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Q: How can I work on my voice?

It's a simple question, but the answer is both simple and complex at the same time.


Sometimes we receive questions that are very short and to the point, such as this.

It's a fact that unless you're working with a good singer, you're not going to end up with a good recording.

Perhaps you sing yourself. Let's go down that route...

Public enemy No. 1 - You're singing out of tune!

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Firstly let's dispose of the notion that Auto-Tune can correct everything. To use pitch correction software in automatic mode, your singing already has to be accurate to within a quarter of a semitone much of the time. Otherwise the software will think you're singing the next note up or down. On most notes of the scale you will have nearly a semitone of leeway, but not between E and F and B and C of the C major scale for example.

You can of course tune anything manually. But the plain fact is that the less you have to Auto-Tune, the better the result.

OK. So you're singing out of tune and have (finally) realized that Auto-Tune doesn't cure the problem.

So go to a singing teacher then!

Er, no. If you can find a singing teacher who specializes in tuning, then maybe you are onto a good thing. But many don't. The reason they don't is that they don't know how to get someone who can't sing in tune to hit the right notes. Not directly anyway.

But read on. There's more on tuning later.

Problem No. 2 - Your voice sounds weak and out of control

Do you know what the reason for this is?

It's because it is weak and it is out of control. If you have never worked on your voice, why on Earth would you expect it to be otherwise?

Let's make an analogy.

Firstly fire up your satellite TV system and find some weightlifting. Preferably female weightlifting in the 48 kg (106 pound) class.

Watch these suprisingly delicate ladies as they lift up to twice their bodyweight above their heads.

Could you do that?

No you couldn't, and don't even try or you'll break something.

And the reason these tiny, slender women can lift these enormous weights is because they have developed their strength and control. Strength alone won't do it. Control alone won't do it. Strength and control.

When you sing, what you are asking the muscles of your larynx and throat to do is the work of an athlete. I mean that literally.

So you can't expect to do it without training.

But what about people who seem to be able to sing naturally, you ask?

Well notice how they are always singing. They always have sung. Whatever they are doing they can't help but sing along to it. They have done this since childhood. They have done the training without realizing it. You haven't, and now you need to realize that you have to.

This is where a singing teacher can help.

But here's an exercise you can start off with right now...

Sing one note. Somewhere in the middle of your range, not too soft, not too loud, throat medium open.

Did it sound like a frog with a sore throat?

Well sing it again and make it better.

Make it a really long note.

Listen hard to the sound you are producing and make it the smoothest, most consistent, most beautiful sound you can manage.

I can guarantee that if you do this daily for ten or twenty minutes, you will notice an improvement in your singing within a week.

You can vary this with different notes, different loudnesses, different tones of voice.

It's a good way to start, and a proper teacher will take you further.

Back to the tuning...

What you will find as your voice becomes stronger and better controlled is that your tuning will improve almost automatically and without thinking about it.

But you can go a stage further, and that is to get visual feedback on your tuning.

You can use a musical instrument tuner to help tune your voice!

Now it has to be said that many tuners are too jerky to get good feedback. One quite good one I have found is Cleartune for the iPhone.

It has a note dial and a fine-tune needle. Aim to sing a steady note, any note will do, so that both stay as still as possible. It's hard when you first try.

When you've got the hang of that, try repeating an interval, say a fifth, over and over.

Problem No. 3 - Not understanding what's required

There are different styles of singing, and if you train too much in the wrong style, you will never be able to sing in the style you want.

Let me break it down into three...

  • Pop/rock/r&b music
  • Musical shows
  • Classical and opera

In classical and opera music, singers use a wide vibrato that makes precise tuning pretty much a non-issue. You almost never hear classical singers out of tune. But that kind of singing doesn't other styles of music.

Many singing teachers work in a style that is best suited to Broadway or West End musical shows. This is great in context, but I have to say that the standard of singing in general and tuning in particular is not always of the best. And the delivery is completely different to pop/rock/r&b music.

In truth, some of the most precise singing anywhere is to be found in the Billboard Hot 100. And this is the standard to which you need to aspire. Granted, the Hot 100 is hardly devoid of Auto-Tune, but the quality of singing is in general high, and the variety you will hear over the course of a few months is amazing.


There's so much more that could be said, but in summary you should work on your strength and control, work on your tuning, then aim to match the standard of the very best singers in your chosen genre of music.

By David Mellor Monday January 3, 2011