Instructions by a Thumbtack professional
Learning how to sing is all about learning how to let your voice go. Griffith Frank is a professional singer who teaches at the Lee Strasberg Film and Theatre Institute in West Hollywood and graduated from the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. As a Top Pro on Thumbtack, Frank shares the guidance he received that led him to understanding how his voice works in his body — the same guidance that led him to becoming a vocal teacher.
Overcome your fears and rediscover your voice with these eight steps for learning how to sing.
STEP 1: Learn how to sing
The key to learning how to sing is to turn off your judgement. If you’re trying to sound good, you’ll tense up and worry and it won’t come. Singing, more so than we think, comes from a natural place. Your singing voice is actually very much like your speaking voice, but on pitch. Your body knows how to sing — just like a baby knows how to cry — without instruction. The foundation of finding your singing voice is to breathe and just let it happen.
STEP 2: Learn how to sing
Don’t force your breath. You want to relax your breath and not try to do it "right." Never make yourself breathe — instead think about allowing yourself to breathe. Try this: Breathe in through your nose. Feel your breath go in deep and fill the bottom of your torso, into the pelvic region. Just practice noticing the flow of your breath until you get the hang of the sensation of air filling you deep at your core.
Repeat the exercise, but now breathe through your mouth. Let your rib cage open and your pelvis drop, while also releasing any grasping or tensing in the shoulders.
This engaged breathing that comes from deep within is the foundation for a strong voice.
STEP 3: Learn how to sing
Why should you try to sing like you speak? Because when you speak, it has intention and so should singing. Let go of the idea that you’re supposed to sound a certain way. Don’t try to sound good. Play with the idea that you’re expressing emotions not trying to sound good. Express yourself by using the breath to give your voice momentum. Think about letting your voice ride your breath. When you’re achieve this, it feels almost like the laughing.
STEP 4: Learn how to sing
Singing lessons generally start with a vocal exercise, instead of starting with a song. Frank generally starts men at C3, which is an octave below middle C on the piano. Women with lower vocal ranges start with A3, and those with higher ranges start in C4. Then he plays a three-note scale: Do (C) - Re (D) - Mi (E). To practice at home, play the notes on the piano or get a piano app for your phone. Hear the notes, and allow — not make — yourself to hit those pitches. You’ll have varying degrees of success! The thing to keep in mind is to not force yourself to sing the notes properly. That will only lead to tension and frustration, which are both the enemy of singing. Allow yourself and your voice to find the pitch. Eventually, your body will get accustomed to finding it. As time goes on, your ear will get better and you’ll find the pitches with more ease.
STEP 5: Learn how to sing
When speaking or singing correctly, air is used throughout the body. In the case of singing, your body is your instrument. As the air and sound move through your body, you may feel vibration or buzzing in several areas such as the head, chest, nasal passages, face and mouth. Try allowing your voice to move naturally throughout your body.
Don’t constrict your breath to try to sound like your favorite singer. When you allow your voice to move naturally, you’ll feel an upward and outward flow of sound, as opposed to a controlled or forced sound. It will be closest in expression to a baby’s laugh or when you’re honestly laughing super hard.
When you start to feel the natural flow of your voice through your body, after time and practice, you will know — through a combination of hearing and feeling — that you’ve hit the pitch.
STEP 6: Learn how to sing
To adequately use your body as an instrument, you need to release habitual tension. To see if you hold tension, say "Ha." Notice whether your jaw or neck is tensing to help the sound come out. If so, put a hand on the jaw again and say “Ha” without engaging your jaw. Try to say “Ha” by speaking with that deep breath not from the throat. When you get the hang of that, singing it! This is the path toward singing naturally.
STEP 7: Learn how to sing
Practice all the time. Sing in the car, in the shower, in the bedroom. Don’t be afraid of how you sound, just sing. Encourage yourself to sing. There are also online videos and exercises to help you build your vocal instrument. You can also find exercises for specific types of singing, such as rock, opera, theater and so on, just like there are weightlifting exercises to prepare you for different sports. Different types of singing exercises build different vocal strengths. However, just like with weightlifting, repeated bad habits can lead to injury. That’s why a vocal teacher can be so helpful. A vocal teacher is a guide who knows what to listen for and how to correct bad techniques and keep you on the right path.
In general, practice your exercises for 10 to 15 minutes, up to three times a day. Keep in mind this can vary for each student, so talk to a professional voice coach to understand what’s best for you.
STEP 8: Learn how to sing
To learn the basics of how to sing takes anywhere from one to three years, depending on prior experience and if you’re gifted with a natural aptitude. Before you get overwhelmed, remember that what takes you as a vocalist three years to achieve may take an instrumentalist five to 10 years, because as a vocalist you always have your instrument on you and in some ways are always practicing.
After that one-to-three-year span of learning basic concepts, improving or refining your voice is a lifelong pursuit. From puberty to age 30, your voice constantly changes. It reaches its prime in your late 20s, settling into what it will be.
If you choose voice lessons, make sure you have the right guidance. Your voice should feel good at the end of the lesson. It should feel refreshed and stronger for having done good exercises. If your voice is hoarse or tired or uncomfortable, something is wrong. When you’re fatigued, it is a sign you’re doing something wrong.
Remember, even kids who are great singers have been practicing years. So relax, have fun and enjoy the process of learning how to sing.
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