How to Sing Better: Pro Advice to Improve Your Voice - Careers in Music
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Do you love to sing?

Maybe you love singing in the car or onstage in front of a live audience. Are you amazed by artists you hear who can really, really sing? If you want to learn more about singing and improve your vocal performance it’s smart to connect with some Vocal Coaches, Instructors, and other pros to learn how to sing properly, get some tips, and hone your skills to get to a professional level.

That’s what we did, and here are some of their main pointers and key advice for anyone who loves singing and wants to improve their skills.

Here’s what you should work on if you want to learn how to sing better:

  • Proper breathing and some exercises
  • Proper posture
  • Staying healthy and hydrated
  • Vocal warmups
  • Understand your vocal range
  • Improve your pitch (Intonation)
  • Study the greats
  • Practice diction and scales
  • Build your confidence

Our expert sources include well-known professional Voice Coaches, faculty from top college and conservatory programs, and professional performers on voice. We’ve included some great quotes from these folks to help you understand all about singing, your voice, and how to get better at the kind of singing you love.

What are you most afraid of that is holding you back?

Learning How to Sing

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)
  • Lis Lewis (Voice Teacher, Performance Coach)

Can you teach yourself to sing?

Cari Cole (Courtney Love, Diane Birch, American Idol & The Voice Finalists)

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.

Teri Danz (2019 Billboard Chart-toppers Sweet Eve, Ximxia, Kian Blume)

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.

Lis Lewis (Rihanna, Miguel, Kali Uchis)

There’s a lot you can do on your own. Just singing teaches you about your voice, when it gets tired, and what sounds your voice makes that you love. Singing different styles will change the way your voice sounds because you imitate the Singer: if you listen to R&B, your voice will sound different than if you’re listening to rock ’n’ roll. Try different things and you’ll learn a lot about how your voice can sound.

Mama Jan (Usher, Drake, Justin Bieber)

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?

Teri Danz (2019 Billboard Chart-toppers Sweet Eve, Ximxia, Kian Blume)

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.

Cari Cole (Courtney Love, Diane Birch, American Idol & The Voice Finalists)

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.

Mama Jan (Usher, Drake, Justin Bieber)

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.

Lis Lewis (Rihanna, Miguel, Kali Uchis)

Yes, first of all sing! Then a good next step is YouTube videos. There are some really good free voice lessons. There’s one called New York Vocal Coaching: here’s lesson one.

It gives you an idea of what voice lessons are like and it helps you develop your voice as well. When you decide you’re going to take your voice seriously, the next thing you would do is take voice lessons either in-person or online with a live Teacher.

Singing is wonderful. It’s fun and it’s joyous and you should do it because you love it. There’s nothing more wonderful than being able to open your mouth and have the song come out. Sing all the time. Sing to the radio and turn the radio down a little so you can hear your own voice. Sing along to videos. Sing everywhere because it’s fun and you’ll get better by just doing it.

Proper Breathing

It all starts with controlling your breath. After all, the air passing through your vocal cords in your larynx (sometimes called “voice box”) are what provides the energy to make a resonant sound. A discussion about how to sing properly must necessarily start with breath control techniques.

Voice Teachers and Professional Singers will spend a lot of time working on how to breathe properly when you sing, how to conserve your breath so you can hold a note, and building awareness of what is happening with your diaphragm muscles as you breathe. Teachers and Singers throw a lot of terms and phrases around, like “breath support,” “sing from the diaphragm,” and “support the tone.”

Famed Voice Teacher Mark Baxter says breathing should be natural, and can be negatively affected by nerves or tension in your body and mind. According to Mark: “Balance is the key to controlling any physical event. And with singing, that means balancing every sound with just the right amount of air.”

He goes on to say “…trust your reflexes. Breathing and vocal muscles will all respond in coordination to make whatever sound you want. All you have to do is get out of your own way. That’s the difference between those who sing so easily and naturally and those that struggle.” According to Mark, you can build awareness of natural breathing techniques by paying close attention to the sound coming out of your mouth.

Mark has developed many exercises for helping Singers to produce a pleasing vocal sound without damaging their voice and while developing control and support of your breath. Here’s one example:

  1. Starting on a comfortable note in the middle of your range (you can get it from a piano, a guitar, or any instrument), sing starting on the pitch down the major scale from sol to do: “He-He-He-He He-ee-ee-ee-eeeee” (sol-sol-sol-sol sol fa mi re do).
  2. Keep your breath steady as your vocal cords open and close for the first notes, and don’t let your belly bounce.
  3. Don’t make the first note louder, or the last note softer.
  4. As you move up in your range with this exercise, starting a half-step higher each time, do not sing louder. Keep the volume even throughout.
  5. Don’t let your abs pulse with the rhythm.
  6. Don’t smile on the ee-eee sound.

The goal of this exercise is to learn to manage the airflow across the phrase and to control your breathing by being consistent with your volume throughout. While you will naturally begin to strain as you get higher in your range, try not to put in much more effort to produce the notes.

I know it’s hard to fully grasp how this exercise works just by reading, so I’m giving you the link so you can see Mark demonstrate it for you himself while interjecting his own special brand of humor.

Mark Baxter is a terrific resource for all things related to singing, I highly recommend him to you!

Proper Posture for Singing

What does proper posture look like? Since we are all different, there isn’t really one certain way you should stand (or sit, though standing is better) that is the “correct” way. What’s important is that you cultivate awareness of your body and be sensitive to tension or stiffness in your muscles and voice.

Most Teachers will spend some time with you to analyze and correct any aspects of your stance and posture as a way to improve your singing from the get-go. They might have you stand with your back to the wall with your heels, calves, buttocks, shoulders, and head all touching the wall while you practice breathing while paying special attention to how your abdomen and chest expand and contract as your diaphragm moves. They might have you do this while lying on the floor as well.

The main point is to avoid slouching or stooping your shoulders and adopt a stance that is naturally suited to your body while breathing in a controlled way. You want to be flexible and efficient in your breathing while staying loose and natural in how you hold your body and your head while singing.

Pay attention to the positioning of your feet, knees, hips, abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms, hands, and head. You might want to experiment with putting one foot a bit in front of the other and leaning forward a slight amount.

Staying Healthy and Hydrated

You’ve probably already heard how it’s important to keep your body hydrated and healthy. This is true! As my grandmother always used to say: “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.” Since you are using your body, lungs, muscles, and vocal cords to produce musical sounds, you need to maintain that delicate machinery and it starts with hydration.

If you allow yourself to become dehydrated there are all kinds of negative things that can happen, and it’s not hard to do. If you’re sweating or in a warm room or outside, you are losing moisture from your body every minute. Water vapor also escapes your body when you breathe.

So of course, drinking enough water is key. Our bodies are made up of about 60% water; according to the Journal of Biological Chemistry the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, the lungs are about 83% water, the skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery at 31%. It’s not only about drinking water, it’s about what not to drink: milk, alcohol, sugary sodas, or caffeine-laden drinks that act as a diuretic, meaning you lose water from your body.

Debra Byrd, head Vocal Coach from American Idol, recommends warm water (or herbal tea) with a squeeze of lemon and a bit of honey mixed in. This will soothe your vocal cords while giving you hydration. You can drink this anytime, the night before a performance, or before singing to fight vocal strains, while honey also is preventative for sore throats. Just don’t go overboard with the honey.

Vocal Warm-ups

One thing that all Vocalists agree on is the importance of warming up your voice before singing, to keep yourself healthy, protect against damage, and sing better. It’s also a good idea to warm down when you’ve finished singing.

Think of it like going to the gym. You need to start by getting your muscles and all moving parts loose and ready to move. Using your larynx is similar in that the folds of your vocal cords and all the tiny muscles which control your singing need a warm-up routine before doing any heavy work.

Grammy-winning Voice Professor Donna McElroy describes the importance of building strength and endurance in all the areas of musculature in her instruction books and exercises, while offering warm-up routines.

One exercise has the student humming while singing up and down a simple part of a scale, moving up and down in key.

Others include performing lip-rolls (buzzing the lips while humming), tongue trills, humming through a straw, pitch glides, and singing on syllables such as “oooo” while singing from low to high and back, like a siren.

These can also be done after singing to “warm down.” We might more appropriately call this “cooling down” and you will see runners and athletes doing this after heavy exertion. It gives all the tissues a chance to recover and relax, and it’s a good practice for Singers as well.

All of these same warm-ups can be used to cool down after singing. It’s crucial to relax, recover, and reflect after singing, so don’t neglect warming up or down before and after you sing.

How do you warm up your voice?

Teri Danz (2019 Billboard Chart-toppers Sweet Eve, Ximxia, Kian Blume)

Do vocal exercises. I have a vocal exercise CD. With a lot of vocal exercise techniques, you have to know what you’re going for, to make sure you’re not doing them wrong. I had a guy come in and say, “I’m hoarse from doing all these vocal exercises!” Well, you can’t do vocal exercises wrong or out of your vocal range and expect to improve your voice. People do that. They’re like, “Oh, I can hit that really high note!” and then they kill their voice.

You can try stuff and see. Vocal warm-ups like lip rolls are always good. There is a thing in pop singing called a “dum dah.” You can look at my video. It’s a drop jaw thing. Think of Ariana. Her mouth is kind of loose and lean. With all those artists who sing that way, their mouths aren’t tight. They’re dropped vertically. It’s a better way to sing.

If you’re working with a Coach who isn’t focused on getting a lot of sound in your mouth, you’re probably not doing current “pop.” I’m talking about what’s on the radio. You can learn a lot, but you have to decide what it is you want to do.

The other thing is, when you study with someone, you want to learn tools. You don’t want to learn to sing one song and not be able to translate to anything else. That’s one of the things I do as a Coach. Though I can if need be, I don’t train Singers to sing or sound like Adele, Miley, or Ariana per se, I teach them how to sing with a current pop technique, so that they can sing anything.

Cari Cole (Courtney Love, Diane Birch, American Idol & The Voice Finalists)

Warming up is a really important thing. When you haven’t done any training, you tend to sing along with other Singers, and that feels like your warm-up. But when you start to understand the mechanics of the voice and that the instrument actually needs the proper warm-up to feel open, then you want to try some exercises.

I have a great set of vocal warmups, The Singers Gift Vocal Warmups that are designed to open and free your voice, creating more range and power.

The problem with singing is that the voice is an instrument inside the body, so you are affected by the state of the body. If your neck muscles are tense, or your larynx is too pushed up from singing the night before, you won’t have the same openness today because you’re already a little tired from singing yesterday. Or say you had a lot of tense communication at work: your muscles are now tight and you don’t even realize it.

Or you haven’t been breathing. If you exercise first, everything is going to be more relaxed. Your muscles will be more relaxed, so when you go to sing, you’re going to feel freer. That’s a trick by the way! Do twenty minutes of aerobic exercise at some point in the day if you have a performance or even if you want to sing for somebody in your living room. You’ll notice it’s much easier to sing.

Singers are physical athletes of the small muscles of the voice and breath. I’m writing a book right now called Heal Your Voice, and it has a lot of these techniques in it. It’s a 21-day plan to vocal health and wellness, but I’m including some of these techniques. My Singers get warmup exercises. We lift the palate. We do all these physical things that aren’t in a lot of other programs because they get a result.

I’ve had clients where I pull out a mat to work on their throats. They come in, and they’re having problems. I roll out the mat, lay them down, and put my balm–my Sunrider Balm that’s like a Tiger Balm–all over their neck muscles. I get down on the floor and literally release their neck muscles. Starting with the sternocleidomastoid muscles all the way to their jaw muscles and their laryngeal muscles, then they walk out of here with their voice.

They come in with barely a voice. The vocal muscles that surround the vocal instrument… All I have to do is just press on my neck muscles. I’m not doing anything else, but you can hear the rasp. That you won’t learn at a Doctor’s office.

Most Vocal Coaches are not aware of that because it wasn’t in their programs. They weren’t trained in that way. I was very fortunate to–for one–be involved with amazing mentors and–two–have an interest in massage, natural herbs, and natural medicine. I bring a whole different perspective to solutions for vocal problems that really work.

Mama Jan (Usher, Drake, Justin Bieber)

Unfortunately, that’s not a one-sentence answer. Warming up your voice is equally important as it is for a professional runner to warm up their body and stretch their legs before running a marathon. It’s about making sure that blood flow and oxygenation are circulating in the voice and through the vocal cords to optimize performance.

It’s one of the very first things I work with artists on so that they begin to understand the physiology of singing. On average, a good vocal warm-up should be at least 17 – 20 minutes but varies depending on how long someone will be singing. And please note that cooling down is just as important and the process that Vocalists know even less about.

Lis Lewis (Rihanna, Miguel, Kali Uchis)

Most people have two voices. A lower voice that we mostly speak in, and an upper voice that we sometimes sing in. The lower voice is called “chest voice” and the upper voice is called “head voice.” The high end is where most people get very uncomfortable. Not everybody: some people are more comfortable in their head voice.

Whichever voice is your dominant voice, it doesn’t matter. They’re both great. What you want to do is warm up each of them individually, then build a connection between them. In order to properly warm up your voice, you need to use both of them.

Your voice might operate really well on some days and not on others. There are reasons for that. For instance, if you haven’t slept well or haven’t had enough water, chances are you’re going to sing poorly. There are people who can sing well no matter what but if you find that’s true for you, then there are a couple of things you need–more sleep and more water for one thing.

You also need to understand what it does to your voice, so that you can combat it when it does happen. It can cause you to use more external muscles–your jaw, your throat, your neck–because you’re trying to compensate. You need to learn how to release those muscles and relax. Let the air and your vocal cords do the work.

Understand Your Vocal Range

In classical music, the various ranges are described (from high to low) as soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, sometimes abbreviated as SATB in vocal arrangements. Baritone overlaps bass and tenor, and the tessitura for baritone (the most acceptable and comfortable vocal range for a given Singer) is higher than bass but lower than tenor.

Most men are basses, baritones, or tenors, while most women are altos and sopranos. The lowest female classical voice type is called a contralto. It’s not hard to figure out your range by experimenting with notes and paying attention to where it becomes difficult to sing at the extremes of high and low. Make sure you are warmed up and be careful not to strain your voice.

According to professional Musician and Vocalist Amanda Carr, “I try not to get caught up in the names of ranges such as ‘I am a soprano…or I am a baritone’ at least in musical genres outside of classical. I look at each individual song and find where the best median focal point is for the voice; where in the vocal range in the song is best served by way of timbre, tone, vocal strength, control, and consistency. Understanding that will allow a Singer to be conscious of their range and where within that they are generally at their best in every and any situation.”

Understand that we learn by copying and doing, so it’s fine to sing along with recordings of the Singers you admire the most.

You might find some online apps useful, such as:

  • Smule
  • SingTrue
  • VoxTrain
  • Sing Sharp
  • Yousician
  • Learn To Sing

Learn to Sing is only available on Android. Yousician has actual tutorials with videos of Teachers explaining, while SingSharp has basic exercises and allows you to record and save your singing. Try the different apps and see which ones offer the best fit for how you sing and learn.

How to Improve Your Pitch

We often hear about “tone-deafness,” meaning the difficulty to recognize and match a pitch you hear. While there are some unfortunate souls who just cannot match pitch, this condition is truly very rare.

Having taught ear-training (solfege, sight-singing) to students for decades, I’ve almost never encountered anyone who truly couldn’t match pitch. What is true is that some people have more difficulty than others, but if they make the effort and put in the practice time, they will ultimately be able to do it.

I’ve also found that there are some great Teachers out there who specialize in helping students to improve their intonation (singing “in-tune”). Berklee Professor Jeannie Gagné is one such person, and she writes about techniques and exercises for improving intonation for Singers.

One technique I’ve used is to play a note on the piano to match the note the student is singing. Then, try to have the student adjust it up or down in small increments, and eventually progress to singing larger intervals.

It might also help to play a chord and have the student match any one of the notes in the chord with their voice. Then move the chord up or down in half-steps to see if the student can follow the direction with their voice.

An interesting discovery for me was that everyone hears pitch slightly differently, so what sounds in-tune for one person might not for another. There are some great Singers who don’t always sing perfectly “in-tune.”

Can a "bad" Singer become a good Singer?

Lis Lewis (Rihanna, Miguel, Kali Uchis)

Yes. Everybody can get better. I’m not sure what “bad Singer” means, but I would guess it means you don’t like the sound of your voice or you’re not singing in tune. Those two things are difficult to fix by yourself. If you’re not singing in tune, you need another person to help you figure out when you are singing in tune and what that sounds and feels like. That can be fixed–you can get better. That’s definitely possible.

If what you don’t like is the sound of your voice, that is also something that can be fixed by having an outside ear tell you why it doesn’t sound good. A lot of people use their throat to sing. I think your readers will recognize if they do it. It’s very, very common. If that’s what you’re doing, then you need to correct it because that’s what makes it sound like you’re straining. It also makes you get tired.

So yes, there are things you can do to make your voice better, and you can do them on your own as well. You can record yourself singing and listen back. I really want to emphasize this–don’t just say, “I hate that.” Instead say, “Well, this note was pretty good, that note sounded like I was flat,” and those types of things will help you move forward by figuring out what you do like, which is even more important than figuring out what you don’t like.

Mama Jan (Usher, Drake, Justin Bieber)

Of course! Can a mediocre athlete improve their performance with regular conditioning and practice? Yes, they can. I work with various degrees of good, bad, and ugly singing on a daily basis and progress happens all the time. Obviously, there are physiological differences from person-to-person, but within the confines of each Singer’s eco-system, it’s not difficult to turn bad around, but it does require diligence and discipline.

Teri Danz (2019 Billboard Chart-toppers Sweet Eve, Ximxia, Kian Blume)

I guess that depends on what you mean by “bad Singer”. A lot of times, a “bad” Singer is someone who doesn’t have ear training and can’t hear or match pitches. A bad Singer can be someone who can sing but doesn’t know how to manage the natural instrument they were given.

For example, if you know you can sing, and still don’t think you sound good, it could be due to many reasons. Students come to me all the time with this problem. For example, you could be singing through your nose, then your sound is nasal. This sounds bad whether you have a great voice or not.

If you sing through the back of your throat and push a lot of air, you lose resonance and tone. With pushing, it is harder to hit notes. Then, your voice is probably going to get tired, and you can become hoarse more easily.

I’ve coached a lot of students to the next level who have been good Singers up to a certain point. They are the kids who sing at home in their small community or they sang in high school and got kudos. However, they can’t make the transition alone to recording or performing. They may not be used to nailing pitches or understanding performance. The list is endless. You can even be a great musician on an instrument and not understand that singing is a different skill set.

I think a “bad Singer” can be a lot of things. Some Singers can’t hear the pitch because their ear isn’t developed yet, or they can’t develop it for some reason. There is such a thing as talent. I think with bad Singers there is a thought process that goes into it. “I want to sing like Maynard from Tool or I want to sing like Whitney Houston or I want to sing like Ariana.” It’s great if you want to sing like Ariana, and you can certainly learn her styling, except that if you’re not a high soprano (like she is) and you try to sing up where she’s singing, you’re going to sound bad no matter what you do.

I happen to be a mezzo soprano, which is like a 2nd soprano. Christina Aguilera is a mezzo. Taylor Swift is a mezzo. Madonna is a mezzo. Mezzos can never get as deep a tone as someone like Adele. Adele is an alto, so is Miley. I may be able to sing in the same key as Adele, but I won’t get the same gutsiness, because I have a higher, lighter voice. Ultimately, you have to accept and embrace your true vocal range. Just being able to hit a note doesn’t make you a good or bad Singer.

There are a lot of people who want to sing out of their range. They think it’s a badge of honor to sing out of their range, but the truth is that you always sound better when you’re singing in your best vocal range. When you utilize your gift, whatever that is, you sound better.

For example, if you’re an alto and you’re always singing higher, you’ll never develop that range and always sound thin–because you’re not using the gift you actually have. I help people find their gift. Where is your sweet spot? Where is it in your range that you actually sound good?

To really be a great Singer, you, first of all, have to have tone. Tone is everything in pop singing. If you don’t have tone, you don’t have anything. When you hear Adele or Ariana or Sam Smith, it’s their tone you’re listening to, not just what they’re saying. It’s because they’re singing in a sweet spot for them. But if I sing in the same key, it may not be my sweet spot.

I also think that people who are “bad Singers” are people who don’t realize their limitations. I’ve had students who want to sing really, really high, like some of the boy bands and rock bands. But the truth is, when they “hit” that note, they’re really hitting under it. It’s this monotonous thing because they barely hit it. To me, that’s not singing.

I also think people don’t understand the discipline and practice it takes to be really good at singing. You can’t take a lesson with me once a week and think you’re going to be better next week. That doesn’t work. I had a Coach who showed me that there is a professional bar. If someone doesn’t know what that bar is, and they go into a competition, they have no idea that what they’re doing doesn’t cut it at all.

It is not that they can’t sing; it’s that they haven’t been trained to sing or compete professionally.

Cari Cole (Courtney Love, Diane Birch, American Idol & The Voice Finalists)

It depends on what you mean by bad. During my career of teaching Singers for three decades, I only had one or two that really couldn’t make the jump even after quite a bit of attention.

I think playing an instrument really helps. Understanding the language of music really helps. You don’t have to have the greatest voice in the room to be a Singer. A lot of people are Songwriters. They don’t have incredible voices, but they have great careers because they can use their voice well enough to express themselves. I think it depends on what your goals are and what you’re trying to do in music.

Not every Singer ends up on The Voice. A lot of Singers are just Songwriters–local Songwriters or people who want to just get out there. You can improve your voice a lot with training. People don’t understand the level to which technique can help. It’s like if you want to go to the Olympics, you go to an Olympic Coach, right?

With technique, there’s a difference between Vocal Coaches and Technique Teachers. I happen to be both. Technique Teachers really understand how the instrument works. When you work with a really good Technique Teacher, you can really improve. But if you haven’t played an instrument and you’re not really musically inclined, it might be harder.

Study the Greats

A great piece of advice I received when I went to music school was to not only listen to the musicians I admire, but to study their influences.

I recently read John Fogerty’s autobiography (Singer, Guitarist, and Songwriter from Creedence Clearwater Revival) and read his chapter on his influences with great interest. I even went on YouTube to look up the artists and specific tracks mentioned in his book. I wanted to understand what he was listening to when he wrote and performed great songs such as “Proud Mary.”

It’s fine to emulate the artists you love, and to let them influence your own singing. Of course, you should be analyzing what makes them so great, and digging deep to understand why their work is so special.

But don’t neglect to listen and analyze THEIR influences as well, since it will give you an even deeper insight into how they became so accomplished. Listen for technique but also pay attention to the nuances of diction, phrasing, tone, and style, and try to figure out where it came from.

Fortunately, there are lots of biographies and autobiographies available on the leading Singers you can read to gain a deeper understanding. Do your research.

Practice Diction and Scales

Amanda Carr says that working on diction and vocal control exercises are very important because “…many vocal students (and some professionals) both mentally and physically disengage from a note before it’s fully expressed, often not completing the note or word they are on before moving to the next lyric or note. This can cause the ending of words and notes to drop off that in turn thwarts musical fluidity and the efficacy of dynamics.”

“This premature disengagement can also affect pitch because the Singer has mentally ‘checked out’ before completing the entire tone. When this becomes a habit, it’s hard to break, so it’s best to become aware of this sooner than later. This is one of the reasons why diction and vocal control exercises are so important.”

I recommend you record yourself singing and listen carefully for out-of-tune notes, and for where you could improve your diction. It might seem a little uncomfortable at first, but most Voice Instructors agree that this is an important exercise to help you improve your technique.

Record yourself singing scale exercises and also some music that you enjoy singing. Be analytical and critical when you listen.

Build Your Confidence

It almost seems cynical and cliché to say you should “be yourself, everyone else is already taken,” a quote often misattributed to Poet Oscar Wilde. The problem is that when you try to “just be natural” you end up as a caricature of yourself and it seems like an adopted pose. Better advice might be to just relax and let it happen.

Stay curious and cultivate the habit of looking at the world as it is, not as somehow falling short of how you want things to be. Stay in the moment and let the magic of music take over. All of this is easier to talk about than to do, but when you stop worrying about how others will judge you it can be very freeing.

You will improve the most by doing the work; practicing the things that will help you grow musically, working with a Teacher (online, or in-person when it’s safe again), finding outlets where you can share your singing with others, getting constructive feedback from trusted experts in your life (fellow students, Teachers, Professional Singers, etc.), and listening to yourself on recordings.

This last point is so useful, yet many novice Singers seem to avoid it out of fear of hearing what they really sound like and being overly self-critical. It’s only going to help you to get used to the sound of your own voice.

Copying others is a good way to learn but eventually, you will gain the confidence to use your voice to express the music you hear in your head. It does take some technical ability, but with time and effort, you will see your improvement. Sing a joyful song and let the music inside of you be a gift you give to the world around you.

Vocal Coach Cari Cole
Cari Cole

Celebrity vocal coach, artist development expert, and new music business mentor Cari Cole is reimagining how we invest in the future of music through rethinking how we value our artists.

As a thought leader, Cari is helping to shift the music business paradigm back to being more artist-driven by raising the bar on the quality of independent music one artist at a time. In the current music industry climate, when resources available to empower and nurture talent are slim, her robust platform offers singer-songwriters a gateway to a professional life in music.

Cari’s comprehensive program for artistic success includes vocal coaching, artist development, and new business mentoring. Informing these offerings are principles from psychology, holistic health, new media marketing, and personal branding. Clients can study under Cari in a multitude of settings, including private and group sessions, and interactive educational opportunities.

Central to all of Cari’s work is her warm candor, uplifting outlook, humility, empathy, and her profound life journey of reinvention. It’s these qualities that have earned her the affectionate nickname “Mama Lion” by her students.

“I am here to inspire people to unlock their brilliance and create without fear,” she explains. “I am often the one to tell artists what’s not working, what they may not want to hear, but in such a way that greatly accelerates and enhances their progress in a constructive, but compassionate way.”

Cari’s own music career accomplishments extend into diverse arenas. In the realm of vocal coaching, she is one of the most in-demand instructors in the profession. Her work is distinguished by its focus on the techniques that define contemporary commercial vocal styles. It’s an approach that has been recognized by prestigious academic institutions and some of modern music’s biggest stars. She’s taught at Columbia University, NYU, and was on the Board of Directors of NYSTA (New York Singing Teachers Association) for several years. In addition to a rich roster of select emerging and independent artists, her clientele also includes such legends as Courtney Love and the band Journey, Grammy winners Donald Fagen/Steely Dan and Chrisette Michele as well as singer-songwriters Diane Birch and finalists from the hit TV series American Idol and The Voice. Her unique method’s focus on health and wellness tenets has garnered her referrals from doctors to treat vocal ailments such as nodules holistically. Cari is currently writing a breakthrough book for vocalists that explains her results-driven techniques and philosophies.

As an artist development expert, Cari’s transformed the career of numerous musicians by that compassionately critical voice. “As the industry has been downsizing, artists are losing the benefit of getting the chance to incubate. They need the opportunity and the extra push to deepen their work, she explains. Her authority in this capacity has made her a popular speaker at some the industry’s most distinguished forums, including the CMJ Music Marathon and The Grammy Foundation. Cari’s work as a beloved and trusted vocal coach, talent developer, and business owner have enabled her to formulate viable strategies for artists to develop sustainable lives in music. “I’ve worked with celebrities and artist becoming famous, witnessing the stories—how things happen for artists. Through having an insider view, I’ve been able to identify many key factors the successful artists have in common that I can pass along to help guide my artist development clients,” she says. Cari’s also formally studied trends in marketing to empower her clients with personal branding ideas and new media essentials to further their careers.

Cari Cole, the artist, at 40 years old, released the enlightening and award-winning CD Circle Of Fire, a transformative musical statement based on the New York Times bestselling book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. She was signed to a record deal with the publisher of The Four Agreements, and Circle Of Fire went on to sell over 40,000 records worldwide.

Cari’s personal story is both fascinating and inspiring. Orphaned at two, followed by a few years in a foster home, she grew up with her aunt and uncle in a musical household where she learned the fundamentals of music studying classical guitar and flute at the age of 6 on. At fifteen, she boldly left home and left high school early to embark on a self-made spiritual journey that included hitchhiking cross country, hippie gatherings with American Indians, the struggling artist/ bartender/waitress routine, and, finally, an epiphanic period studying voice with her mentor renowned vocal coach Katie Agresta (Cyndi Lauper, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and the Dave Matthews Band). Through her studies with Katie, Cari became one of Katie’s celebrated teachers, found her own calling as a celebrated vocal coach, and reinvented herself as the artistic authority she is today.

“It’s my mission that no artist be left undiscovered. That every artist has the equal opportunity to become the vision they behold.”

Vocal Coach Teri Danz
Teri Danz

Teri Danz is a club hit Recording Artist, America’s Vocal Coach, and Vocal Producer. She combines her love and passion for singing with a desire to give others a toolbox of techniques they need for pop singing and professional speaking.  Named a Top Vocal Coach by Backstage Magazine, she had three students in the Top 20 on the Billboard Charts in 2019 (two of whom she vocal coached and produced in the studio). Danz recently won a Global Excellence Award for 2020 – Vocal Coach of the Year (West Coast USA).

Her diverse and extensive experience lends itself well to assisting others in pursuing their dreams. Danz is an expert in pop technique and brings her experience as a recording/label artist to dynamic workshops and lessons that take singers to the next level in their career and development. At the ASCAP Expo, Danz co-facilitated the Neumann workshops with Brian Walker (Sennheiser/Neumann expert), coaching singers on the microphones.

A classically trained musician, Danz studied with renowned vocal coach Raz Kennedy (of Bobby McFerrin’s VOICESTRA, and coach to Adam Duritz of Counting Crows) and many others. Credits include 12″ dance/club hit, BMI songwriter, songs in Indie films, Tower records in-stores (with her band), national press – Women Who Rock Magazine, Sennheiser and Mackie NAMM booth performances, acoustic recordings with Buddy Halligan (Barry White, Ray Charles, Anita Baker), and many others. Danz also worked with legendary rapper/producer Father MC (FAMBODY) and Gerry (The Gov) Brown (Alicia Keyes, Tina Turner) on a nine-song R&B hip hop production.

Vocal producing/coaching clients include recording artists Ximxia (#19 on the Billboard Charts 2019), Kian Blume (#17 on the Billboard Charts 2019), and Sweet Eve (with student Tony Francis #15 on the Billboard Charts 2019). Danz received a nomination for Best Female Vocalist of the Year, All Access Music Awards 2005, has PRO Endorsements by Sennheiser and Casio, and garnered national press in Women Who Rock Magazine and others.

She has appeared and performed on TV (network and PBS). As a pop vocal expert, Danz is a published writer, having written many articles in magazines such as Electronic Musician, Music Connection, Guitar Player, and various online outlets. Danz recently sang on the Charity single “People Are People” at www.risingvoices.net. Her new YouTube video, Pop Singing Secrets, shares her pop technique.

Danz has extensive studio recording experience both as a singer and coach. In addition, her education includes a degree in Speech Communications/Pathology and a Master’s in Education from the State University of New York at Buffalo and studying at Blue Bear School of Music (San Francisco).

Vocal Coach Mama Jan
Mama Jan

A nationally recognized singer/songwriter/musician, Jan Smith is also a Grammy-nominated producer, GA Music Hall of Fame inductee, and a multi-platinum certified vocal coach/vocal producer who has tended to some of the most distinctive voices in the business. Owner of Jan Smith Studios in Atlanta, a state-of-the-art vocal coaching, artist development, and production facility offering services nationwide to record companies, artists, producers and motion pictures. Clients include Usher, Rob Thomas/Matchbox Twenty, Shania Twain, Justin Bieber, The Band Perry, Jill Scott, India Arie, David Crowder, Sugarland, Drake, Mastodon, Nicki Minaj, FLA/GA Line, Jesus Culture, etc. (www.jansmith.com). Vocal consultation and production credits also include Tyler Perry Productions, Warner Bros Pictures, Universal Pictures, Paramount, Disney, New Line Cinema, Fox Television, as well as work with award winning actors Liam Neeson, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Christina Applegate, Ed Helms, Jamie Chung, Terrence Howard, Christian Serratos, the girl group STAR on Fox, and White House Correspondent John Roberts.

A frequent media guest and sought-after speaker, Smith has been featured with Usher on MTV’s hit reality show Duets, with Ciara on BET’s Behind the Scenes, on UPN’s RUtheGirl? with Chilli and T-Boz of TLC, on Bravo’s popular Housewives of Atlanta, with Justin Bieber in Paramount’s documentary of Never Say Never, on Nightline’s vocal reporting on singer Adele, on E!’s The Wanted Life (a Ryan Seacrest & Scooter Braun production), and on multiple network news and cable programs. She has been a keynote speaker for such events as the Vineyard SE Arts Conference, TAG Digital Media Summit, the Women of Worth Conference, Grammy in the Schools, the “Project Light” Arts Conference, and most recently was a featured speaker at LeaderCast Women’s inaugural event and the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. Additionally, Mama Jan was asked to consult the Chinese Audio-Visual Association on the creation of awards categories for their prestigious Golden Disc Awards and continues her work with pop artists from Beijing and Korea.

Her extensive work with artists worldwide and reputation among leading vocal surgeons has provided Smith the opportunity to rehabilitate and help heal some of the highest profile voices for endurance under their demanding schedules. Through her membership at Passion City Church and her ministry with the worship singers for all of the North Point Community Churches (Alpharetta, GA), Jan has tailored vocal workshops directed towards the specific needs of contemporary singers, Christian and gospel artists, and worship leaders in the church and beyond. Among other industry related events, she has provided master classes and intensive vocal workshops for Bethel Music (Redding, CA), the Vineyard SE Arts Conference, The Grove Church, Willow Creek Community (Chicago), the Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church Conference, H-Rock Church (Pasadena, CA), Watkinsville Baptist, Mt. Paran Churches in greater Atlanta, Jesus Culture, Destiny Praise, Worship Circle, and Passion City Church worship leaders. Mama Jan continues to provide ongoing vocal consultations for many worship leaders, pastors and touring evangelists, in addition to assisting many public speakers, politicians, and television news anchors.

Smith has served as President of the Atlanta Chapter of the Recording Academy for two terms, as a National Trustee for several multi-year terms, and continues to participate on national committees as a voting member of the Grammys in good standing. She continues to see clients worldwide, produces records in her Atlanta Homegirl Entertainment studios, and develops aspiring artists under Mama Jan Music. Jan Smith Studios has created employment opportunities for many others and hosts the largest roster of charting artists of any vocal coaching and artist development facility in America

Vocal Teacher Lis Lewis
Lis Lewis

Lis Lewis is a Voice Teacher and Performance Coach in Los Angeles, CA. She has been training recording artists for over 30 years. Learn more about her private voice lessons. Her website, The Singers Workshop, provides information, news and products for pop singers. Lis is the Author of the books The Singers First Aid Kit and The Pop Singers Warm-Up Kit, both published by Hal Leonard.

In addition to private coaching, she has worked in collaboration with Managers, record labels, Producers, bands and Songwriters in the recording and rehearsal studio to get the best performances from their artists.

Her own training started as a child at the world-famous Dalcroze School of Music in New York City as well as with Private Music Teachers. She attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and has a Masters Degree in Theater and Music. She has taken postgraduate classes in management, publicity and marketing.

Her work has been spotlighted in Billboard and by Atlas Obscura.

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