If you’ve been wanting to learn how to sing, you’re probably wondering what the best route is. Can you teach yourself? Should you find a Vocal Coach to help you? What if you can’t take in-person lessons right now?
We asked several respected Vocal Coaches, Singers, and College Faculty for their advice on learning how to sing.
In this article, you’ll learn what this diverse range of professionals suggests for peak vocal performance:
- Mark Baxter (Vocal Teacher)
- Debra Byrd (Vocal Coach)
- Amanda Carr (Jazz Singer & Music Instructor)
- Cari Cole (Vocal Coach)
- Teri Danz (Vocal Coach, Recording Artist, Vocal Producer)
- Jeannie Gagné (Berklee Professor)
- Mama Jan (Singer, Songwriter, Producer, Vocal Coach)
Can you teach yourself to sing?
I taught myself to sing until I started vocal lessons. You can sing along to other Singers, copy their vibrato and the way they’re singing. There’s a lot you can learn just by singing along with other Singers. But at a certain point, if you want to take it more seriously, you do need to train because you want to protect the health of your voice. Studying technique can also dramatically expand your potential.
You can teach yourself to sing, to a certain point, but it is better if you are taught by someone or come from a musical family that sings. My dad was a musician. He would play clarinet, and he could also sing. When I was growing up, my sister would sing one part and I would sing another. My dad would play another on the clarinet. This is the way that you learn early how to do harmonies.
Also, music is a community thing. It’s not something you can do for very long in a vacuum. Like if you start playing guitar, you want to play with other people and learn from them, just by trying to keep up and learning what they know.
Good question. I imagine people can learn most anything these days simply by watching instructional videos and seeking educational materials that are available on the internet. The real question, however, is whether or not someone can teach themselves to sing well. I believe that feedback alone provides information for improvement that one cannot receive objectively on their own.
How can I improve my singing voice at home?
I would do Skype or Zoom lessons. Working with a Vocal Coach is a good start.
The second thing you can do as a Singer is sing with other people if you have people in your family or another connection. If you don’t, it’s really hard to sing along with somebody on Zoom.
In the meantime, most Singers need to understand the keyboard. If you don’t have a keyboard, and you don’t understand how to work with one, then you’re always guessing. I hate guessing where I am and not knowing where I am in my range. Having a piano or a keyboard is great because it’s also really important to know if you’re on pitch.
Lastly, buy some kind of recording device like a digital recorder: something where you can sing along with karaoke and hear what you sound like. Listening to what you sound like gives you a place to start.
If you’re an artist, you have to spend money for your education. It’s like anything else. The myth about Singers is that they just happen. They open their mouth and there you are. Not true!
When he recorded Thriller, Michael Jackson had his Vocal Coach in the studio with him. He’d been performing professionally since he was five. He was 25 when he did Thriller. You would say, “Does he really need a Vocal Coach?” Well, yeah! He wants to be the best in the world! We don’t know everything and having a team really helps. They were doing something other people weren’t doing at the time. They were breaking new ground.
If you want to do a pop thing or be a Pop Star, and your whole background is musical theater on the classical end, everything you approach is not going to sound right. Is that a bad Singer? No, that’s just a Singer who can only do one thing.
Early on in my career, I used to think, “I don’t do that, or I don’t do this.” The thing is, when I had to learn R&B and hip hop, it enhanced me. It didn’t take away from anything I think I can do. It just gave me another tool in the toolbox.
Even if you’re a great Singer, I think singing more is always good. But practicing wrong or straining your voice to where you don’t sound good…you’re only going to get so far. That doesn’t help you. You have to practice something that actually moves you forward. There are people who are okay with where they are, and that’s okay. But you can never be a great Singer if you do that. You have to do the work. You have to keep pushing. To be more. To realize more. To find out more about your instrument and how to use it better.
If you’re just starting out, it’s good to get your feet wet. There are so many YouTube tutorials. We have a whole playlist of exercises on YouTube, and so do a lot of other Vocal Coaches. Use your intuition to see who you really vibe with and who you’re learning from.
After doing exercises, your voice shouldn’t hurt. You might need to grow a little bit in your strength, but it never should hurt. And it’s good to do exercises every day. Pick a Vocal Coach and stick with them for two weeks to see what it feels like. If you feel like you’re resonating with them, continue. Once you’ve got your feet wet for maybe three to six months, consider going to the next level and doing Zoom sessions.
As mentioned prior, one of the best things to do is to seek out information over the internet. The problem with that is there’s SO much information and much of it is contradictory, so how is someone supposed to know what’s right or good for their voice?
Perhaps taking some online instruction would be a good place to start and even attend an online master class or seminar. That, and reading a good book on basic vocal functioning. At Jan Smith Studios we are all about meeting people where they are and helping them to learn more about it! Our goal is to help others achieve excellence in their vocal endeavors. I like to say that we’re changing the world one voice at a time.