So, you’ve got more confident with your voice, you can sing songs pretty well, and you are getting better at your craft. However, with aspiring singers a plateau can be reached: you feel like even though you’re practising, you aren’t improving at the same rate any more. You feel like something is missing, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.
The likely cause? Vocal Control.
Vocal control is one of the most fundamental aspects of singing, and is something every singer has to learn at some point. It is the “bread and butter” of singing, which should be learned by everyone who wants to pursue singing seriously.
Vocal control is not a term for a single specific element of singing, but rather encompasses a lot of different ones. With singing, there are a lot of techniques that complement each other and vocal control is no exception:
Practise vocal control and you will end up with a better sound overall, be able to sustain it better, and gain better vocal endurance.
How to Practise Vocal Control
The biggest part of improving vocal control is learning to listen to yourself as you sing, and learn to adjust yourself if you know you can make a better sound.
After a while this becomes second nature. It is easier to do when you know the music well, so make sure you have a good grasp of the song you’re singing. It is particularly helpful if you have memorised the music first, as your brain is not distracted by trying to work out what is coming up as you sing it!
Vocal control is controlled firstly by breathing and the speed and concentration of how it is released through the mouth and nose. Higher voices tend to use a mixture of chest, nose and head depending on the range, while lower voices use the chest a lot more. Get a good grasp of your range and work out which parts of your body you are using to create the sound.
Even if a particular song doesn’t require it, breathe deeply and fairly slowly so you have a good oxygen supply for each phrase of the song. The more air you have in your lungs, the stronger a foundation you have for a good sound. Over time and practising this technique, you will learn how to breathe more deeply at a quicker rate, without causing any damage.
The voicebox and throat should also be opened up to allow more air to go through the trachea at a slower rate, which is key to control. If you are struggling to open your throat, make sure your neck and shoulders are relaxed, and that your head is in a natural in-lined position. You can also use the artificial yawning trick: as you breathe in, pull your tongue back. You should feel a cold sensation on the back of your throat which is identical to what it feels like before you yawn!
A big secret is that singing quietly requires just as much air as singing loudly. Singing quietly is also a lot harder to sustain than singing loudly, because for loud sounds you can use projection to make your voice carry. With singing quietly, you have to sustain your voice with breathing and air supply rather than projection. So during a quiet passage, or in a more tender song like a ballad, make sure you remember to breathe!
More air passing your throat at a slower, more consistent rate is better for vocal control than less air passing through faster and more abruptly. If you think of a sneeze, you tend to breathe quite slowly, but then the nose and mouth causes the air to come out extremely quickly. Your lungs/diaphragm and nose/mouth work differently, so make sure you don’t force the sound out through your nose and mouth too quickly. This can happen even when you breathe in slowly and with control.
Practise singing wordless notes, going firstly from loud to soft. Try to grow the sound as slowly and consistently as possible. Then do it again but the other way around, loud to soft. Try to get as quiet as possible without losing the sound. Do it in different parts of your vocal range, as some will be stronger and more comfortable than others.
As your vocal control improves, try to work on other techniques simultaneously such as articulation or vocal placement. Apply your learned vocal control to full songs as well, as this will help it improve in a non-isolated situation.
Practice Makes Perfect…
While practising these techniques is great and the main part of improving vocal control, it is very beneficial to monitor your progress over time. There are various ways you can do this, but there are three I can highly recommend:
- Record yourself and listen back. This method may feel quite brutal to start with, as a microphone picks up every subtlety about the voice, and you may not be used to hearing yourself when recorded. However, once you get used to this you will find it a very useful tool. Here are some tips on how to learn to love your own voice.
- Ask for feedback from others, whether that’s friends or family, or a singing teacher if you have one. Bear in mind, though, that you will almost certainly get different types of feedback depending on who you ask.
- Finally, make sure you monitor your own performances as you sing, especially when it comes to physical aspects, general comfort and the sound of your voice. Let’s talk about the first two aspects first:
- Doing a performance can be tiring on your voice and can cause you to feel uncomfortable, but improved vocal control will also help with your endurance. Things to take into account with performances are how your vocal chords are feeling as you produce individual or strings of notes, and how comfortable your vocal chords feel at the end of a performance.
- The sound of your voice is also important to listen out for. Are you noticing any difference in the versatility of your voice? Are you able to convey a larger level of dynamics or hold notes/phrases on for longer? This article talks about how the voice can sound different when perceived by you or someone else. Don’t be put off by this! If you know your voice is starting to sound better to yourself, then surely it will be sounding better to others too!
Vocal Control Summary
To summarise, vocal control is something which is essential to learn for all aspiring singers and can really take you to the next level. There are several techniques you can practise which work together in helping to give your voice better control in terms of sound, endurance and versatility. Then, help to monitor your progress with feedback and listening to your voice through recordings and your performances.
Remember that vocal control consists of lots of different factors that make up the workings of your voice, but the core of vocal control lies with breathing. Make sure your breathing is good and vocal control will fall into place.