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As a Music Teacher, I am occasionally asked if learning to sing is something anyone can do.

Of course, the short answer is “yes” and this applies to about 98.5% of the general population. Voice is considered an instrument, and most people have the ability to learn an instrument, so the same holds true for voice. This means there are very few people who couldn’t learn to sing if they tried. Almost all people have the ability to learn music, and learning all about music and singing can truly be one of the great joys in life.

Realistically, anyone who is prepared to put in some time and effort in learning to sing better will reap the rewards of seeing their abilities grow and their music-making skills improve, often by leaps and bounds. But there’s no getting around that it takes time, work, dedication, and real effort to learn, which is pretty much true of anything in life, and especially singing.

In this post, I’ll debunk some of the common myths about learning to sing, offer some useful advice about how to get better at singing, share some tips related to practicing and how to take care of your voice, and examine the mindset that leads to singing success. We’ll also hear from two experts on the art of singing: Pianist/Arranger/Vocal Coach/Associate Musical Director Michael Orland and Vocal Coach Adriana McPhee, both of American Idol.

Natural Talent Versus Practice and Hard Work

Do some people have more innate ability than others? Sometimes we call this natural ability “talent” and of course, some lucky people do appear to have it more than others. They seem to be born with a recognizable natural talent for singing.

Singing is a natural gift, but it also takes work to improve. An individual with a little bit of talent can go much further than someone with a lot of talent who doesn’t work to develop it. No matter where you fall on the talent spectrum, rest assured that your hard work and practice will pay off in the end.

Are there shortcuts to learning to sing or play an instrument? Yes, and that’s why we hire Teachers, to show us by example the kinds of proven practice and exercises most likely to help us grow as performers. Can you learn on your own? Yes, you can, and while it could save you some money it’s also likely to take much longer.

The cliché of the Four P’s applied to music and singing might read: Persistent Practice leads to Perfect Performance, and it’s true enough that anyone learning to sing should keep this in mind. The bottom line is that developing your singing talent will take some training, time, and effort, but will pay dividends, making all the hard work worth it.

What do singing lessons teach you?

Adriana McPhee (American Idol)

I think there is a misconception about singing: that you should be able to sing naturally without training and all you need is talent, that you’re either a Singer or you’re not. I disagree with that. Talent always helps, and there is such a thing as God-given talent when it comes to singing.

But there are only so many Barbara Streisands of the world–meaning, people who can open their mouths and sing with ease. And even someone like Barbara Streisand has dealt with major stage fright in her life, so perhaps that could have been something she could have worked on with a Vocal Coach.

What I see is, there are two kinds of people. There’s this first kind of Singer who wants to sing because they love to sing and it’s a hobby or passion. I see a lot of students who stopped singing when they were young because their parents were like, “You can’t do this for your career,” so they gave up and became Lawyers or Doctors and all that.

Then when they get to about 45-years-old, even 50-years-old, they feel the ticking of time going by and realize they really, really miss singing. It’s an outlet for their creativity, their emotions, all that good stuff. They want to bring that joy back into their life through music. So getting into voice lessons is great for them, because a lot of the time what happens with people who haven’t sung for many years is they have a lot of emotional baggage when it comes to singing.

When they work with a Coach, that Coach (if they’re a good Coach) helps them get rid of the weeds; helps them imagine themselves as Singers again. That person may never be Celine Dion — and that person usually doesn’t want to be. They don’t have a delusion that they’re gonna do this for their careers. They just really want to sing again.

Having a Voice Teacher and a weekly discipline is great. People do all kinds of fun things to express themselves. People take pole classes. They do aerial yoga. They jump out of planes. Voice lessons are that thing for people who want to bring singing back into their lives. Getting back into voice lessons and just singing again is usually a wonderful thing.

Then you have the other department, usually younger people, who want to become professional Singers and build their careers. There’s this misconception that you should be able to open your mouth and instantly be Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, or Whitney Houston. In voice lessons, you should be working on your technique.

Young people hear the word technique and go, “Ahhh!” like I’m telling them to do their homework. In my teaching practice, I make sure that when I’m doing exercises with young students, they understand why they’re doing it.

In my young singing life, I had Teachers I was afraid of. They would say, “You’re going to do this and you’re going to sing this song.” I never felt like it was okay for me to say, “I don’t like that song,” or, “What’s the purpose?” I think it’s really important for young people, especially when they’re working on their technique, to understand the why.

If you want to be a professional athlete, you don’t just wake up one day at 18-years-old and say, “I’m going to be a professional basketball player. I have a talent, I’ve dribbled a ball a few times, and have a net in my backyard.” That would be absurd. That would be crazy.

In the world of singing, people sometimes have this delusion where they go, “I’m going to audition for American Ido or The Voice and I’m going to make an album.” Have you ever sung before? Have you ever practiced? “No, but my mom says I sound really good!” They have these delusions of grandeur of being this amazing Singer without going to practice.

In the world of athletics, and I’ll talk about dance as well, if you want to be a professional, you practice every single day no matter what. It’s not negotiable because that’s what it takes. There’s a whole system that says: “This is what you have to do. You have to be in this club and you have to do that.”

In the world of singing, there isn’t that same system. Personally, I went to musical theater school. But there is no university that’s like, follow these steps and you will become an amazing, Professional Singer. So the “university” is getting into voice lessons. Working with a Teacher you really like.

The great thing about our world now is that you can work with anybody around the world on Zoom. So if you live in a small town and you don’t have access to a Teacher you like, you can find people and work with them on Zoom.

Going back to the initial question, what does one learn from voice lessons? What does one not learn? I think that it’s enormously important for young people to understand that you don’t need to be able to instantly open your mouth and hit all the high notes. And understand that if you can’t do that, it doesn’t mean you’re bad or untalented.

That’s a complete misconception. You just have to practice. You want to get to the Olympics? You practice every day for years and years. You want to be a professional Singer? You practice every day for years and years.

Michael Orland (American Idol)

I recommend singing lessons for anybody who wants to be doing this because, without the technique, you become a hit-or-miss performer instead of being solid and hitting the mark every time. I think taking lessons is the biggest thing you can do for yourself because it teaches you to have a work ethic, which is so important in this business, and to be on the ball learning new songs, learning old songs, and just perfecting your craft.

You have to have some technique to do that. It’s like when I was taking piano; we had to learn classical because that’s the basis for everything.

Some Popular Myths, Debunked

Now, let’s take a look at a few of the more common myths about learning to sing:

Are some people “tone-deaf?”

This is a common belief that really isn’t true. Or at least, the condition, called amusia, is exceedingly rare according to some studies, as it appears in only about 1.5% of the general population. Amusia can be the result of brain or neurologic damage or be a congenital disorder from birth.

People with this condition are unable to discern differences in pitch. Since it is so rare (about one person in 70), the vast majority of people can improve their ability to match pitch with guidance from a good Teacher and enough practice.

Am I too old or too young to learn to sing?

Research shows that children experience music starting in the womb. Listening to classical music can (temporarily) boost cognition and intelligence, sometimes called “The Mozart Effect.” People of any age can enjoy music, whether listening to it or creating it.

There are plenty of examples of people who came to a singing career late in life, and children of any age can be adept learners if the instruction is developmentally appropriate. This means you should ignore anyone who says you are too old or too young to learn to sing!

Is it ever too late to learn to sing?

Adriana McPhee (American Idol)

No. It’s never too late. With that said, if you’re 28-years-old and you’ve never taken a voice lesson and you say, “I really want to create a career in singing,” I’m going to give it to you straight and say that’s gonna be rough. I’m not in the business of delusion because I don’t think that’s helpful for people.

It’s not helpful to them for me to say, “Oh yeah! It’s gonna be so easy for you!” I’m also not God and I don’t know people’s destiny, so I’m going to give it to them from my perspective. I would say most of the time, even when people ask if it’s too late to sing, they have sung at some point in their life, so it’s not like it’s a totally new thing.

If you decide to do that, embrace the beginner’s mindset. That’s difficult for certain personality types and that has nothing to do with age. Someone can be 70-years-old and have a really wonderful acceptance of the fact that they’re starting something new.

The biggest thing you have to think about when you’re in the “it’s too late” mindset is, what is the story you’re telling yourself? Usually, it happens with really young people. Like, they’re 22 and think they missed their chance. If they get into lessons, they’re bringing all of their drama into the lesson.

If I try to teach them something, they get frustrated that they’re not learning it quickly. They just want to sing like Mariah Carey, and when I say to them, “You’re not Mariah Carey,” they don’t like that. They kind of want to live in their own delusion, and that’s okay. I’m not about judging that. If you want to sing, sing! The world is going to decide if you’re going to be “successful” or not.

That’s the biggest piece of advice I want to give to people who ask, “Is it too late for me to sing? Is it even worth it?” I would say, you have to approach it with a beginner’s mindset and not drag your stuff into it. I think about myself; I used to dance. I’m 38-years-old now and I stopped dancing when I was 22.

I was a dancer in college and danced five hours a day. It would be absurd for me to think that if I can’t get my leg up to where I used to, I’m such a failure. That would be illogical. I’ve spent the last 15 years not dancing. That’s just not how it works. Every day you practice. You work. You practice. You work. You accept the beginner’s mindset. I’m going to act as if I don’t know how to do this and I’m going to enjoy the fact that I don’t know how to do this.

It’s really important that you work with a good Coach. A lot of the time with Singing Teachers, they teach technique. But singing is so psychological and so emotional. People have a lot of emotion when it comes to it. Find a Coach who understands what’s going on with you psychologically so they can bring you back.

I always say, singing in public is not for the faint of heart. And when I say “in public” I don’t mean for your family. (Sometimes singing for the family is also not for the faint of heart, depending on your family.) What we do as Singers is we get up in front of a group of strangers and take our heart and soul and pour it out and basically say, “Please like this.” We’re also doing technical things. Hitting notes. Having tone.

Then people in the audience are like “… I don’t like it.” That person could know nothing about singing and just be thinking, “I don’t like how she moves her hair around.” So it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for people who would rather stay in a cubicle and stay in this little box.

There has to be a part of you that gets off on that and accepts that this is rough, but still loves it and knows that this is what you want to do. If you’re so terrified that you don’t want to do it, and it makes you want to throw up, and you can’t get over that after you’ve tried for years and years–do something else. But if it’s a temporary thing: be gentle with yourself.

You’re standing up in front of a group of strangers and saying, “Love me,” and, “Please God let me hit that note.” It’s not easy. That’s where your training comes in. It comes back to the technique and muscle memory. Because when your bullshit comes in like, “Oh, that person’s not even paying attention to me!” then your muscle memory kicks in, your technique, and you go on autopilot. When you’re emotionally like, “Ahhh!” your technique is like: “I got this.”

Michael Orland (American Idol)

Never, never, ever. It’s never too late to sing. I think anybody can be taught to sing. I had an amazing friend, she was a female Comedian, and she used to say, “If you can speak, you can sing.” And I believe anybody can be taught. Especially if you want to do it. I don’t think it’s ever too late.

Some people have been doing it for years and have never taken lessons. But it’s never too late to start, even if you’ve been successful in the business. One of my dearest friends is a Vocal Teacher in New York, I don’t think she ever took a voice lesson [before getting into the business]. And she’s one of the biggest stars. She’s still going at it.

[Now] she’s in her late 80s and she still goes for lessons. It’s so beautiful that somebody like that can be so into it still. A lot of people keep going at it because it makes them feel great.

There’s only one way to sing.

Intuitively I think most people would know better than to believe this. People come in all different sizes and shapes, so the “best” way to sing for anyone is the way that leads to the best (or most pleasing) result, without causing damage to the vocal cords (more on vocal health below). Also, different musical styles and genres will call for different singing techniques.

Singing requires a “good ear.”

Truthfully, all our ears work pretty much the same, although I’ve experienced some hearing loss with age and from playing in loud bands, so your ears probably work better than mine. When people say someone has a “good ear,” that just means they can quickly and accurately recognize and reproduce changes in pitch. This is something you can work on and improve over time with proper practice and training.

I don’t need a Teacher; I can learn on my own.

There may be some truth here for some people, but most people will progress much more quickly working with a good Teacher.

Do you need a Vocal Coach to learn how to sing?

Michael Orland (American Idol)

I differentiate between a Vocal Coach like myself and the technique thing. For technique, I would send somebody to a Voice Teacher. Although I do a little technique—if I hear somebody hitting a note too hard or not opening their mouth the correct way, I can fix all that.

I think coming to a Vocal Coach is so important because, one, you get to do the work, and two, confidence. One of my fortés as a Vocal Coach is giving students confidence. I think that’s the gift that I gave to every contestant on American Idol for 16 years, because we didn’t have time to do vocal lessons. You’d literally watch these kids become more and more confident every week.

The confidence thing is everything. Shy doesn’t work if you want to be in show business and you want to be a Singer, or an Actor, or a Dancer. I’ll have someone say to me, “I want to be famous,” and I’ll say, “Sing me a song,” and they’ll say, “Oh I don’t want to, I’m too shy.” And I’ll go, “But you want to be famous? You have to sing in front of anybody.” Shy doesn’t work anymore.

It’s not enough to have a great voice. You have to be able to do all of it. Just going to lessons and becoming familiar and comfortable in your own body and knowing what you can and can’t do is everything. When you go to an audition, you’re armed for anything.

I try to tell my students when they’re auditioning for something: you have to walk in with confidence, even if it’s fake for now. Not cocky, just confident. There’s a huge difference. I want someone to walk into an audition feeling like they’re going to be the next best thing the people behind the desk are going to see.

You’re unique. You have to show everybody how you’re unique, not a karaoke version of somebody. That’s so important and what I try to work on with all my students. Most of my students are between 10–17 and it’s what I really love to do.

I’m the shyest person, but when I’m talking about music or sitting behind a piano, I’m not. I’m so confident because it’s my comfort zone. If I have to go to a social party after a show, I don’t do so well. I’m so comfortable in this area, and that’s what I want to give to everybody. You can go so far with that. Even if you just have that confidence while you’re working, then afterward you can go back to being the shyest person in the world.

I think that all those talent shows that are out there on TV right now are the greatest things ever; if you do them for the right reasons. If you do it because you think you’re gonna get famous overnight and not have to work, that’s the wrong reason. And those shows give kids today—because they’ve been on so long—a false sense that you can get famous overnight or that you can go on a show for eight weeks and everyone will know you. It’s not like that.

Every single successful kid that came out of Idol that still has a career today, from Kelly Clarkson to Carrie Underwood to Chris Daughtry to Adam Lambert to Katharine McPhee, winners or not winners, they all have an amazing work ethic. They’re talented, too. But they know it doesn’t happen just because you’re a Kardashian who got famous for nothing. You gotta do the work. And it’s so rewarding.

In this business … it’s so important to just get out there and do as much as you can. Audition as much as you can. That way, when the right shot comes along, it’s yours. And when you go to an audition, you have to remember that the people behind the desk want you to be good. So that should take away some of the nerves.

It’s the most vulnerable thing, this business. But know that when you walk into that room, they want you to be good. They don’t want you to be bad and nervous. Go into the room and be friendly with the Pianist, who’s gonna be your best friend in that room for those three minutes. Just be calm, together, and breathe. Show your best. You don’t want to show your second best or leave that room and go, “Oh God, I sang that so great in the shower this morning.”

Then there’s the audition where you go in and you say, “I just did the best I could do. I’m so happy with how that went,” and you still don’t get the job. But it doesn’t matter. So much is out of your control that if you can leave an audition and be happy with how you did, that’s everything.

It’s a timing game, too. You have to make sure you want to do this for the right reasons. And by the right reasons, I mean you have to be so passionate about what you do that there should be no plan B. There should be no fallback. When I was a kid, my parents made me go to school to be an Accountant, and I was like, “No. I only want to do music.” So when kids say to me today, “I don’t know if I want to be a Singer, I may want to go to law school,” I say, “You should go to law school,” if that’s even in their mind.

For people that only want to be Singers, you still might have to get a job as a Waitress, or at Starbucks, or as a Bank Teller, or whatever to pay the bills. Don’t let it stop you from being passionate about it. You have to do it; you love it so much.

It’s a timing game. Some people get very lucky. Some people have to go at it for years and years and years before they get a break. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. The crazy thing is that before, you had to be 15–22 and had to look a certain way.

The way the music business is today, you can be any age, any ethnicity, orientation, any size. You can look any way physically. There are no rules anymore. Anybody can do it. You can be 15 or 30 or 60. Something can go viral for no reason and it can just happen. That should keep anybody going.

You just need to know: This is what I want to do, even if I have to do something else along the way. This is my passion and I will always be passionate about it. And if you’re not passionate about it anymore, it’s silly.

Unless you’re just doing it for fun and to feel good, which is also okay. I have a few students that say, “I don’t want to do anything with this, singing is just a great end-of-week release to the stress I’m in at work,” and I love that. That’s great.

Adriana McPhee (American Idol)

I’m thinking about my son; he’s almost four-years-old. If I go to the piano for him, he can match the pitch. That’s called talent. He just absorbs. If there’s a rhythm and you go along with the right rhythm and pitch, that’s called talent. Where does talent come from? I have no idea. It comes from whatever you believe; it comes from God, the universe, little talent fairies that sprinkle their fairy dust around at night, from genetics.

So, take my son–he’s a natural talent. But if I never get him into training ever in his life, he’s going to be stuck in this little bubble of what he knows unless he educates himself later on in his life. It’s important for young people, if they have a natural talent, to train it.

The bare minimum of talent for singing is matching the pitch and a nice sense of musicality. If you don’t foster that through training, you’re not going to get as good as you can possibly be.

When it comes to singing, at a certain point as a young person, you’re going to run up against a challenge. You’re not going to be able to hit that note. You’re going to have a lack of air. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have, you have to have skill. Talent is over there, skill is over here.

Anybody can do a one-off. Anybody can get on YouTube and make a song and say, “I’ve never had voice lessons before in my life,” and they can sound amazing. But can you tour for three years in a row and travel, or go on Broadway and do eight shows a week? I would imagine that there is nobody who is talented enough to be at the ultimate level of singing without having a discipline behind it.

You’re working with your muscles. You’re working with your ligaments. You’re working with so many different things that have to be trained. It’s why some of the greatest Singers of yesteryear don’t sound as good. They were really talented people, but they most likely have not had a practice they can come back to.

When it comes to vocal coaching, a really wonderful thing to do for yourself is to recognize there is a discipline involved in really getting something. You don’t just wake up one day. Every single Writer that I respect that writes about writing always says, “I sit down at my desk every single day between this time and this time and I write. Most of the time I don’t feel like doing it but I do it.” And there you go.

The reason why I think so many people get turned off by lessons is they don’t find someone who gets them, that they like, or they can’t afford the people that they want to work with. But there are so many opportunities in the world now to get training, even if you don’t have the money, or you live in some tiny town where there’s not a lot of access to things.

It’s interesting because as an Opera Singer, it’s not in the culture or ethos to not have training. If you want to go to Juilliard for opera, you know you’ve been studying for 10 years prior. In the worlds of gospel, country, and even rock, it’s not really in the culture or ethos to think you need training because so many people are just naturally talented.

I’m not underestimating talent. Talent is real. Any Teacher is lying if they say they prefer working with someone who isn’t talented versus someone who is talented. If I were to go and try to be an ice skater, I’d fall on my face. Talent is a real thing. However, if you don’t have discipline, or a craft, or a good work ethic, you can squander away your talent. That happens all the time.

Push more for higher notes.

When you push, it increases tension in your body. You really don’t need to push for high notes. Good technique will allow you to sing high notes without pushing hard. Pushing hard can also damage your voice.

Untrue myths about learning to sing abound. These are just a few of the more common ones. If you really aren’t sure about something, it’s usually a good idea to ask an expert or two.

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How Can I Improve My Singing Ability?

This is what everyone wants to know, and as should be obvious by now, it’s quite simple (though not easy): Learning how to sing well takes training and practice. This means hard work sustained over a long period of time. There are very few people who can open their mouths and sing incredibly well without any training.

So, how do you train to sing? Here are some the main areas to work on, and also a few related exercises:

Learn good posture for singing.

Poor posture is perhaps one of the easiest and most important problems to fix since so many different aspects of posture can affect your sound. Here are some suggestions that can help to improve your singing when practicing:

  • Keep your chin about parallel to the floor.
  • Shoulders should be relaxed and held back and down, with the chest held high.
  • Keep your abdomen (stomach) flat and firm, held in a position allowing for expansion.
  • Keep your hands relaxed and still at your sides.
  • Keep your knees loose and flexible, not locked.
  • Your feet should be comfortably apart, one slightly in front of the other.
  • Hold your body weight ever so slightly forward.

Common posture exercises: Stand with your back to a wall, placing your heels, calves, buttocks, shoulders, and head so they all touch the wall. Place one hand on the abdomen while breathing, to check that your abdomen is expanding and relaxing. Shift your body weight forward until you are almost standing on your toes. Try to feel yourself lightly bouncing on your toes. Next, let yourself slouch, then return to the correct posture, noticing the difference between each.

Warm up your voice before singing.

Most Singers learn and practice warm-up exercises before doing any real singing, and may also use the same exercises to cool down when finished. Some simple common warm-up exercises might include:

Humming exercise

Humming doesn’t put a lot of strain on your vocal cords. With the tip of your tongue touching just behind your bottom front teeth, hum up and down part of the major scale with your mouth closed.

The vocal straw exercise

Take a straw and hum through it. Slide evenly and slowly from the bottom of your range to the top. Then you can hum a melody through the straw. (The technical name for this is straw phonation.)

Loosen your jaw

Drop your jaw lower than you would for just talking and move it up and down. Don’t just drop your chin; it should feel like you are yawning with your mouth shut. You could also massage and stretch your neck and jaw muscles to get rid of any tension or stiffness.

Lip trill exercises

Sometimes called lip buzz, this is an easy exercise. Vibrate your lips as you blow air through your mouth and nose. You can do this while humming a scale or sliding pitches as well. There are also tongue trills, which are similar, except your tongue will vibrate against the roof of your mouth.

Pitch glides and vocal sirens

Make an “eeee” or “ohhhh” sound while gradually sliding through all the notes for two-octaves. Glide up and then down. You will notice the change from your chest voice to your head voice and back. Siren exercises use an “oooo” sound and move the pitch slowly from the lowest note of your range to the highest and back. The sound is continuous and covers the tones between the notes. The slides and glides are sometimes also called a portamento.

Other exercises

Other common vocal exercises focus on breathing, such as paying close attention to how the diaphragm moves, exhaling on a hissing sound, or counting slowly to 10 for each as you inhale, hold, and then exhale slowly in a controlled way.

Solfege and scale exercises

Learning to sing scales using solfege syllables (i.e. do, re, mi, fa, sol, etc.) increases your ability to recognize the notes you hear and then be able to reproduce them with your voice.

Most musicians practice sight-singing and singing music from the written notes on the musical staff in order to improve their facility and ease of singing successive notes in a scale, or making larger leaps in pitch. Starting with limited tone sets (small groups of 3-5 notes), you can improve your reading and singing ability simultaneously.

Learn basic music theory

This means sitting at a piano or a guitar studying the relationship of notes to each other in chords and scales. There’s some terminology to master, but it doesn’t need to be difficult or extremely advanced (though music theory is a fascinating subject for deeper study).

Learning basic theory means understanding, analyzing, and being able to recognize various forms in music, such as major and minor scales, basic triads (3-note chords), 7th chords, tensions, modes, and also rhythmic patterns and constructs. You can take a class, read a music theory book, or watch some excellent online videos to learn music theory.

Learning basic theory can be fun and will definitely improve your music and singing abilities. You can also use your theory knowledge to improve your ability to more accurately sing more complicated and challenging passages, such as arpeggios (broken up chords) and larger intervals.

Enunciate clearly

Enunciation is crucial for good singing. Learn to speak your words clearly. Pay attention to your diction, as listeners need and want to be able to understand the lyrics you are singing. Study what other Singers do with words, for example during a run or a cadenza. Learn interesting words you can use when riffing on a phrase (a dictionary and thesaurus might be useful for this). Words matter, learn how to use them in both your speaking and singing voice.

Learn your vocal range

Vocal range is simply the notes one can sing from lowest to highest. It’s important to know your range so that you can choose which parts to sing in a vocal arrangement, or change the key of a song to match your range, so you can sing it most comfortably.

It’s not hard to figure this out. Make sure your voice is warmed up before you start. Using the piano, start in the middle and sing up the scale using the syllable “ahh” to reach the highest note you can sing comfortably, then take note of that. Next, sing down the scale similarly so that you can find the lowest note you can sing, and take note of that. The distance between the highest and lowest notes is your range.

Head voice versus chest voice

There is actually some controversy around this point. Some Teachers don’t really believe there is such a thing as head or chest voice. It’s all just your voice. What people call head voice is actually your falsetto, and something just below that is sometimes called passagio, which loosely translated might be interpreted as a transition. (Note: Italian is the international language used in most written music.) When you sing, your body creates various overtones, or harmonic resonances, which could be interpreted differently with different people.

In the same vein, some Teachers avoid labeling Singers with certain ranges as soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, or bass. We may all know what these terms mean when we hear them, but some would say that they just aren’t that useful in actual singing or in learning to sing.

Others might disagree with this opinion. I’ve always felt that the voice has unique characteristics that will vary widely between different kinds of Singers and styles of music, and labeling them as one thing or another will eventually defy all reason and purpose. I’ll leave the arguing to others.

Paying attention to these aspects of vocal performance could really help you to improve your singing. There are many more additional, useful areas and exercises for singing than I have room for here, but these could at least be a good starting point. The goal should be to integrate vocal exercises into your daily practice so that it becomes habitual. Look for the kinds of exercises that appeal to you, and then evaluate over time how they are helping you to improve.

Maintaining Vocal Health

It goes without saying that keeping your voice healthy is of paramount importance. Yet, there are so many people who seem to ignore this or don’t know how to recognize the signs of impending damage to the vocal cords.

As a frequent auditioner and Music Director, I hear it all the time; the damage manifests as an unhealthy rasping or cracking sound or obvious inconsistencies or weaknesses throughout a Singer’s range. I can also see it visually at times, as the Singer will have an unhealthy posture, jut their chin out severely, or actually wince in pain.

I always talk to these folks about getting help with a medical intervention, as some kinds of damage can be permanent or require invasive surgeries to fix. And in addition, they need to unlearn whatever techniques they are using that contributed to the damage and get some proper advice and training to learn how to sing properly without damaging their voice.

Here are a few pointers for maintaining your voice in good condition:

Stay hydrated

The best drink is water, so try to drink 6-8 glasses every day to stay hydrated. You can also use natural remedies such as breathing steam and drinking warm water or (non-caffeinated) tea with honey in it. Watch out for medications that can dehydrate you, and also avoid drinking alcohol or drinks with a lot of caffeine. Use a humidifier in your home.

Vocal rest

Sometimes called vocal naps, take time away from speaking and singing for a few hours each day. Try to avoid screaming or shouting, and if your job requires you to talk on the phone all day, take ten minutes rest every three hours if you can. Also, avoid clearing your throat often, and speaking or singing loudly.

Warm up (and cool down)

Gently warm up your voice before and after singing. Start with simple exercises such as humming or lip trills (see above), then progress gradually to more complex scales and melodic patterns. Pay attention to any tension in your neck and jaw, and loosen up with some easy stretching. At the end of the day, or after a performance or rehearsal, do some similar exercises to cool down.

Maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle

Some things are common sense. Get enough rest, eat a balanced diet, exercise, don’t smoke (or be around second-hand smoke), wash your hands frequently so you don’t get sick, and avoid spicy foods which could cause acid reflux. If you have any chronic medical issues, get the proper treatment.

Speak softly and use your voice wisely

Professional Singers often speak in a low, breathy voice, to avoid overusing their vocal cords. They practice good breathing and posture when speaking or singing, supporting the voice with breath from the chest and not speaking from their throat. They practice exercises to learn how to control their breath and are mindful of how they use their voice, for example not cradling the phone in their neck when talking. They also avoid talking in noisy places where they might strain or push their voice.

Other vocal health tips

Consider using a microphone with amplification if talking to groups. Rest your voice for part of every day. Train like an athlete, to improve muscle tone and strengthen your breathing technique. When you are sick, spare your voice from singing, and don’t talk or sing if you are hoarse from a cold or infection. Keep your throat and neck muscles relaxed when singing.

Most of these habits are adopted by professional Singers and Speakers to protect their voice, and many are just basic common sense. Don’t abuse your voice!

You may find the US Dept. HHS National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders’ article on “Taking Care of Your Voice “ and University of Saint Augustine’s article on “10 Do’s and Don’ts for Maintaining Good Vocal Health” useful.

Boosting Your Mindset and Confidence as a Singer

While anyone can suffer from stage fright, and even many famous musicians do, Singers seem to feel especially vulnerable. It might be because they are usually out front and center, and also because the voice is the only instrument that is internal to the body.

Unlike a Drummer, who sits at the back of the bandstand and can hide behind their drums, the Singer has nowhere to hide. They often feel as if the moment they begin to sing that they are being judged by the audience, or even by the musicians in the band. To me, Singers are heroes, because it takes heroic effort to overcome all of this.

The feelings of exposure and vulnerability cause many Singers anxiety, to the point where it can interfere with their ability to deliver a top performance. This then leads to a doom-cycle of more anxiety and underperformance. While even the top pros can suffer from this kind of anxiety-induced cycle, the real question is: how do we “fix” it? What are the techniques Singers use to overcome these feelings of inadequacy and fear while singing in front of other people?

What's the biggest thing you want Singers to know?

Michael Orland (American Idol)

I want to reiterate that having confidence, even faking it until you believe in yourself, is so attractive when you walk into the audition room. People are judging you. They’re watching how you walk in. They’re watching how you put your stuff down and how you talk to the Pianist. Stay in your own space and don’t let them psych you out.

Just do it because you love it so much. Even if nothing happens for a while, don’t let that set you back. I’m a firm believer that it’s all a timing game and even when you lose a big job you thought you were meant to have, something will reveal itself down the road and you’ll see that you were supposed to be available for something else. No accidents in timing.

Do it because you’re passionate about it. Keep working on your craft. Keep learning songs. Be able to sing classic songs plus contemporary songs. You have to learn to do all of it. Be original. Don’t be the karaoke version. We already have an Adele and a Bruno Mars. We need to hear you doing it. If you do an Adele song, put your own spin on it and show what a unique artist you are.

Getting in the Zone, Stage Fright

Singing can be a psychological battle, and like anything requiring some amount of skill, you need to be able to get into the “zone” where you can do your best work. This can definitely take some preparation and it’s also where sometimes a Vocal Coach could be helpful.

Having good vocal technique can help, as it’s something you can always rely on. Having a solid plan for a performance is another way to be prepared for the inevitable feeling of butterflies in your stomach. Being prepared to work through any mistakes is also something you can work on in your daily practice. Mistakes happen, don’t let them stop you in your tracks.

Be clear about your goals with singing. Pay attention to any self-talk and try to change negative thoughts to positive affirmations. Notice and avoid limiting beliefs and consider that creative people have always struggled to bring their dreams and goals to fruition. Take some kind of action towards your goals every day. Keep your singing and music goals clearly in front of you, and find the time and energy to work towards reaching them.

The bottom line with stage fright is that if you know your material cold and have a great plan for performing it, you can overcome most of the anxiety you will face every time you step onto the stage. It’s even possible to harness any residual energy from anxiety and channel it into a positive outcome for your performance.

Being present and being your authentic self will also help see you through the inevitable ups and downs of performing. Realize that there are good days and bad days, and some in-between days as well. This too shall pass. Console and reassure yourself by acknowledging you’ve done everything you possibly could to deliver your top performance. And finally, keep doing it. Persistence really pays off here.

Ultimately, if you are training to be a Singer, you will want to cultivate your experience performing in front of audiences. This is the best way to learn what works for you, and what will please your audience the most. With practice and experience, you can watch yourself improve over time. Like everything else that’s worth doing, learning to sing can be demanding and rewarding at the same time.

There’s nothing to stop you, so find your inspiration and get busy learning, practicing, and improving your singing right away.

Vocal Coach Adriana McPhee
Adriana McPhee

American Idol vocal coach, Adriana McPhee, is one of the most in-demand vocal and performance coaches in the business. With students spanning all over the globe, Adriana is committed to inspiring each student to reach their full potential.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Adriana is the scion of an acclaimed show business family; her mother is celebrity vocal coach, Peisha McPhee, and her sister is American Idol alum, star of NBC’s SMASH, and most recently CBS’ SCORPION, Katharine McPhee.

Teaching has been in the McPhee blood for generations; her grandfather Roger Fee was dean of The University of Denver’s Music School. During their childhood, both Adriana and Katharine would come home from school to find their living room filled with their mother’s students. They would spend countless hours watching their mother teach, and listening to the singers’ voices fill their childhood home.

In addition to Adriana’s private practice at McPhee International Vocal Studios in Los Angeles, she has also served as vocal coach on the singing show phenomenon, American Idol. Her work on Idol has given Adriana an inside look into what it takes to become a true success. She has personally guided the contestants as they embark onto the biggest platform any singer could wish for. And last summer, Adriana also served as a preliminary judge on Idol, traveling from city to city, auditioning thousands of Idol hopefuls.

Whether teaching her performance workshop The Singer’s Workout, or coaching a contestant on American Idol, Adriana is called to inspire every singer to reach for the stars, sing with their heart, and develop their inherent gifts that the world needs now, more than ever before.

American Idol Vocal Coach Michael Orland
Michael Orland

MICHAEL ORLAND (Musical Director/Pianist) is thrilled to have been a part of the mega-hit TV show AMERICAN IDOL for 16 seasons as the Pianist, Arranger, Vocal Coach and Associate Musical Director both on FOX and ABC. In between those seasons were stints as Music Director/vocal coach on LITTLE BIG SHOTS and FOREVER YOUNG both hosted by Steve Harvey. Through these amazing opportunities, Michael has appeared on OPRAH, ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, ACCESS HOLLYWOOD and a record number of appearances on THE ELLEN SHOW. At the end of every IDOL season, Michael also accompanied the top 3 contestants to New York for appearances on LIVE WITH KELLY & REGIS (and MICHAEL and RYAN), CBS EARLY SHOW, and concerts on the plaza for THE TODAY SHOW. He has collaborated with music industry giants such as Burt Bacharach, Neil Sedaka, Diane Warren, Elton John, Dolly Parton, Harry Connick Jr, Jennifer Lopez, and Keith Urban all as a result of American Idol. He also served as a pianist/coach for the NBC summer series AMERICA’S GOT TALENT (Seasons 1 & 2) and a few seasons back AMERICAN JUNIORS and has Associate Produced two hit singles (GOD BLESS THE U.S.A. and WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE) for AMERICAN IDOL as well as the hit compilation CD from AMERICAN JUNIORS.

Michael began his impressive musical career in his hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts at the tender age of three, when he escorted each member of his family, one by one, to see “MARY POPPINS” and then sat down at the piano and played the songs by ear. Since this auspicious beginning, he has become one of the most acclaimed musical directors on the concert, theater, television, and nightclub scene.

In addition to playing and conducting for many celebrities including Kristen Bell, Erich Bergen, Sabrina Carpenter, Lynda Carter, Kristin Chenoweth, Ariana Grande, Tony-winner Debbie Gravitte, Jennifer Holliday, Roslyn Kind, Barry Manilow, Maureen McGovern, Katharine McPhee, Idina Menzel, and the late Wayland Flowers & Madame and the legendary Kaye Ballard, Michael played for the hit shows “FORBIDDEN BROADWAY”, “RUTHLESS!”, and “WHEN PIGS FLY” in Los Angeles. He made his Hollywood Bowl debut accompanying the iconic MGM star Ann Miller.

Prior to AMERICAN IDOL, television appearances have included The Rosie O’Donnell Show, Leeza, The Maury Povich Show, The Wayne Brady Show, and Geraldo. He also appeared on the hit sitcom “THE NANNY” performing an original song co-written with Roslyn Kind. He also played a pianist (it’s a stretch) on the WB sitcom “WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU” and the UPN sitcom HALF & HALF.

For 13 seasons, Michael also musical directed one of the touring companies of the RADIO CITY CHRISTMA SPECTACULAR starring the world-famous Rockettes. And he is now a published author in the best-selling book “Chicken Soup For The American Idol Soul.”

For the last ten years, Michael has also musical directed the Lythgoe Family Productions of the UK-famous “Panto Style” Theatre experience at The El Portal Theatre, The Pasadena Playhouse, and Pasadena Civic Auditorium including CINDERELLA starring Shoshanna Bean, SNOW WHITE starring Ariana Grande, ALADDIN starring Jordan Fisher, SLEEPING BEAUTY starring Disney’s Olivia Holt & Garrett Clayton and Lucy Lawless, and PETER PAN starring Sabrina Carpenter & Chrissie Fit.

An accomplished songwriter, his songs have been featured on several daytime soaps and primetime shows. On recordings, he can be heard on Debbie Gravitte’s “Alan Menken Album” and “MGM Album”; Rita McKenzie’s “Ethel Merman’s Broadway”, “Ruthless! The Musical”, Roslyn Kind’s “Come What May” and produced and arranged several CD’s for cabaret artists. Michael is currently working on a solo piano album due out one of these days as well as scoring music along with Dr. Staci Gruber for many projects for New York Times Best-selling Author Patricia Cornwell.

Some past highlights include serving as Associate Musical Director on the exciting NBC production of HAIRSPRAY LIVE that aired in December 2016 starring Maddie Baillio, Harvey Feinstein, Ariana Grande, Garrett Clayton, Jennifer Hudson, Dove Cameron, & Kristin Chenoweth as well as the upcoming Netflix movie version of the hit Broadway show “THE PROM”, as well as being so proud to have been a vocal producer on the newly released Kristin Chenoweth album “FOR THE GIRLS” on Concord Records.

Please visit Michael’s website periodically for news updates and upcoming events.

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