In these heady days of universal musical access, singers can choose from a dizzying range of musical styles to sing. Singing in different genres can increase your vocal abilities and opportunities, but how do you know which styles best suit your own voice?
It can take some time to figure out what songs will sound and feel really good with your own natural voice. If you keep in mind the five tips below, your voice will stay healthy while you’re learning and growing in your identity as a singer.
1. The Shower Test
What do you love to sing in the shower? Those are the songs we love the best! Choose songs that rouse your passions. No instrument responds so well to our emotions and mental images as that intimate musical part of our body: the human voice.
Yet emotion and personal connection will only take you so far. As always, be fearless in face of the truth: record yourself, and compare what you hear to what you were hearing in your head and to the original artist. Carefully assess what steps you can take to make your musical vision a reality.
2. Home on the Range
Even if you don’t know your own vocal range (a.k.a. tessitura), you can follow these steps to find songs that fit:
- Gender Identity: Generally (there are exceptions) females sing higher than males. Start with songs that are sung by the same gender as you.
- Looking High and Low: Do they sing high or low? Does the melody have a large or small range of notes? These factors may reflect the musical style, individual singer, or both.
- Karaoke Time: Grab the lyrics and sing along. Don’t worry about being perfect: you are listening for whether the notes are too high, too low, or just right. If you can sing most of the notes except for either a few highs or a few lows, a simple change of key (transposition) can bring it into perfect range.
3. Style and Comfort
When you try out songs from different genres, and/or different styles within those genres, you will notice that certain songs are more comfortable right off the bat. When you record yourself, see if it sounds right to you. Examine the style of that song: that’s the style that fits best with your natural voice.
Let’s say you were naturally good at swimming, but wanted to compete in a triathlon. First you would build your swimming strength and then branch out to the running and bicycle training. So when you start building your voice in a style that naturally fits, you will develop techniques that you can then apply to other genres.
4. Take it Easy
Would you choose a marathon for your very first race? No matter how much you love them, some songs are too difficult when you’re starting out. So start out easy and work up from there.
Warning: it’s not always easy to know if it’s easy! When assessing the difficulty of a song, keep these guidelines in mind:
- Slower does not equal easier. Slow music requires more stamina and breath support. It’s also easier to lose your place in the rhythm. Try picking songs that are not too fast or too slow, and that mix slow and fast phrases.
- Don’t worry if it’s mostly too high or mostly too low. If the notes in the song stay within a narrow range, you may be able to sing it at the edges of your range, or transpose it easily to a more comfortable key.
- Do a little break dance. How does the melody, and the lyrics fall around your break(s)? Even if the song is in your range, your break can aid or hinder how you can sing the particular syllables on particular notes.
- Don’t give up on first listen. Songs always sound harder the first time you hear them. When you listen a few times, you’ll begin to understand what’s involved and it may not be as difficult as you first thought.
5. Ask Why
Why are you wanting to learn this song? Is it that you love the artist? Her voice, her look, her personality? How about the lyrics or the mood? Maybe you’re floored by the vocal virtuosity and wish you could sing like that? Could it be the music itself? The soaring melody or the rhythmic drive that stirs your inner energy?
When you’ve teased out your true motivations, you’ll understand more about what you really want out of this learning experience, and be more clear about your choice of songs.
The Perfect Fit!
All the ins and outs of singing can take some time to learn. By choosing the right songs for your voice, you will be able to focus more attention on building your technique, strength and stamina without harming your voice. Since you’ll be more comfortable along the way, you’ll also have more fun.
So press that record button! Let your emotions guide you as you find your own style, and your “home on the range.” Take the easy road at first, and figure out why you really want to sing. Once you have taken these steps, you’ll find the songs that best express the natural treasures within you!