Among other things, I’m a guitarist and amateur songwriter. It’s always really chapped my ass that I’m not a very good singer. I used to be. When I was a kid I was the start of the school choir. Then my voice broke, and fucked my dreams of international singing success right into a tinker’s bucket. So it goes.
However, I’ve been writing lots of songs lately and I’m finding the search for a good singer to be arduous to say the least. I was wondering if it is possible to improve my own singing voice, even though I’m 29 years old and counting.
My “raw material” as it were, isn’t so bad. I reckon I’ve got a fairly decent voice, except that my register is pretty limited. I reckon I’m about four or five notes short of a good tenor voice. If I took singing lessons and really practised, is it possible to improve my voice to the extent that I could sing, say, Bridge over Troubled Water without embarrassment?
I’ve heard it claimed that most people can sing adequately with practice, and before the advent of recorded music, they did. It was only in the 1920s-1940s that music in the home switched from “a bunch of friends around the piano belting away” to “sitting around the radio or record player listening” and the concept of “someone who totally can’t sing” appeared.
Yes. If you get a voice coach and do the work you will be able to increase your range. How much is anyone’s guess as at some point you will hit your limits, but if you haven’t tried it yet then it is very likely you are sitting on some untapped potential. You can improve your control to probably whatever degree you like. If you don’t like your tone, just pretend you’re somebody else when you sing or better yet, fuggedaboutit, these things are subjective and a weird voice might really hit a nerve with some audiences. It is really all a matter of practice, though professional guidance can really come in handy too.
I used to be a performer myself. I started out as a terrible, God-awful singer, but with practice it turns out I could get people to listen. Then I discovered that fame sucks extraordinarily hard and that most people in the music world want to do nothing but get wasted. So I turned my energies to getting a job. Be careful.
If you have physically screwed up your voice somehow- say you’ve given yourself nodes- you can resort to surgery to clean it up. I saw an interview with Lionel Ritchie the other day in which he mentioned he’s had 3 separate surgeries on his own vocal cords to fix problems arising from strain and aging. Anyone with the $$ can do the same.
Humility is a good virtue for musicians to cultivate. If you suck at singing, the only way to improve is to practice a lot, which means you will have to not only listen to a lot of your own crappy singing but also analyze it closely, which can be hard on the ego. Try not to worry about that and just plow ahead. It can be done.
My voice training allowed me to add about four good notes to the top and to the bottom of my range. I have a naturally pretty voice but my voice teacher showed me how to make it a whole lot prettier and far more controlled. If you can match pitch, which I assume you can, you can improve vastly by learning proper technique and being consistent with voice exercises. As long as your voice hasn’t deteriorated from age – which starts when the rest of you starts doing that – you have only to apply yourself.
The larynx is a muscle, and like any other muscle, can be trained. In addition, much of what produces good vocal tone is the manipulation of the resonant chamber and the support you get from breathing properly (using the diaphram, which is also a muscle). Even proper posture helps. So yes, all in all, there are plenty of ways you can improve your singing voice.
ETA: But alas, you should ALWAYS be embarrassed to sing Bridge Over Troubled Water, so you’re out of luck there!
Certainly. I sing, in more or less rigorous settings, depending on what I’m involved in. For several years, I was involved in a chorus with a very knowledgeable vocal director. I paid a lot of attention to my breathing and my tone, and I did vocal exercises. My range improved on both ends, and I know my quality was better. That’s without individual vocal coaching - just listening to and learning from the ways he taught the group as a whole.
I’ve not been involved with that group for some time now, but I sing at church. The worship leader is more an instrumentalist than a vocalist (though he does fine) and he does not challenge me vocally. I recently listened to a recording of myself, and my first thought was, “Wow. I’ve gotten really sloppy.” So you can lose it, too, if you’re not working at it. I plan to get on it before I see my brother. He’s a professional singer and a director, and he gets pissy with me when I’m lazy.
I’ve been singing in a chorus for years, and have a strong basso voice with excellent intonation and phrasing. But no vibrato unless I faked it, and we all know how crappy that sounds. Then, about a year or two ago, I was practicing with our rehearsal CD in the shower, and my voice started doing something it had never done before. A very fast vibrato. I could turn it on or off, but I couldn’t slow it down. In time I gained some control and managed to slow it down a little; still too fast for my taste, but acceptable, and getting better. So sometimes all you need is to just keep singing, and things will happen on their own. But you might want to get professional help, if you don’t want to wait as long as I did (I’m in my 60s).
My sister is a talented musician, but with a lousy natural singing voice (something I unfortunately also inherited). After lessons, her voice isn’t great, but it’s a lot better. The clear-the-room effect is gone, anyway.
There’s a voice coach name Seth Riggs who’s coached literally every singer you ever heard of. He developed a method called Speech Level Singing. He teaches this method on a CD package called Singing for the Stars. It’s available on Amazon for about $30.
I heartily recommend you try this. It will change the way you approach using your voice to sing. He teaches you that singing should involve a minimum of muscular effort and the key is really learning how to relax the various muscles in your throat and neck.
He teaches that all singing should require no more muscular effort than normal speech. Reaching high notes is not about developing some kind of “strength” in your throat or vocal chords, but learning how to relax to access the all registers.
I’ve used it. I was an okay, untrained singer, but this really put me in touch with the full range of my voice.
As a competent amateur baritone who has taken singing lessons for the last four years, I agree with the previous advice. Just wanted to add that “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is indeed a great song, but (IMO) one of the more difficult pop songs to sing. For a start, it’s range is greater than most pop songs - it is possible to use some falsetto to get around this issue but that will be unlikely to sound as good as “the real thing”, particularly if you need it in the final chorus where it would not really work (unless your falsetto is very strong). Of course, as a baritone the song is out of my reach anyway (without a big key change) but I would definitely recommend you give it a go.
If your primary concern is expanding your range, then a vocal coach is a good bet. I’m a little skeptical about what vocal coaches can do in general, but expanding your range is one of the things that they can absolutely do, and without decades of effort, either.