One of the most important skills to acquire from any vocal lesson is how to create good tone when singing. It’s an important skill no matter the gender of the performer or the genre they perform. But… what is good tone and how do you get it?
The truth is what’s “good tone” is a tough question to answer. The issue’s incredibly subjective. If you’re talking to someone who’s only into classical music they’re going to have a very different opinion than someone who’s into death metal. (I wonder is there such a thing as “Death Opera?” If not, maybe we should try it!)
However if you look at the idea of “good tone” in it’s purest form, good tone is the result of good technique. It’s that simple. The more aligned the mechanics of your voice, the more consistent and pleasing your tone becomes. Then after that’s established, if you want to mess with it and change things around to create more style, you’ll do it better than ever before. Even a growl will sound like a cooler growl.
A good balance of the registers, enough breath to do the job, not too much compression on the vocal cords and a clear sense of where you want to experience the resonance are all components of a technique that produces great tone.
Acquiring this ability includes a few basic steps:
- Relaxation when singing is very important. A tense singer will have a weak resonance and tone in their voice. Relaxing also inhibits the tendency to strain when attempting to hit notes at the edge or your natural range.
- Breathing is another key factor to getting good tone. Babies breathe properly, as only their stomachs move during the intake and release of the breath. As adults we often need to relearn this method of breathing, so practice taking in and releasing your breath with a minimum of movement from your chest and shoulders. But don’t get yourself knotted up trying to “do it right!” Sometimes just suck down a big pile of air and don’t worry about how you’re doing it. I see too many singers holding their breath or hardly inhaling at all.
- Develop consistent vocal warm-up techniques. Humming is suggested as a method to warm up the muscles your body will use while singing.
- Study your role models. Copy their performances. Imitate their voices. Do this with enough artists and eventually you won’t remember what belongs to whom. Then just go for it without thinking and see what shows up. You’re naturally creative and you can’t really do them anyway (they’re them) so you don’t have to worry about being “unoriginal.”
- Experiment with different types of music, and different performance styles. Find one that you are comfortable with and that allows you to stay relaxed and breathe properly. If a highly active performance style leaves you short of breath, get into the gym for god sakes!
- Get a job singing! Nothing can replace practice, and getting paid for it! So after you feel comfortable with the techniques described above, put yourself out there. Get used to singing in front of people. In addition to developing your vocal abilities, you will also be able to practice other very important aspects of a professional singer such as stage presence, and the ability to read a crowd and get in touch with their moods.
- Track your progress. Record yourself singing (you will be surprised at how different you sound at first!). Doing this once a month will help you detect areas of weakness you can improve and areas of strength to draw upon during a performance.
- Learn how to care for your voice. Avoid straining your vocal cords by yelling or screaming. Drink plenty of fluids, at least 64 fluid ounces of water a day to keep your vocal cords hydrated, but avoid dairy as they produce mucous which will make it hard to keep your throat clear. Smoking or being around smokers for extended periods of time should also be avoided. The chemicals in a cigarette can be damaging to vocal cords.
- Lastly, if you can budget it, find a voice coach. There’s no substitute for one-on-one coaching. Remember… you don’t know what you don’t know!