“She’s so talented! I wish I could sing like that, but I’m completely tone deaf.”
We’ve all heard comments before, from folks who believe that a good voice is something you either have, or don’t.
But the truth is…singing is a skill-set just like any other. And it CAN be learned.
And while there might be a rare few who sound great naturally…and another rare few who will always sound terrible no matter what…
The vast majority of people sing terribly at first…then get better with practice.
At least, that’s how it should work in theory.
Unfortunately, the reality is that many singers practice for years and years without ever improving. What’s worse…many of them can’t even see it.
And this happens, not because of a lack of talent. It happens because they don’t know HOW to practice.
So for today’s post, I’m going to share 16 simple strategies to build an effective practice routine that will vastly improve your singing in a very short time.
So here we go…
Jump links for the “skimmers”…
- Part I: Finding Your Style
- Part II : Daily Practice Techniques
- Part III : Advanced Strategies
Part I: Finding Your Style
The #1 reason mediocre singers stay mediocre is…
They never really develop their own identity and style.
For example…think of the contestants on singing shows like American Idol or The Voice.
I think it’s fair to say that the finalists of these shows meet the minimum qualifications of “good singers“, right?
They hit their notes with power, precision, and finesse, and seem reasonably confident in themselves while doing so.
But let me ask you this…
How many of those names do you still remember…years after the show?
Perhaps one or two. Perhaps none.
Because the vast majority are easily forgettable, despite all the cheers of the crowd, and all the praise of the judges.
So what were they missing?
Well to find the answer, let’s compare them to the opposite extreme: The legendary musicians you’ve listened to and loved all your life, who would do terrible in these competitions. Bob Dylan is the first name that comes to mind.
The reason we remember such names, while forgetting the thousands that come and go over the decades is:
- they had their own unique style
- that no one ever really had before
- and possibly no one will ever have again
While all those cliche American Idol singers sounded more like clones produced in a factory.
So in this next section, we’re going to discuss how you can develop a style of your own.
Starting first with…
1. Develop a Badass Attitude
Unlike drummers, bassists, and guitarists…
As a singer…when you stand up on stage and open your mouth, there’s literally nothing to hide behind.
The audience will know exactly who you are, and how you are feeling at any given moment…
Because they will see it in your eyes, on your face, and in your body language…and most importantly, they will hear it in your voice.
So if you don’t honestly feel with 100% certainty that you’re the baddest motherfucker on the planet (at least while you’re on-stage)…
It won’t matter how “technically perfect” your performance is, since all they anyone will remember is the smell of your fear and self-doubt.
How do you develop that confidence?
While there are many ways to trick yourself into delusional self-confidence…
We all know from the first few episodes of each American Idol season…that delusional self-confidence with singing is even worse than uncertainty.
So the better option is to gain objective self-confidence, by actually getting good. So for the remainder of this article, competence is what we’ll address.
Just keep in mind though, that without confidence as well, all your technical skills are worthless.
2. Copy Your Favorite SINGERS, not SONGS
While it sounds strange to say you can develop your own style by copying others….it’s absolutely true.
Almost every great singer (or any other kind of artist for that matter), found their style in same way:
By copying their heroes.
Too often though, aspiring singers make the mistake of practicing their favorite SONGS…rather than the songs of their favorite SINGERS.
This is a mistake because a huge portion of the best songs in music history are performed by one-hit-wonders with a level of talent that is not-at-all worth imitating.
Sure the songs might be catchy, but all they will do is turn you into a human juke-box. Which is exactly the thing we’re trying to avoid.
So here’s what to do instead:
Make a list of around 4-6 of your favorite singers of all-time. Not necessarily the ones you respect most. Choose the ones you WISH to sound like. And also think you CAN sound like.
So if you’re a man, the singers on your list should ideally be male, with a vocal range similar to your own.
3. Recognize Who Can Be Copied, And Who CAN’T
While I’d like to tell you that you’ll eventually be able to imitate all the singers on your list…
Chances are that your vocal tendencies will only align with maybe half of them. If you’re lucky.
But that’s expected, as certain voices are so unique that NOBODY can copy them.
Among male singers…the first name that comes to mind is Robert Plant. Every guy wants to sing Led Zeppelin covers, but almost no one ever does so, in a way that actually sounds good.
Among female singers…Mariah Carey is great example. Every girl tries to hit those absurdly high notes…but none ever actually do.
So every few months take a step back and evaluate which voices you resonate with, and which you don’t.
If one singer’s style doesn’t seem to align with your own, cross off that name and replace it with a new one.
After doing this a few times, you will eventually settle on a list with a good mix of voices that suit you well.
4. Develop Your Own Voices
Once you’ve built a solid list of legendary singers…
It’s time to start borrowing from each of them with the ultimate goal of eventually finding your OWN style.
Assuming you chose some truly legendary singers to learn from…
You’ll eventually notice that they have a mix of about 5-6 different “voices” that they selectively use in different musical contexts (most singers have only 1-2).
Examples of such voices might include:
- a screaming metal voice
- a soft angelic voice
- a breathy “pillow-talk” voice
- a smokey sexy voice
…and so on.
Once you’ve identified these voices. start experiementing with them to find out which ones suit you best.
With 5-6 voices from 5-6 singers…that’s around 30 different voices to play with.
Over time, you will notice yourself favoring some voices over others, and gradually you’ll start to amass the go-to weapons of your “singing arsenal”.
Part II: Daily Practice Techniques
So now that we’ve covered confindence and style…
For this next section of this post…we’re going to cover your practice routine…
And how to make it up to 10x more effective, simply by following a few simple guidelines and avoiding the common pitfalls that keep you from progressing.
Now let’s begin…
1. Find a Spot Where No One Can Hear You
One of the biggest mental roadblocks in learning to sound GOOD, is an unwillingness to sound BAD.
Whenever you’re learning a new song or technique…
You’re going to do it wrong many times long before you figure out how to do it right. That’s just how it’s done.
The problem is…when you practice in a place where roommates or neighbors or family members can hear you…and you’re even the slightest bit self-conscious about them listening…
You’ll never be able to give 100% energy and focus to practicing, because you’ll be wondering what someone else thinks when you sound bad.
This is ESPECIALLY true when learning to develop power in your voice. And is probably the main reason why so few of us ever attain that awe-inspiring, wall-shaking volume we all wish for.
The mere thought of others laughing while you scream your head off in the next room is too embarrassing for most people to handle.
So find an isolated spot where you can practice without being heard, and scream away.
When others finally do hear you perform at full volume, you won’t be self-conscious anymore because you’ll know you sound amazing.
2. Don’t Waste Time With Warm-Ups
Just like any muscle in the body, vocal cords require a certain “warm-up” time before running at full capacity.
Which is why vocal coaches often have their singers do strange warm-up exercises like:
- reciting difficult sentences
- or making exaggerated tongue and mouth movements
Perhaps you’ve done these exercises yourself in the past.
And while they might offer some value to certain people…they aren’t nearly as effective as just singing one of your easier songs as you normally would…
But in a softer, slower, more relaxed manner, with minimal vocal strain, and gradually increase the intensity as you get more comfortable.
Then once you’re feeling good, move on to some of your more challenging songs.
3. Don’t Practice Over Other Voices
A HUGE mistake that wannabe singers always make, is singing along with the original voice of the song thy’re practicing.
The problem with this method is that you never really hear YOURSELF…
Because your voice is always masked by the other singer’s amazing performance.
And it’s easy to fool your brain into believing that the awesome sound you’re hearing is coming from your mouth…rather than the track.
So instead, always make sure that there are no other competing voices when you practice singing.
It may be difficult to find a recorded track of your song, minus any vocals, so instead, have a fellow musican play the accompaniment alongside you.
If that’s not an option, just play the original track at absolute minimum volume, so 90% of what you hear is just your voice.
The first time you try it, it will feel horribly uncomfortable, because you will most likely discover that you aren’t nearly as good as you thought.
But it will allow you to get better faster, because it will allow you to better hear what you’re doing wrong, so you can ultimately work on fixing it.
4. Don’t Sing Acapella
Another common practice mistake is to sing “acapella”, with no accompaniment at all.
While it does offer the advantage of exposing every little flaw in your singing…
People mistakenly believe that just because it’s “harder”, it will make them better singers.
The problem is…without a reference pitch to follow…
Your notes could drift all over the place and you would never know…unless you already have advanced pitch perception (which almost no one does).
If you actually want to be an acapella singer, then of course practice that way. However, if you’re like 99% of singers who’d rather sing with music…then PRACTICE WITH MUSIC.
5. Play Your Own Accompaniments
In a perfect world…you would have a custom mix created for every song you want to practice, with the vocals removed.
You would have an entire live band ready to accompany you…24/7.
In either scenario, you get the best of both worlds because:
- You get to hear your voice in isolation and fix your weak points.
- But you also get an accompaniment to follow so you can work on pitch control
However, since neither of these two scenarios are realistic for almost anyone…
The next best solution is to learn to play your OWN accompaniments…ideally on either:
- acoustic guitar
While it will definitely require some extra work early-on…it will vastly improve both your singing and general musicianship in the long run.
And as a nice side benefit, it will earn you much added respect from your fellow musicians as well.
6. ALWAYS Memorize Lyrics. NEVER Read.
Surprisingly, there are many singers who think it’s okay to read lyrics off a sheet as they sing.
But it’s always a bad idea, and here’s why:
First, if you don’t dedicate specific time towards memorizing the lyrics without the sheet…
Half your mind will always be preoccupied with thinking about what to say next, instead of focusing entirely on the performance.
Second, a great performance is not only about how you sound. It’s about how you look. And nobody looks good reading from a sheet of paper.
So here’s the takeaway:
Before you even start practicing a new song, you should ALREADY have the lyrics and song structure memorized by heart.
The entire thing should just naturally flow from your mouth, without you having to think about the actual words.
7. Practice A Little Bit, Everyday.
Unlike other musical instruments…which can be practiced 12 hours a day or more…
You can really only sing for 30 minutes-2 hours each day before you vocal cords have had enough.
For most people, 1 hour is a good target time.
The problem is, if you can only practice for 1 hour per day, you will NEVER get good if you don’t practice nearly every every single day, no matter what…
- AND…you must continue to do so for the next few years or so…to have any chance of ever being the singer you dream of becoming.
- AND…you must do this, not only to GET good, but to STAY good as well.
Because even after you’ve mastered a song, if you don’t continue to sing it on a regular basis, your “muscle memory” will tend to forget things over time.
Part III: Advanced Strategies
So let’s do a quick review, shall we?
- In Part I we learned about developing your own style.
- In Part II we learned about how to structure your practice effectively.
And now, in Part III…we’ll look at some specific advanced strategies that apply to all singers, no matter their style or goals.
1. Learn to Control Your Breath
One of the most tell-tale signs of weak singers…is their inability to control their breath.
Typical examples might include:
- Huffing and puffing in between phrases
- Running out of air towards the end of longer phrases
- Taking quick “catch-up” breaths in the middle of a phrase
Unless they’re singers themselves, most listeners won’t even notice these problems…at least not consciously.
But they still feel it emotionally. And even if every other aspect of your performance is on-point, their overall impression of you will be mediocre at best.
But you can improve your breath control as you practice, simply by focusing on extracting the maximum amount of sound from the minimum amount of air in your lungs.
You can even test your abilities with the following exercise:
- Sing a single steady note at a relatively high volume.
- Time yourself to see how long you can hold it.
- Periodically retest and try to improve.
And if you REALLY take your singing seriously, and want every advantage you can get…it also can’t hurt to start (or continue) going to the gym to improve both your lung capacity and general health.
2. Sing Into a Microphone Sometimes
The first time people hear a recording of their voice, either singing or talking…
They always cringe, thinking the exact same thing:
Is that what I sound like?
In that one moment…they finally realize that the way their voice sounds to them in their own head…is entirely different from how it sounds to the rest of the world.
And it’s not just their imagination. It’s actually true. And here’s why:
Normally when you speak, your voice travels in a straight line, from your mouth to the listener’s ears, with minimal sound distortion.
However…to reach YOUR ears, the sound must travel around and through your head, causing certain shifts in the frequency balance, resulting in a unique sound that ONLY YOU will ever hear.
And the reason people initially hate hearing the sound of their own recorded voice is not because it sounds worse. It just sounds very different.
And the easiest way to overcome this roadblock, is to spend at least half your practice sessions singing into a microphone. So you can get used to hearing yourself as everyone else does.
The easiest way to set this up at home, is to build yourself a small bedroom studio. To learn more on how this is done, check out this post:
A HUGE side benefit of singing into a microphone, you will also learn microphone technique…
Which many amateur singers don’t even realize, is an entirely different skill-set from singing “acoustically”.
And if you want lots of people to hear you sing one day (as I assume you do)…it makes sense to dedicate most of your time toward learning a skill that will help you accomplish that goal.
To learn more about microphone technique, check out this post:
3. Learn to Hear and Match Notes
Unlike guitarists, who have frets to help them find their notes…
Singers are one of the few musicians who have nothing to rely on but their own ears.
So you would assume then, that on average, they would have the best pitch perception of anyone in the band.
Ironically though, singers often have worse pitch perception of anyone in the band (maybe next to the drummer).
Play a note on a guitar, ask the singer to sing it, and many of them can’t. Which is quite embarrassing when you really think about it.
So to solve this problem, it’s good to start learning an instrument if you aren’t already. For whatever reason, singers who play instruments typically have much better ears than those who don’t.
Acoustic guitar and piano are two great starting choices.
The NEXT thing you can do is dedicate 10-15 minutes of your daily practice time toward ear training.
Here’s what you do:
- Grab an instrument
- Play a note
- Try to match it with your voice
The more musical instruments you do this with, the better you will get at mentally separating the fundamental note from the instrument’s tone.
Which is why you ideally want to perform this exercise on a digital piano, as you will have a virtually unlimited number of instruments to choose from.
Early on, you may be unsure of whether you’re hitting the right note or not, but the more you practice, the easier it becomes, until eventually you can sing back entire phrases of notes without even thinking.
4. Know When to Add More Songs to Your List
Ever wondered how many songs you should have in your repetoire at once?
On one hand, you don’t want to work on too many songs at once…
Because you’ll never learn the finer nuances of each song, that separate the good performances from the great ones.
On the other hand, you don’t want to work on too few songs at once, because you will naturally get sick of them…
Which will make you sick of singing in general, and most likely lead you to stop practicing altogether.
So here’s what you do:
- Start with one song, and sing it over and over until you get sick of it.
- Add a 2nd song, and cycle between the two, until you get sick of both.
- Add a 3rd, and cycle between the 3 until you get sick of all of them.
You don’t need to wait until you have one song mastered, before adding another one. Because if you aren’t a great singer yet, it may be months or years before you master even one.
So instead, do your best until you get sick of it, and keep adding new ones until you reach a total of around 30-40.
At that point, most people find that it isn’t possible to rehearse that many songs often enough to maintain them all.
So when you start getting bored of your list…cross off some of the old ones, when you feel the need to make room for new ones.
5. Sing Different Variations of the Same Old Songs
When you start to get bored with a song, rather than just crossing it off your list…
Another (and perhaps better) option is to invent new variations of the song instead.
The main advantage here is that it gives you a chance to practice not only your singing, but your composition, and improvisation as well…
Which in turn, makes you a more well-rounded singer and musician overall, and helps you further refine your own unique style.
Rather than being a parrot that just copies, copies, copies…you can work towards becoming one of the true “artists”, who naturally finds their own unique interpretation of piece they touch.
More specifically, this could potentially mean experimenting with different:
To take things one step further…once you have a few good “voices” at your disposal (as we discussed earlier)…
You want to eventually learn to switch back and forth between these voices from moment to moment, as the mood suits you, stringing together an entire tapestry of emotions in just a single performance.
Practice this enough, and you might one day reach a level of virtuosity that less than 1 in 1000 singers ever reach:
A level where you never sing a song the exact same way twice, you never quite know where your voice will go from one moment to the next…and every performance you put on is one that will never be heard again.
And on that note, we’ll conclude this post. Good luck 🙂