“She’s such a talented singer!” they all say.
“I wish I could sing like that, but I can’t carry a tune to save my life.”
We’ve all heard comments like these a million times…
From those who want more than anything to become great singers themselves…
But are trapped by the all-too-common belief that:
It’s something you’re born with.
And you either have it, or you don’t.
The truth is though…that singing is a skill-set, just like any other. And it CAN be learned.
And while certain rare individuals might naturally sound amazing on their own…
And certain other rare individuals might always sound awful no matter what…
The vast majority of us will sing terribly when we first try…but then get better by practicing.
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 those people just aren’t meant to sing. It happens because they don’t know HOW TO PRACTICE.
So for today’s post, my goal is to help you avoid this fate by sharing 16 simple strategies to build an effective practice routine that will vastly improve your singing in a very short time.
Now let’s begin…
Part I: Finding Your Style
The #1 reason mediocre singers stay mediocre is…
They never really develop their own sense of identity and style.
For example…think of the contestants on singing shows like American Idol or The Voice…
Towards the end of those competitions…
It’s fair to say that all finalists meet the standard 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 were easily forgettable, despite all the cheers of the crowd, and all the praise of the judges.
So what were they missing?
Well to find out, let’s compare them to the opposite extreme: Those musicians you’ve listened to and loved all your life, many of whom were quite terrible singers by all “technical” standards.
The reason we remember those select few names among the sea of others that have come and gone over the decades…is simply because 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 the REAL question here is…
How does one cultivate style?
And in this section of the post, that’s exactly what we’ll discuss.
Starting first with…
1. Develop a Badass Attitude
Unlike drummers, bassists, and guitarists…
When you as a singer…stand up on stage…and open your mouth…
There’s literally nothing for you 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 feel it in your voice.
So if you don’t honestly feel with 100% certainty (at least while you’re on-stage) that you are the baddest motherfucker on the planet…
It won’t matter how “technically perfect” your performance has been up to that point, because all they will remember is the smell of your fear and self-doubt.
And it will repel them.
So the next question then becomes:
How do you develop that confidence?
Well, while there are many ways to trick yourself into being delusionally self-confident…
As we all know from the first few episodes of every American Idol season…delusional self-confidence is even worse than uncertainty.
So the MUCH better option is to simply become objectively self-confident, by actually getting good at what you’re doing.
So for the remainder of this article, competence is what we will focus on.
Just remember to keep in mind though, that without confidence as well, everything else is worthless.
Got it? Up next…
2. Copy Your Favorite SINGERS, not SONGS
While it might seem strange to say you can develop your own unique 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, people misinterpret this advice, and aspiring singers practice any and all of their favorite SONGS…rather than restricting themselves to the songs of their favorite SINGERS.
And here’s why this is a mistake:
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 we’re not learning about songwriting, are we? We’re learning about singing.
And if you want to learn to sing, you need to copy good SINGERS, not good SONGS.
So here’s what you do:
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.
So if you’re a man, the singers on your list should ideally be all male. Makes sense?
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 to be 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 they almost always end up sounding terrible.
Among female singers…Mariah Carey is great example. Every girl tries to hit those absurdly high notes…but none of them 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…
What you’ll notice after studying their tendencies is…
They’ll typically 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 the list goes on and on.
Once you’ve identified the various voices used by each of your favorite singers…
The next step is experimenting with each of those voices to find out which ones you identify with most.
And with 5-6 voices from 5-6 singers…that’s around 30 different voices in total you have to play around with.
Over time, you will notice yourself favoring some of those voices over others, and gradually you will start to amass more and more go-to weapons in your “singing arsenal”.
Part II: Daily Practice Techniques
So now that we’ve covered the “big picture”…
And you understand both the planning phase…
And the long-term strategy of copying others to find your own style…
For this next section of this post…
We will discuss various short-term strategies in your daily singing to make your practice sessions 10x more effective.
Now let’s begin…
1. Find a Practice Spot Where No One Can Hear You
One of the biggest mental roadblocks for a singer attempting 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 works.
The problem is…
When you practice in a place where roommates or neighbors can hear you…and you’re even the slightest bit self-conscious about them listening…
You’ll never be able to give 100% of your energy and focus to practicing, because you will be scared of sounding 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.
One possible way to handle this problem would be to spend months or years working on your confidence until you no longer care what others think of you…
But it’s SO MUCH EASIER to just find yourself an isolated spot where you can practice without being heard.
So if it’s at all possible…do that instead.
And when others finally do hear you scream your head off, you definitely won’t care anymore because you’ll know you sound amazing.
2. Don’t Bother With Silly Warm-Up Exercises
Just like any other muscle in your body…
Vocal cords do require a certain “warm-up” time before they’re ready to run at full capacity.
Which is why I’m sure you’ve seen vocal coaches on TV leading their singers through various warm-up exercises such as…
- reciting silly sentences
- or making exaggerated tongue and mouth movements
Perhaps you’ve even done some of these exercises yourself in the past.
And while they might have some value to certain people…they aren’t nearly as effective as just singing one of your songs.
Because as we’ve already discussed…every singer has their own unique set of voices…each one requiring its own unique combination of muscle movements.
And what better way to warm-up for those movements, than to simply sing something you normally would, but in a relaxed manner, in a way that minimal vocal strain?
So be sure to have 3 or 4 songs such as these in your repertoire and sing 1 or 2 of them at the start of each practice session.
Then once you’re feeling good, move on to some of your more challenging songs.
3. Don’t Sing Over Other Voices
A HUGE mistake that wannabe singers always make…
Is to practice by singing along with the original voice they’re trying to copy.
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 very easy to fool your brain into believing that the awesome sound you’re hearing is coming from your own mouth…rather than someone else’s.
So instead, always make sure that there are no other competing voices when you practice singing.
The first time you try it, it will feel horribly uncomfortable, because you will finally hear yourself as you actually sound…
And you will most likely discover that you aren’t nearly as good as you thought.
But it’s necessary to GET good, because it will allow you to hear what you’re doing wrong, so you can fix it. Makes sense?
4. Don’t Sing Acapella Either
On the opposite end, the OTHER common mistake that singers make…
Is to practice “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 actually has).
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.
Makes sense? Moving on…
5. Play Your Own Accompaniments
So the next obvious question becomes…
If I shouldn’t sing along with other voices…
And I shouldn’t sing by acapella…
Then how should I practice?
Now here’s the answer:
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 also get to hear your voice in isolation so you can 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 simply learn to play your OWN accompaniments…ideally on either:
- acoustic guitar
…as they are the two most versatile instruments for this purpose.
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. Memorize Lyrics ALWAYS. Read NEVER.
While it might sound absurd to you personally…
There are some singers out there who think it’s okay to read lyrics off a sheet as they sing.
And they could not be more wrong.
If you don’t dedicate specific time towards memorizing the lyrics without the sheet…
You won’t EVER memorize them as well as you really need to.
So before you even begin practicing a new song, you should already have the lyrics and the entire song structure memorized by heart.
The entire thing should just naturally flow from your mouth, without you having to think about the actual words.
Because once that happens, you can dedicate 100% of your mental energy to the delivery, rather than being distracted by trying to remember what line comes next.
So as a good rule of thumb:
Learn lyrics first. Sing lyrics second.
7. Practice A Little Bit, Everyday.
Unlike other musical instruments…
Which can be practiced 12 hours a day or more if need be…
You can really only sing for so long each day before your vocal cords have had enough.
For most people that happens anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours…with 1 hour being about average.
And when you love singing…that hour goes by quick, doesn’t it?
So…if you really want to get good, the ONLY way to do it is to practice 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 covered the long-term strategy of developing your own style.
- In Part II we covered the short-term strategy of revamping your daily practice routine.
And now, in Part III…
We’ll discuss some advanced mid-term strategies and goals…
That you can selectively focus on for months-at-a-time in your daily practice sessions…
To get you incrementally closer to reaching your ultimate goal of becoming an all-around great singer.
1. Learn to Control Your Breath
One of the most obvious tell-tale signs of weak singers…
Is their inability to control their breathing.
Typical examples of this 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
And 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.
The good news is…you can improve your breath control simply by being conscious of it as you practice, and always attempting to extract the maximum amount of sound from the minimum amount of air in your lungs.
And 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 own voice, either singing or talking…
They all cringe, thinking the exact same thing:
Is that what I sound like?
Because 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.
So here’s why this happens:
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 that it conflicts with their perception of themselves.
It’s not a worse sound, it’s just different. And that’s why it bothers us.
And if you don’t sing, then it’s not worth worrying about. However…if you DO sing, then it’s a HUGE deal if you’ve never even heard yourself the way others do. Right?
Luckily, you can solve this problem quite simply by building a mini home studio for yourself, and spending at least HALF of your practice time singing into a microphone…
So you can hear yourself as everyone else does, and adjust things accordingly.
If you don’t know how to do this yet, check out the following post where I explain it all:
As 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 the skill that will help you accomplish that goal.
So if you want to learn more about microphone technique, check out the following post:
3. Learn to Hear and Match Notes
Unlike guitarists, to have frets to help him find the “right notes”…
And keyboardists, who have keys…
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, singers would have the best pitch perception of anyone in the band.
Ironically though, the truth is quite the opposite.
Typically (next to maybe the drummer), singers often have worse pitch perception of anyone in the band.
Play a note on a guitar, ask the singer to sing it, and many of them CAN’T!!! Which is quite embarrassing when you stop and think about it.
So how do we solve this problem?
Well FIRST (as I already recommended earlier for a different reason)…learn to play either acoustic guitar or piano.
For whatever reason, singers who play instruments typically have much better ears than those who don’t.
The NEXT thing you can do is dedicate 10-15 minutes of your daily practice time specifically toward ear training.
Here’s what you do:
- Grab an instrument
- Play a note
- Try to match it with your voice
And that’s basically it.
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
One of the first questions singers have when building a practice routine is…
How many songs should I sing?
And unfortunately, the answer to this question is actually quite complicated.
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.
- Choose a 2nd song, and sing it until you get sick of that one.
- Go back to song #1, and cycle through the process again.
- When you get sick of all your current songs (or you’ve mastered them all), add a new one to the list.
Over time, your list will continue to grow until you reach a total of around 30-40. At that point, most people find that if they continue to add more songs to their repertoire…
They begin to lose their grasp on the list as a whole, because it simply isn’t possible to rehearse that many songs often enough to maintain them all.
So when you reach that point, and you start getting bored of your list…you need to begin crossing off some of the old ones, in order to make room for the new ones.
And from there, the process basically repeats itself until the day you die, or quit singing.
5. Sing Different Variations of the Same Old Songs
Whenever you start to get bored with a song…
Rather than just crossing it off your list…
Another (and perhaps better) option is to create 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 of music 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 in this post)…
You want to eventually learn to switch back and forth between these voices from moment to moment, as your 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 probably 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 🙂