As part of developing our new singing-in-tune method we’ve been asking people about their experience with singing. One of the questions we’re asking is “What has held you back from singing in the past?”
Although there have been many interesting answers, one which kept coming up was:
Also known as:
“People tell me my voice sucks”
“I’m not really a good singer”
“My voice doesn’t sound good”
If you don’t think you have a good voice you’ll be reluctant to sing and feel held back. That’s understandable. Especially when it comes to singing in front of other people!
But what does it mean to have a “good voice”?
And what can you do if you don’t have a good voice but want to sing?
How can you improve your singing voice? What are the best singing tips out there? How much does your vocal range matter? What should you focus on when you practice singing?
What makes a voice “good”?
We all instinctively know a good voice from a bad one. You have probably heard amateur singers and thought “wow, they really can’t sing!” But what is it we’re reacting to?
More importantly, what could that person change about their singing to sound good? What advice could you give them on how to get better at singing?
Here are the 16 keys to having a good singing voice. These singing tips will cover the skills that will help you sing with confidence, good technique, and consistency. These practice tips on how to improve your singing voice are great complementary learning to singing lessons, and will also help you improve your singing on your own.
1. Being in Control
Certainly one of the most noticeable factors in whether someone seems like a good singer or not: are they in control of their voice?
Having good vocal control means staying “on pitch”. This means singing the pitch of notes accurately, rather than a bit sharp or flat. It also means not wandering off key or singing in the wrong key to begin with.
Singers with good vocal control are able to sing each note distinctly for the intended musical effect in a melody or harmony. They can also handle note leaps accurately, not jumping too far or not far enough in pitch whether they’re hitting high notes or low. Working on your control will help improve your singing.
2. Good Tone
Singing tone is a combination of a few different factors, but it basically means “the overall sound of the voice”.
It’s almost always the vowels in words which are sustained in lyrics (i.e. “ah”, “oh” “ee” etc. rather than “ch” “ss” “th” etc.) and singers with good tone use clear consistent vowel sounds.
Tone also means the overall timbre (characteristic sound) of the voice. For example, is it hoarse or smooth, hard or soft, broad or narrow, light or heavy, and so on. To improve your singing and your tone, it’s a great idea to practice both your head voice and your chest voice, and be able to recognize when each is best to use – low and mid-range notes are often more comfortably sung in chest voice, while high notes require use of your head voice. It may also help to practice singing those sustained vowels to get the right tone in whatever register you are singing in.
3. Clear Enunciation
It doesn’t matter if you’re hitting all the right notes if every word is mumbled. Good singers have clear enunciation, crafting each syllable precisely as intended.
Of course, in rock and pop music the delivery of lyrics is much more relaxed and you might not sing crisp syllables. Even here, each word should be expressed exactly as the singer intends.
Practicing your enunciation is an easy way to improve your singing voice, and get better at conveying your lyrical message!
4. Strong Support
One thing which can mark out a bad singer is that their voice seems weak or feeble. To improve your singing voice, you must have solid vocal support for your singing. This lets you produce good clear notes which sound strong and don’t waver. Vocal support makes you a better singer, and a stronger singer.
It also helps you to produce a broad tone rather than one which sounds thin and feeble, so you can sing certain passages and songs better. Although you might occasionally want to sing with a weak-sounding voice to best suit a particular song, a good singer must also have a voice which is capable of producing a strong broad tone. It’s better to have all your bases covered.
Vocal support comes from a combination of good posture (a hunched back is not conducive to good support!), proper breathing technique, and overall practice and development – all of which help improve your singing. This will also make it easier to hit those high notes over time, and they’ll sound better.
5. Suitable Volume
This is another immediate tell-tale sign of a poor singer: many people are either blasting out every note, or singing so quietly you may barely hear them. The listener is either deafened or frustrated by having to strain to hear. Either way, sing at a suitable volume or they won’t want to hear more!
Learning to sing at an appropriate volume is essential for sounding like a good singer. The volume must suit the music, varying appropriately with the musical phrasing, and be at the right overall level to match the other musicians and please your audience. Vocal control will greatly help you sing at a suitable volume and improve your singing.
6. Suits the Style
The world of music is wonderfully diverse, and although we are all naturally gifted with a singing voice, these voices vary and they must vary to best suit the style of music being sung.
Have you ever heard someone at a karaoke night use a sweet and gentle voice to sing death metal? Or someone attempt to deliver a love ballad with a hoarse growling roar? Once you’ve stopped laughing at the sound coming out of their mouth, the chances are you don’t come away thinking they’re a good singer.
So what would make someone like our karaoke friend a better singer?
Good singers know how to adjust their tone, volume and overall expression to best suit the style of music. They also know to avoid genres which they aren’t (yet) practised in singing!
To put it another way: a good opera voice is not the same as a good rock voice or a good R&B voice. To improve your singing voice, practice singing in varying styles to become a better and more versatile vocalist. Vocal coaches can be very helpful for pointing you in the right direction of the tone and technique needed for a certain style.
With all the characteristics above, it’s important to sing with consistency. If you sound good for a few notes but then terrible after that, the overall impression will be a bad one.
You’ve probably seen this before: the many people who shyly mumble their way through a verse, and then reach the chorus and sing a strong, powerful, accurate performance, before returning to their mumbling for the next verse.
Having a good voice means having a good voice throughout a song, not just now and then. It means having consistent volume, tone, pitching, support, and style at all times, and it will also help to know what singing conditions are most conducive to consistent singing. To improve your singing voice, aim for a consistent sound when you practice – like you would with any instrument.
8. Musical Phrasing
The human voice is perhaps the most expressive instrument – but it can also be the most boring! Good musical phrasing is essential for a compelling performance, and makes your voice sound better than simply singing the words on the page.
Phrasing means how the singer “shapes” each line of the song. It’s a combination of pitch, volume, tone, enunciation and more. Consistency is the foundation for a good performance but it’s the use of phrasing which makes the singer sound like a person rather than a robot with a mouth!
A great singer doesn’t just have one genre they stick to rigidly. In fact, one impressive characteristic of great singers is that they are versatile and can actually adapt their voice to suit any style of music using their arsenal of techniques.
Many new techniques and practice may be required, and a great singer will know to avoid public performance until they have gotten the chance to try out the new style and adjust well. But with a good voice they can try new things without fear that their voice simply isn’t up to the task.
This is actually the key to most of the points above, and it’s another factor which is particularly noticeable when distinguishing good singers from bad: self-awareness, i.e. being aware of your voice as you sing.
When someone calls someone else a bad singer, it’s normally because they’ve seen them blasting out notes, seemingly oblivious to whether they’re in tune, or at the right volume, or singing with a nice tone. Without self-awareness, you are essentially playing an instrument blind!
11. Use Your Ears
Key to several of the points above: you must listen! Good singers are using their ears as much as their voice, and their ears are a tool to help them sound better.
As a singer your ears let you:
- Hear and check your own pitch
- Adjust your tone as you sing
- Make sure your volume is in balance with the music
- Hear your band or fellow singers and complement them well musically
- Develop your overall musicality and musical awareness
To accomplish all this requires the use of ear training and active listening while singing. It’s a lot to keep in mind, but training your ears in this way is incredibly valuable in helping you sing better.
12. Know your range
This is another “know thyself” tip: even the greatest singers in the world can’t sing every note. It’s important to know your own vocal range and stay within it. In fact, it’s often a tell-tale sign of an amateur singer that they strain for notes that are beyond their vocal range, especially with high notes. This results in many missed notes and awkward strained sounds, and may even damage the vocal cords (also known as vocal folds), making it harder to sing notes which are in range!
As any vocal coach will tell you, breathing is absolutely essential for good singing. Singers with a good voice know the importance of using good breathing, and their singing depends on it.
Without the solid foundation which proper breathing provides, even the most naturally talented singer will fall flat mid-performance. Practice singing while taking note of your breathing and how it affects your phrasing and tone.
14. Make It Seem Easy
Except in a rare time where the song demands it, people want to hear a singer who will make it sound easy. Like the words and notes are flowing out from them without effort in a natural way. This helps the listener feel relaxed.
If it feels like the singer is straining their vocal cords and throat (or their whole body), or trying too hard for each note (particularly in those high notes) it’s even hard for the listeners to really enjoy the vocal performance, as they instinctively start feeling tense themselves.
As well as the effect on the audience, being tense when singing is a big problem. Tension or strain in your chest, throat, jaw, or vocal cords will make it much harder to breathe, pitch and support notes properly. Although it may be hard when you’re just starting out, the best thing you can do for your voice is: relax your body!
15. Love Your Voice
It may seem a bit “chicken and egg”, but singers with a good voice know that they have a good voice and they love using it. They know their vocal range and its limits, they have made peace with the fact that their voice sounds a bit different to other people than to themselves, they’ve practiced enough to be comfortable singing in front of people, they avoid strain and tension, and they take care of their vocal cords to make sure their voice is as good as it can be.
Singers with a good voice aren’t afraid to hear themselves on a recording. We all sound funny to ourselves at first, but to be a good singer and be confident in your voice you need to get past that. Recording yourself and listening back is a powerful way to improve your own technique and improve your voice over time. The more you practice and use recordings to your advantage, the more self-aware you’ll become in the moment as you sing.
16. Look after your voice
This is a hard one to manage until you’ve accomplished the step above, learning to love your own voice. But it’s vital! The singing voice is a natural biological part of your body, and that means it’s vulnerable to damage if treated badly.
If you want to have a good voice, you need to make sure you take care of it. Vocal coaches can advise you on how to take care of your voice – it may mean warming up before singing difficult passages, learning proper breathing support, taking it easy when you have a sore throat, and avoiding vocal strain because you’re trying to reach notes beyond your range. Practice singing with vocal health in mind, and your voice will serve you well for a long time.
How to get a good singing voice
As you read the list above you might have wondered whether these practice tips on how to improve your singing voice were the cause of having a good sound, or the effect. Does having a good voice produce these characteristics, or does building these characteristics lead to a good voice?
Do you have to be born with a good voice or can you create a good voice by training each of the points above?
As with most things in music, it’s a bit of nature and a bit of nurture, and a whole lot of practice. Many people will naturally have a better singing voice to begin with, but everyone is capable of developing a beautiful singing voice. As you read the points above, no doubt you found yourself thinking “Oh, I could improve on that one…!” or “I should try that technique…!” or “That might help me sing better…”
Or perhaps you’re not sure how exactly to improve your singing? Let a friend to listen to you singing with this list in hand – then ask them which points you could improve on. You might find feedback to be instrumental in improving your singing voice.
Ultimately a “good voice” is simply one which people enjoy listening to and want to hear more of. The way to develop a good singing voice yourself is to practice each of the points above, improving your voice more and more – until the audience is clamoring for an encore!