This page outlines a course of action that would be highly effective in training a singer. There are plenty of people who are going to become great singers without doing the things below. This is a low risk course of action to becoming a good singer. While this article assumes a neatly ordered life it may be impossible for many to follow; but it does provide a strategy that can be adapted to your needs.
We all know when we hear a good singer and it is just as obvious when we hear a bad one. Just watch the audition episodes of Australian Idol to hear a few terrible singers. So what makes a bad singer? Poor singers have trouble hitting the notes, they are out of tune. Other bad traits are sliding up to the note rather than going straight to it and using too much vibrato. You also hear poor technique and affectation of the voice rather than genuine expressiveness.
Singing is NOT something you are either born with or not. Most of the problems can be solved by training and practice and poor singers can become good.
The most common problem is singing out of tune. There are 3 parts to this problem.
Training your ear is called Aural training (or just Ear Training) and can be done in many different ways. You can use programs like Auralia from http://www.risingsoftware.com/ or books with practice CD's that can help get you started. Working out how to play music by ear is an excellent form of Aural training.
It is very important to build your aural skills as it is the foundation of your musical talent. The ear training is one of the most important things but so many people learning music just overlook it.
Wikipedia has a good article on ear training at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ear_training
Vocalists who don't play an instrument have a narrow musical education so get piano lessons to get a broader musical education. Piano has an established teaching methodology that has produced good results for hundreds of years and a large pool of quality teachers. Pianos are highly versatile and provide an excellent accompaniment to a voice. If you learn piano and you will be able to play all kinds of synthesizers and other keyboard instruments. I recommend weekly lessons from a good teacher for 2 or 3 years and spending 1 hour per night practicing piano.
With a voice you can only sing 1 note at a time. You can't sing chords by yourself. Thus a voice is a monophonic instrument. It would be my strong advice to learn a polyphonic instrument; an instrument that you can play several notes on at once and thus make chords.
If you learn guitar make sure you get proper lessons as there are lots of very shonky guitar teachers around. Guitars have an advantage of being fairly cheap and highly portable.
Whatever instrument you learn it should have fixed pitches so when you play a C note you know it will be exactly a C note, not sharp or flat. Something like a cello or trombone has exactly the same problem as a voice. The pitch is not fixed and you can play every micro-interval between the C note and the D note and there is no way to tell when you are exactly on the C note or the D note.
You don't have to be a virtuoso but if you get to about Grade 5 level. It will take at least 650 hours of applied practice guided by a good teacher, but you will have an excellent musical foundation for your singing. Doing all the scales on piano is hugely helpful in training your ear.
Another bonus of learning an instrument is that singers are often heavily involved in song writing. Being good on an instrument and the music theory you learned along with it will be a great help in composing melody and putting chords to it.
It is true a decent keyboard is fairly expensive with a 76 key or 88 key fully weighted keyboard costing over $1,000 plus a small amplifier. There is a strong market in used acoustic pianos but they are heavy and difficult to move. Most piano teachers much prefer you to have an acoustic instrument.
A number of teachers I know recommend the following books to singing students:
Click on the pictures for more details. These can be thought of as cheap lessons and a good set of exercises to practice. Both books come with practice CD's. They are published by Berklee Press. Berklee is one of the best music schools in the USA and a place where many top professional musicians have graduated from. I think they do some fairly serious quality control on the books they publish. These books are not expensive and the techniques shown are not controversial like some vocal training books.
Anecdotal evidence suggests many singing teachers are very poor quality teachers. Many of them were trained on opera which is not appropriate to contemporary music and others are so uneducated they are dangerous. If I break my bass guitar playing it wildly I can buy a new one, a singer can never buy a new voice. A singer will NEVER fully recover from things like singers nodes that he/she can get through bad technique.
If you have read The Contemporary Singer book above you will know what questions to ask of a prospective teacher and you will also be able to identify if a teacher is telling you the wrong thing.
Having a good teacher is so important. Whether you are doing exercises or working on songs having a teacher who is a well trained and experienced singer is important to identify mistakes you are making and correct you, and just as important, telling you when you are on the right track. There is a lot to singing: your breathing, voice projection, relaxing your voice box, posture and all sorts of stuff. Weekly lessons from an experienced, qualified teacher are really worth the investment.
Record yourself often and then listen carefully. Any cheap recorder will do. If it is a stereo recorder you might put the backing track on the right channel and your voice on the left so you can balance and solo yourself as you listen to it. This is a great way to give yourself immediate feedback on how you are doing.
Your nightly study routine for your first few years might include something like this:
Yes, this is 2½ hours work per night before you curl up in
bed with a good book on the music business.
Yes, it is a lot of effort but many people spend 3 hours or more a night in front of television for years on end and have nothing to show for it.
After several years of this study routine of this you will be a seriously good singer. You get back what you put into it.
This is the page on how to sing like a professional, not how to dabble in it.
I occasionally hear how music is about expression not training. You don't want a perfect, sterile performance etc.
The training develops your craft, when your craft is good enough then you have the tools and the control to be more expressive and more effective than the untrained singer because you are not struggling with technique. The craft or technique has become so 'trained in' that it is now a natural part of you. It is the platform from which you can express yourself while sounding like a professional.
There are 3 things that should become part of your vocal learning strategy no matter how you approach it:
As usual this article has been submitted to relevant industry professionals for peer review before being published. Here is some feedback from experienced teachers and musicians who did the peer review:
Mark, I think that's a fabulous article. You absolutely nail it, and every single thing you say is fantastic advice.
500 hours ≠ Grade 5, however!! I would think more like 650+ hours. And even then that assumes the hours of practice are guided by good teaching. An intelligent, musical person could noodle around on the piano for 650 hours and certainly have a range of competencies at Grade 5 standard (or well above!), but not necessarily have all the competencies a pianist would need to be considered Grade 5 standard in an exam board situation.
And on a side note - I totally agree with your line about many singing teachers being poor, but the way it reads makes it sound as if you mean they have no money!! I would suggest rephrasing so you make it abundantly clear you mean that many singing teachers are not particularly good at their job!! All the best......Elissa
Yes Mark , it is a good article . There is one typo but apart from that it is ready to go .
I value your feedback. Please send me your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org