Breath – Long Note Holds
Learning to sing a stable long note (3 to 20 seconds) is a very fun skill to have. This will ensure that whenever you have to hold a note for more a than a quick second, it sounds rich due to the perfect pitch on the note, and the strength it takes to keep that steady for a few seconds all the way up to about 20 seconds – which is about the longest you will ever hear a note or phrase sung for on one breath. People can sing phrases longer than this, but they are usually on easier to hit notes and phrases, meaning they aren’t as exciting.
To sing long notes, take a deep breath before you start, filling your lungs (your stomach should pop out like a balloon, then your chest fills up) and then attempt to hold a single note. Using Singing Pitch Trainer, there is a function that allows you to play the piano note on repeat, and see your voice, to make sure it is steady, and also measures how long you hold a steady note for. It can take thousands of reps to learn to hold long notes across your entire range, but it is worth it. The next step is to add vibrato, and also to find phrases where there is more than one note sung.
Vibrato is taking a single note, and then adding a bouncy or wobbly sound to it. The pitch will shift slightly up, approximately between a quarter tone and a semi tone. Singers can do vibrato on either of these two, or somewhere in between. The pitch shifts up and quickly back down to the main note, repeatedly, at an even speed that fits with the songs tempo and the rest of the phrase you are singing (if it’s in the middle of a phrase).
You only spend a tiny amount of time on the top pitch shift. The majority of the time is spent on the main note. If not, it would sound more like a run or melody going between two clear notes. Using Singing Pitch Trainer, you can practice shifting your pitch up to a quarter tone and up to a semi tone, with the aid of the visual chart which shows you where your voice is. A vibrato will look like a triangular bounce, and you can practice creating this. Sometimes you can bounce your head to help you create it, as an early crutch, and once you can get the right sound, you gradually stop moving your head, and just use your voice and breathing muscles to produce the vibrato.
Vibrato can be after a straight note is held for a few seconds, or it can be on the immediate onset of a note. They are both hard to learn, but after thousands of reps, you will be pro. You have to learn to produce vibrato at a wide variety of speeds, so you can use it appropriately in any song at any time.
Pitch (Of Lyrics)
The biggest issue beginners have is not realizing that every lyric that is sung has a note that is attached to each syllable. If the note is only slightly wrong, the lyric will sound off. We are all great at learning lyrics naturally, because we spend most of our youth learning to read and write and speak a language. But when it comes to singing lyrics on pitch, we have to explicitly learn to do it in order to sound professional.
Sheet music is a great way to make sure you are singing the right note for each lyric. Sheet music contains every note that is sung, with the lyric for that note. Using Singing Pitch Trainer, you can enter the sheet music notes and lyrics into the Sequence page, and check that you are singing the note on the lyric correctly via the chart which shows you where your voice is in comparison to the note. This is one of the most important and basic skills – as if your lyrics aren’t spot on pitch, you will never sound professional, no matter how many exercises you learn.
Rhythm is the length of each note and when a note starts and ends. It’s also referred to as timing. As a singer you need both to sing lyrics on pitch, and in rhythm. Most people can already follow rhythm at a decent level; i.e if they sing along to a song, their timing is good – it is usually the pitch that is wrong, and possibly the harder rhythms that are wrong.
Basically if you are off pitch, your correct rhythm won’t help you. This is why pitch is what must be trained first, then rhythm is added. A good rhythm can’t fix a bad pitch. But a good pitch still sounds nice, even with a bad rhythm. Of course you must learn both to be a professional. Once you learn pitch, independent of rhythm (which you can do using Singing Ptich Trainer, as it forces you to sing pitch independent of rhythm to ensure you are correct) then you can start trying to sing those accurate pitches along with the rhythm that you hear on the actual song.
The next step up is to use a metronome to force you to sing without the assistance of the track, but still in time. This is the hardest step, and is the final step to eventually singing on your own, in perfect rhythm, without needing any assistance. The most common mistake with rhythm, is rushing. This does take a long time to fix, but can be done.
Runs are when you have to sing a very fast sequence of notes, usually on one vowel, and sometimes on more, for the harder ones. The longer the run, the harder it is to learn. The more vowel changes or consonants, the harder it is to learn. Runs are kind of like guitar or piano licks/riffs, and can go by the names runs, riff, licks, trills, melisma.
Learning runs is extremely difficult, because of how fast they go by. An excellent strategy is to slow down the runs using software such as Amazing Slow Downer or Transpose Extension Pro. You can also input runs from sheet music into Singing Pitch Trainer, and gradually learn the run note by note.
There are three stages to learning runs. Note memorization, speeding up, rhythm. Once you learn the notes, you can begin to go faster, then lastly you perfect the length of each note.
Blend describes changing from your chest voice to your falsetto voice across two notes. There is a clear switch that happens, which usually sounds vulnerable, compared to if you just did both notes in your chest, which usually sounds more powerful or belty.
Learning to blend opens up much more emotional moods to your singing, and always gives you the choice to not have to belt notes, as well as the variety of being able to do it in falsetto.
You will have to learn to blend across a variety of intervals, with the octave being the easiest to start with, and working your way down to blending across a tone or semitone, which are the hardest. You simply go back and forth across two notes and the blend will sound like a yodel. Use Singing Pitch Trainer to make sure you are perfectly on pitch during both the chest note and the blend. This is also referred to as changing registers (what I have called ‘voices’). For example, changing from chest register to falsetto/head register.
Learning to sing your mid and high range chest notes in falsetto adds variety to your singing. Falsetto is usually airy in the lower zones, and gets thicker sounding when it starts to get above your high chest range, and sounds more screamy than breathy/vulnerable.
Learn to sing all your mid and high notes in falsetto, and go higher. You can develop 1.5 or more octaves in your falsetto. Practice holding straight notes, using vibrato, singing wordy phrases, and doing runs in your falsetto. Use Singing Pitch Trainer to make sure you are staying on pitch – particularly on the breathier falsetto which is hard to control.
Your range includes your entire range, low, mid and high. Training low notes is integral to training your high range, as it helps you to warm up, as well as give a sense of stretching and resting if done in between high reps. This strategy helps you build stamina in your high range, while simultaneously developing your low range – instead of you getting exhausted singing high notes over and over.
There are many ways to train your range. I recommend starting with your favourite songs – just a section, such as a verse/chorus/bridge, and sing it 12 keys down, and gradually work up to the originally key. It serves at a great warmup and workout at the same time. When it gets to your limits, check the highest notes, so that you can keep track of your progress.
You can also train your range by practicing holding notes for a longer time than normal. 3 seconds or more is enough. When you start to not be able to hold a note for this long, you should train around this area and slightly lower, to build the foundation for the new high notes you want to create.
Learn to sing in a low, medium and high volume, on a single note, without stopping your sound. This is a difficult exercise, and usually you will go up or down in pitch instead of modifying only your volume. Focus on keeping the pitch the same and only making your volume change.
You can sing the same note three times, low – mid – high volume – but this time with stopping your sound, instead of one long held note as in the previous exercise.
Volume control adds a lot of variety, impact and emotion to your singing. Using Singing Pitch Trainer, you can attempt to sing at different volumes, while it gives you feedback on whether you are still on perfect pitch.
Tone is also referred to as placement. Where you place or feel your sound in your mouth and face makes a difference. Practicing a single note on the three common placements helps you control this. They are nasal, open/neutral, operatic/dark/low. RnB/Pop uses open/neutral, beginners who can’t control their sound mix between open and nasal, and opera singers intentionally use operatic/dark/low placement.
Using Singing Pitch Trainer, sing a single note on pitch, and try all three placements, while continuously holding the note. Then try again, but stopping your sound before sounding each new note.
Your overall tone is a combination of your pitch accuracy, volume, diction and the placement you choose. Your placement should ideally be similar to your speaking placement, if you are singing rnb/pop. Sometimes speaking a lyric can help you find a reference for your placement, particularly if you are a nasal singer.
How you say words can automatically change your placement. Diction has more to do with language and the standards of singing that each genre has created for how we apply language rules to when singing lyrics. You have to know your vowels, diphthongs (two vowels combined) and consonants. You need to know what vowel you need to sing if a lyric note is held for longer than a quick second.
The best strategy is simply to listen closely to what the singer you like is doing, and emulate it. A good exercise is writing down the way each lyric is sung, to help you notice it more when you hear it. I still write down the vowels for each note, as it helps with grasping difficult lyric combinations or long runs.
Diction is important if you are not an english speaker. You will need to learn to not show your accent. I am of Arabic background, but raised in Australia (I speak both languages), but if I sing English, you can’t tell which part of Australia I am from (there are many accents in Australia). So you should aim to sound the way your favourite singers do – non accent specific.
There are a few artists which break the standard diction rules and add in their own accents – if that’s what you like, go for it. But generally in rnb genre, I have not heard this done. This is mainly done in indie or the occasional pop artist. At the end of the day, as long as you are clearly understood and still on perfect pitch, that’s what matters.
Instrument (Guitar/Piano Accompaniment)
Many singers do not play instruments. Personally I think these singers are missing out on a whole world of fun and control over their music. Playing a guitar or piano as an accompaniment to your voice means you get to learn and experience all the chords in your favourite songs, and be able to play them with any rhythm you desire, and chop up or remix a song however you like.
Added to that is you remove the limitations of only singing acapella or having to sing with a backing track. Playing an instrument means you can play in any key. The final sound of an acoustic cover is also a very raw feel, and can only be obtained by playing an instrument. Acoustic covers are very popular on their own and create a new emotion to a song.
Learning an instrument is absolutely not necessary to learn to sing – it is a different skill entirely – but being able to play is very fun, and the fact that you can be your own backup, just by sitting it at a piano, or picking up a guitar on the lounge, is very empowering. Personally the sound of the guitar hit me hard, when I first played, and I haven’t dropped it since.