Why Trying to Teach Yourself to Sing Doesn’t Really work

I had a call with a prospective client the other week, and they asked me whether it was possible for someone to teach themselves to sing. Now, whilst every single client I teach is “self-teaching” when they practice at home with our session recordings, whether singers can “DIY-build” their voice in isolation is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about… and also trying for myself, in fact.

Self-teaching is exactly how I started out. I started out with DVD courses, online lessons, even looking through the early days of Youtube for information, etc. Surely those avenues could work well for self-tuition, right?

Well, as I found out, self-building your voice really doesn’t work that way. In my opinion, this is for three primary reasons:

1) A guitar/piano is a finished instrument, the voice is unfinished and needs to be built

Continue reading “Why Trying to Teach Yourself to Sing Doesn’t Really work”

Five Reasons for Vocal Conservatism

Whichever way you lean politically, when it comes to music, I’m hopeful that the following five reasons will convince you to become a “vocal conservative*” – your voice, your music, and anyone you choose to sing for will appreciate you all the more for it.

1. Don’t write cheques your voice can’t cash

How many singers have you seen (either live or heard in a live recording) where they completely fail to deliver the money notes of their best-known songs? Or they change the key so radically that the song loses all the life and zest of what made the original so enjoyable? Or worse, they just come off the microphone and let the crowd scream it for them. Maybe you’ve even been that singer, worrying every single time about whether THAT note will come out right.

The studio enables one to stitch together a final version that could never be delivered live, but the real problem with this approach is that now the singer now has to weasel their way out of that conundrum every time they sing. For those of us singing originals or covers, we often set the bar too high and add songs to our set list that our voice can’t deliver… or at least consistently enough that we never fret over it. This leads to vocal problems, and a growing complex about whether or not you’ll “make it”. It’s not worth it. Continue reading “Five Reasons for Vocal Conservatism”

The Fallacy of Vocal “Tips and Tricks”

People looking for help with their voice regularly ask me “tips and tricks” so they can try to DIY fix a specific issue or to improve their voice. Let me give you some examples the kinds of emails looking for written advice to help their voice:

A: “I can reach high notes easily, but I sing high notes in more of a choral head voice and I’m not able to belt them in the same way I can using my chest voice. Are able to give me any tips as to how I might achieve this?”

B: “My range up high sounds good but I struggle to hit lower notes in my range, they tend to get quite wispy and weak. Do you have any tricks I can use to solve this?

C: “My voice sounds OK down low but when I try to sing higher it often sounds very strained and frequently cracks. Can you tell me some quick fixes on how to solve this?”

These are all generalised variations on genuine requests I’ve received over the years. While I totally understand the desire ask for suggestions to fix one’s voice, that such tips and tricks exist is an unhelpful fallacy. Here’s why: Continue reading “The Fallacy of Vocal “Tips and Tricks””

Coronavirus, Covid & Singing: How Covid-19 Appears to Affect The Singing Voice

In the last 2-3 months, I’ve worked with a number of clients online and spoken with a number of people who have had coronavirus/Covid-19 (either tested positive for, or strongly suspected to have had). While none of these cases have been hospitalised, all have experienced quite severe upper respiratory symptoms that have lingered for quite some time. In working with these voices, certain patterns are beginning to emerge in relation to how this virus affects the voice.

But before we get going…

DISCLAIMER: The following is my anecdotal opinion and should not be considered a definitive medical finding. I am not a medical professional, nor am I seeking to provide medical advice. Anything contained in this article should not be construed as such.

This article is intended as a preliminary discussion on patterns I have noticed in the last 2-3 months in relation to my voice teaching practice, specifically in relation to those who have/are suspected to have contracted coronavirus/Covid-19. I also reserve the right to update this article with any new developments/re-evaluations that are encountered as the situation progresses.

Let’s look at Covid-19 data through the lens of a singer/voice user

Continue reading “Coronavirus, Covid & Singing: How Covid-19 Appears to Affect The Singing Voice”

Something weird that online singing lessons do better than in-person lessons

Since the coronavirus pandemic we’ve switched all sessions to 100% online – and I noticed something unexpected – and very excellent – happened when we made the switch.

Obviously there are differences between online and in-person lessons. Travel time isn’t needed for online, you can have your sessions in the comfort of your own home, use your own instruments/ear, etc. Singers pitching also gets much better through following the vocal exercises without as much assistance from the piano.

The whole point of these exercises is to build technical facility and vocal balance into a singers’ voice. This involves building new habits whilst unpicking old pre-dispositions where they force their voice into one place or another. This better vocal balance is all about smooth and even connection from bottom to top, free from said bad habits/forcing of the voice, so that the singer’s voice behaves how it’s meant to behave. In turn, whatever they want to sing, they can just launch into unimpeded.

Now I’ve been aware of all of these differences for a while, but it wasn’t until everyone went online that I noticed something profoundly different, made obvious by those who moved from only ever having had in-person singing lessons, to online singing lessons: Continue reading “Something weird that online singing lessons do better than in-person lessons”

Home Recording: First Steps

Last week’s article on building a Recording Studio on a Budget was overwhelmingly popular, so I thought for those of you who have taken the plunge into recording yourself (either now or recently), we’d dive into some basic baby steps you can use to get better vocal takes.

These steps are prepatory in nature but will also help take your voice to a “record ready” standard for when you ARE ready to hit record.

Gear and Gear Setup

1. Use a stand for your mic and a pop-filter

Firstly, having your mic on a stand will help you keep your hands free for singing. Secondly, this will enable you to more easily use a pop-filter.

You can buy a pop-filter from Amazon via this link

Microphones work by detecting changes in pressure across a diaphragm. Certain consonants create very strong and aggressive pressure waves, like the ‘p’s in the word ‘pop’. These can hit the surface of the microphone diaphragm hard enough to create unwanted popping noises in the recording.

A pop filter is a simple device that sits in front of the microphone and breaks up such incoming pressure waves. It’s typically a mesh material (like nylon tights, etc) stretched over a frame. This will reduce or eliminate those nasty unwanted pops, thus improving the quality of your recordings.

NOTE: If you ended up buying the Rode M1 I recommended in my recording studio on a budget article, this already has some pop-filter capacity built in (but an external one is always recommended). And an external pop filter is also a very helpful tool in another way… Continue reading “Home Recording: First Steps”