As a singer and musician with over thirty years of musical experience, I am often asked by people I meet, “how can I sing better?” Most of the time people who ask this question are not professional or even semi-professional singers, but everyday folks who just enjoy singing and would like to know what they can do to improve their singing voice. So, aside from taking lessons or a formal course of study, how can you sing better? There is one very basic thing you can do that is likely to significantly improve the quality of your singing: that is to record your voice, and then listen back to the recording.
Why to record your voice
We you sing, you’re not just playing an instrument, you are the instrument. The resonator for the sound you make isn’t the inside of a snare drum, or the body of a guitar, or the inside of a tuba – it’s your actual body. This means that the sound you hear when you sing will be different to what others hear, simply because you are your own amplifier. How many times have you heard your speaking voice on a recorded message or on a video and thought, “do I really sound like that?” You’re hearing yourself the way others hear you. As a singer, listening to a recording of yourself singing is the first step in really hearing your own singing voice, and then identifying how you can sing better. You will also hear yourself better by listening to a recording because you’re actively focused on listening. When you are actually engaged in singing, your brain is doing some serious multitasking. You may be doing any or all of the following things simultaneously:
- reading lyrics and a melody from sheet music, or recalling them from your memory
- modulating your pitch and thinking about tempo
- tuning in to backing music you’re singing to
- preparing for key changes
- paying attention to the words and interpreting a song’s meaning
- experimenting with dynamics (changes in volume)
- pondering what’s in the fridge for dinner
By taking all this extra stuff out of the equation and just listening, you’ll be able to hear things about your singing voice that you’ve probably never even noticed before.
How to record your voice
Don’t be put off the idea of recording your own voice because you think it will be technically difficult. If you have an old cassette recorded or a dictaphone then you might just want to go analogue and dig them out. Ideally though, if you have access to a computer, you should use a basic music recording software program to record your voice. If you have a Mac, then I’d recommend you use the included Garageband software; if you have a PC, there are inexpensive Garageband for Windows alternatives that will do the job just as well. You can even use these programs to build backing tracks.
How can you sing better? Listen to yourself
In many ways, recording yourself singing and then listening to the recording makes you both pupil and teacher. When you listen, listen as a teacher. Take note of what sounds good, and what doesn’t, and ask yourself questions such as:
- Is your voice weaker in some areas?
- Are there any pitch problems?
- Is there minimal variation in your singing (i.e. does every line you sing sound pretty much the same?)
- Are your words clearly enunciated and understandable?
- Do you ever run out of breath in the middle of a phrase?
- Would an audience be convinced about the words you’re singing?
Pretend you’re listening to someone else, and be critical – identifying what doesn’t sound good is actually a positive thing, because it’s the first step in pinpointing what needs to be worked on. If you think it all sounds 100% perfect, then you really need to call in a critical friend who can provide you with some honest feedback!
Even professional singers have weaknesses, but the trick is to identify problems and then practice, practice, practice to overcome them. Recording and then listening to your own singing voice is one the most simple, effective ways to start learning how to sing better. Nothing can replace a programme of singing lessons – either face to face or an instruction package – but listening to a recording of your own voice is a first step in identifying exactly what you need to work on to be able to sing better.
Related article: 10 Things to Listen For if You Want to Improve Your Singing