Whether you’re a first-timer breaking out of your shell, or a seasoned karaoke-ist who belts out blues on a regular basis, here’s a handful of quick tips to make sure your singing performance is at its best while on stage.
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Studies have shown that the act of singing can actually produce a number of extraordinary benefits for the brain. There’s the initial rush of the “singer’s high,” which is a blast of endorphins to the singer’s body that can actually increase the threshold for pain.
There’s the wash of dopamine and cortisol chemicals that come with the experience of listening to music and anticipating its emotional peaks, which results in feelings of pleasure, alertness, and lowered stress levels.
And studies have shown that singers in a chorus test higher for oxytocin immediately after singing with the group. Oxytocin is a chemical that can lower stress and anxiety and increases the feelings of trust between humans.
Here’s some quick singing tips to remember for your next performance, so you can reap the benefits of what singing has to offer, and also continue to improve your sound along the way:
1. Conjure Up Some Confidence
If you’re a practiced singer, remember all the hard work you’ve done to improve your craft, and if you’re a beginner, remind yourself that you’re just going up there to have fun and give it your best shot. And if all else fails, a little liquid courage can be just the right ingredient to help loosen up the nerves.
Confidence plays arguably the biggest role in the overall effectiveness of a vocal performance. The psychologist Albert Bandura famously coined the term “self-efficacy,” which essentially explains that people’s beliefs about their own capabilities directly affects their decisions and actions that ultimately determines the final outcome. In short, it’s a self-fulfilling belief in one’s ability to either succeed or fail. Believing you can sing will help you sing better overall.
And singing confidently has nothing to do with the quality of your voice and everything to do with the feelings, emotions, and connection you have to the music. Michael Shurtleff, who was a famous Broadway casting director, once said that “the most important element in singing at auditions is not the forming of sound but the creation of a relationship…audiences are concerned far less with the quality of voices than with the emotional life that is being created. The great singers of popular music are not those with the greatest voices, but those who know how to communicate feeling.”
2. Sing From the Diaphragm, And Keep Your Jaw Loose
The diaphragm is a muscle that sits just inside the rib cage at the bottom of the chest. Breathing in from your stomach, where you can see the lower belly move out, and not your chest, allows the diaphragm to move down and make room for more breath.
A lot of beginners will incorrectly think they’re taking deep breaths because they are expanding their upper chest cavities. But for a really strong and sustained singing voice, the breath must come from lower down. Rest your hands on your belly and breathe in and try to push your hands out and as far away from your body as you can. Breathing like this will activate the diaphragm and produce a much stronger and more consistent tone.
Another mistake a lot of beginners make is they’ll tighten their jaw and face muscles while trying to sing high notes. It may seem counter-intuitive, but this is restricting the singer from being able to properly sing these notes.
For good singing, the jaw needs to hang loose at the hinge, and the facial muscles must be relaxed. The singer then lowers the loose jaw to create more space in the throat to hit these higher notes, which are powered through the deep breath from the diaphragm. Sometimes it helps for singers to imagine their mouth is like a nutcracker toy, where the jaw falls straight down from the face without any tension.
3. Listen Closely For Pitch
Listening is the main skill that can help with pitch accuracy, because after all, if you can’t hear that you’re singing off key then you won’t be able to make any adjustments to get your pitch back on point.
Singing perfectly on pitch takes a lot of training, and a great way to practice is to simply sing scales with a tuned piano and learn how to identify when you’re slightly sharp or flat. Envisioning your voice as a bar meter that is either above or below the intended note can also help you zero in on your pitch singing. The video game Rock Band does a pretty good job of this (if you’ve ever tried the vocal part), and it can help you visualize the pitch behind the lyrics while you’re on stage.
During a vocal performance, hone your ears as much as you can to the pitch of your own voice, and imagine yourself making these small adjustments to bring each note to exactly the right pitch.
4. Accentuate Vowel Sounds
One trick to singing full over lyrics is to de-emphasize some of the consonants and leave your mouth in vowel shapes to create a fuller sound. Lyrics with harsh consonants, especially at the end of words (like the words “hold” or “understand”), can shorten and close off the sound if they are sung exactly like how they are spoken. If you try to sing the “-ld” part of “hold” too soon, you’ll squeeze out most of the pleasing, full sound. By contrast, if you hold the “o” sound, and close off the “-ld” sound just at the very end, then you can sing a perfectly intelligible lyric while still maintaining a full, robust sound.
5. Adjust Mic Distance for Volume Control
Mic technique can be crucial when singing so that you don’t overpower an audience with volume. As you listen to your voice while you’re singing, make note of how loud the signal is coming from the monitors. Hopefully, the venue has strong enough monitors so that you can actually hear your voice along with the song. If the sound man is any good, they will have set the vocals to an appropriate level that blends in nicely with the mix.
To help put some of the control back in your own hands, experiment with how far away you hold the mic, and listen as your volume goes up and down in relation to how close the mic is.