The question of how to improve your singing voice is kind of like asking how to improve your cooking skills, or your writing ability, or your mountain climbing prowess.
The answer is ALWAYS going to be practice, practice, and more practice.
I’m pretty sure you already knew that though, so I’m guessing that what you really want to know is whether or not there’s anything else you can do to improve your singing voice aside from singing scales, drilling away at vocal exercises, and mastering new songs at every opportunity.
The answer is yes. There are definitely things you can do to improve your voice that don’t involve singing practice.
Here are my Top 5 ways to improve your singing, that don’t actually involve singing.
1. Memorise Your Song Lyrics and Melodies
When you’re reading notes and/or lyrics off sheet music, a big chunk of your brain is focused on the task of reading.
This means that big chunk of your brain is not focused on actual singing. You’d be lucky to be singing at even half your capacity.
That’s fine when you’re first learning a new piece of music, but within a couple of weeks you need to shed that sheet music and focus on your singing. Get your eyes off the page and start really singing those words, not just reading them.
It is almost impossible to successfully interpret a song without knowing it off by heart. If you’re reading, you’re not totally focused on your vocal performance. You’ll struggle to connect with the meaning of what you’re singing.
And if you’ve only half learned a song and you’re struggling to remember the next line, then you won’t be focusing on preparing your attack and giving that line your best shot.
Memorise your song lyrics and the melodies. I always suggest reading over the lyrics of the song you’re learning a couple of times every night before you go to bed, then try to recite them without reading when you wake up in the morning. Lyrics have a funny way of gelling overnight.
2. Practice Breathing Exercises
Building up your lung capacity is important for singers who want to last through long phrases without running out of breath and having to top up in the middle of a line.
But you don’t have to be vocalising to do breathing exercises. You can do them anywhere without making a sound (elevator, anyone?).
Yoga classes are a great way to learn more about control of the breath, but there are also many simple breathing exercises you can practice at home.
One of the most basic breathing exercises I recommend for building up your lung capacity is this:
NOTE: If you feel at all light headed when doing this exercise, please stop and rest. If you are not used to breathing deeply this way, you may be prone to hyperventilating.
- Place your hands on your waist
- Move your hands straight up your body until they are sitting on the bottom of your rib cage – you should be able to feel your lower front ribs under your index fingers, and your lower back ribs against your thumbs
- Exhale the air in your lungs until you need to take a breath
- Inhale slowly, focusing on expanding the thoracic area where your hands are sitting – you should feel your hands moving outwards as the ribs expand and your intercostal muscles are stretched
- When you cannot take in any more air, slowly begin to exhale. Make the exhale last as long as possible, letting out as little air as possible as you go.
- Repeat up to 5 times. Always stop if you begin to feel faint.
Watch out that you do not lift your shoulders when inhaling – it’s a sign of upper respiratory breathing, and you need to be filling up the widest space at the bottom of your lungs, not the narrower peaks at the top.
3. Do Regular Physical Exercise
If you’ve never exerted yourself by doing some physical exercise for half an hour or so before you start singing, you really should try it. You’re likely to be surprised at how much more vital your vocals sound. There’s something about oxygenating the blood and getting your body moving with exercise that has a quite amazing effect on the voice.
I actually know of several singers who go for a brisk walk before performances for this reason.
Aside from the vocal and energetic boost you get in this situation, your general physical fitness does affect your vocal abilities. Exercising regularly and keeping your body – which is literally your instrument – in a healthy condition, will help you to improve your singing. You’ll have more stamina and more energy, which are likely to contribute to better vocal control and a stronger mindset.
4. Keep Hydrated
Drink water. Lots of water. Ideally a couple of litres per day (tea and coffee don’t count). You will sing better if you’re hydrated.
Your vocal cords need lubrication to work optimally. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty, because by then you’re already dehydrated. A quick swig of water before you go on stage won’t help if you haven’t been drinking throughout the day.
Picture your vocal folds drying out like parchment paper, and that’s usually a good enough incentive to reach for the water bottle.
5. Avoid Alcohol and Smoking
While the water bottle is a yes, beer and wine bottles are a no (and spirits are a no-no-no!).
I wrote about this in a post on vocal health, but I’m going to quote myself here because it was pretty good advice:
Alcohol dries and irritates the vocal cords, making them less pliable when singing. To counteract this effect, many singers push harder to achieve a better sound. This can further damage the voice and cause burst blood vessels and polyps on the cords.
Smoking forms plaque on the vocal cords and dries them out, making the voice sound rougher. Plaque cannot be removed by surgery, and the more you smoke, the more it builds up.
Avoiding both alcohol and smoking (including inhaling second-hand smoke from others near you) will help you to sing better. The sooner you put them aside, the sooner your vocal cords will thank you.
Bonus! Just thought of another one!
As a new mum, it occurred to me that sleep is definitely a deal breaker. If you’ve not had a decent night’s sleep, you’ll struggle to get it together vocally. If you want to improve your singing voice without actually singing, getting at least 8 hours kip in a row will make a big difference to your energy levels and therefore your vocal abilities.
And if you don’t have any kids, enjoy your extended sleep time. I’m jealous.
To sum up, all of the above factors take much less time to implement than the hours you should be dedicating to singing practice, yet they will help you to improve your singing voice significantly.
Have a go at putting them into practice and please, as always, let me know how you go by providing feedback or commenting below. Happy Singing!