitch, but slide around on the ooh vowel enough that you can check the position of your larynx as you ascend.
  • As in other areas of your voice, keep the larynx steady as you ascend in pitch. Take a breath and check the position of your larynx.
  • Keep the soft palate lifted as you slide around in pitch and as you sing the patterns.
  • If your larynx moves up as you begin the first note, start on a lower pitch. Remember to open the space as you inhale so your larynx can descend.

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Steps for Singing a New Song

Learning a new song to sing can be intimidating, but by using the following steps, you can integrate a new song into your repertoire without much difficulty. As with any new skill, learning a new song is a process, made easier if you break it into manageable steps:

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  1. Memorize the words as a story — write out the text as sentences with punctuation.
  2. Tap out the rhythm.
  3. Sing through the melody — without words — using a single vowel such as ah or oh.
  4. Sing through the melody with the piano accompaniment without words.
  5. Put it all together: words, rhythm, melody, and acting.

Singing Voiced and Unvoiced Consonants

Students often ask about the correct pronunciation of words for singing and speaking. Knowing the difference between voiced and unvoiced consonants can help you figure it out.

  • Voiced consonant sounds are produced by adding vocal sound. An example is the letter M. If you say the word make, you have to add sound to the letter M before you even get the vowel. (Other voiced consonants include B, D, G, J, L, N, NG, V, W, Z, and ZH.)
  • Unvoiced consonants are produced by momentarily stopping the flow of air and making no voice sound. The unvoiced consonant has sound, but the sound comes from the flow of air. The consonant T is an example. If you say the word to, you don’t make any sound with your voice until you get to the vowel. (Other unvoiced consonants include CH, F, K, P, S, SH, and WH.)

When you’re sounding out the ends of words, follow these general rules. The ed at the end of a word is pronounced with a D sound if the ed is preceded by a voiced sound (vowel or consonant), as in the words headed, lingered, and roamed. However, if the ed is preceded by an unvoiced consonant, it sounds like a T, as in such words as picked, yanked, joked, and wrapped.

You may also notice that some consonants can be either voiced or unvoiced based on what follows them. For example the th in bath is unvoiced, but the th in bathe is voiced. Sh in the word shoe is unvoiced, and zh in the word visual is voiced. J in the word jump is voiced, but ch in the word champ is unvoiced.

Because most printed dictionaries don’t include a guide on which consonants are voiced and unvoiced, you can search for pronunciation websites to hear a particular word pronounced for you.

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