Achieve Your Vocal Potential
Aspiring singers often ask me this. Are there any shortcuts to achieving my vocal potential?
I’m sorry to break the news to you, but the short answer to shortcuts is: No, not really. We’re in a culture and era when everyone seems to want results instantly and easily.
Learning to sing optimally is not as simple as downloading a new app for your smartphone and having it immediately do a bunch of amazing things.
Fine singing is a complex skill. And, as with anything that involves mastering a complex skill, setting you apart from the crowd as an “expert,” this takes time and focused effort. You will study over a period of months and even years. Customary wisdom holds that to completely master a new skill or become an expert at something, it takes on average about seven years. So, the process takes time. However, there are some practical and effective ways to improve your voice steadily and even relatively quickly. If done consistently, these can making it possible for you to eventually achieve your vocal potential.
Three simple things you can do – amazingly often overlooked or ignored – to achieve success in singing are:
Get a Good Night’s Sleep, Vocalize Every Day, and Take Voice Lessons (from a competent and compatible teacher)
Clearly, there are more specific factors involved in the process of vocal development. But, in many respects, these three go a long way in setting up the process toward optimal vocal development.
Sleep eight hours a night!
First of all, getting enough sleep cannot be overemphasized. Many of us burn the candle on both ends way too often. This can negatively affect many aspects of our lives, including the quality of our voices for speaking and singing. When we lose sleep, many functions in the body don’t working optimally. We lack the energy needed to coordinate all the physical and mental aspects involved in vocal production. We need optimal functioning to keep our voices healthy and to sing at our best. Most of us need about eight hours of sleep a night to function optimally. Try sleeping at least eight hours for just three nights in a row and see what that alone does for your voice!
Vocalize every day!
Yes, every day, and preferably early in the day before you start other activities. This gets your voice off to a good start and often keeps it “placed well” for the entire day. This may seem obvious, but I’m surprised at how many singers skip vocalizing for two or more days a week (or just start singing songs without warming up first). And then they wonder why they’re not able to sing consistently well throughout the week, at their lessons, or in performance when it really counts.
Your voice consists of a complex set of muscles that needs to be exercised every day to stay in peak form. It’s probably okay to skip one day a week, but generally you should exercise the voice through vocalizations at least five to six days a week.
This does not mean that you have to vocalize three hours a day (and probably shouldn’t at first). But, 30-45 minutes of focused vocalizing consistently every day, along with adequate sleep and good nutrition (might as well throw that one in there!), will reap results in keeping the voice strong, vibrant, and healthy.
Vocalize, Not Sing!
Please note that I expressly say “vocalize,” not just sing. Vocal exercises are the primary means to “develop” and “build” the vocal instrument. Just singing through songs, while valuable in other ways, is not the same thing as vocalizing. There are a few cases where famous singers claimed never to vocalize before going out on stage. The great tenor Tito Schipa was one of them. But, he always spoke as he sang and sang as he spoke, and so his voice was always “tuned up” and ready to go.
Most professional singers vocalize daily to keep their voices in tip-top shape. Of course, vocalizing is not the end in itself. Obviously, it is important to apply what you learn. You want to build your voice through exercises directly to appropriate repertoire. This will further develop your voice and musicianship. But, putting the cart before the horse and trying to sing complex, demanding songs before the voice is properly trained for them can be counter-productive and even detrimental.
I find that many singers simply don’t spend enough time vocalizing with scales and voice building exercises.
Now, this does not mean doing exercises mindlessly! Even a five-note scale can, and should, be sung musically. Technique and musicality work hand in hand.
We can think of vocalizing to a singer as weight training exercises are to a professional bodybuilder. The bodybuilder works various muscle groups in a highly focused way over an extended period of time, doing a wide range of exercises designed to build and develop specific muscle groups; the body building competition, where he flexes and shows off all those muscles on stage represents the end result, his “songs.”
If all he ever did was flex in front of a mirror with no concentrated body building exercises, he wouldn’t have much to show on stage. And, he certainly would never win in a competition in which everyone else had actually been building and developing their muscles. So, this leads to the third important factor to develop your voice.
Take voice lessons!
We do not hear ourselves in the same way others do. Nor do we see ourselves from the outside as others do. Therefore, it’s difficult to assess how we’re doing objectively and completely without outside assistance from a professional. We need to be heard and seen by a second set of ears and eyes. We need someone who is highly trained to assess, guide, and motivate us to achieve our potential. Assuming a voice teacher is the right fit for you, taking voice lessons, preferably in person but if not, remotely by Skype, can be tremendously rewarding and facilitate optimal progress.
Voice teachers can assess, guide, inspire, and assist in developing your skills. They do this through appropriate vocalizes that are tailored to you. They can discover your vocal strengths and areas needing improvement, and help build your confidence as you work toward your specific vocal goals.
A note of caution, however. Voice lessons always involve a partnership. Just showing up for lessons is never enough. You get out of it what you put into it. Your voice teacher can only be as good as what you bring to the lesson. Ninety-five percent of the work still has to be done by you, the singer, outside of lessons!
So, in summary, for significant and steady vocal progress, do the following. Take care of your body (get a good night’s sleep). Vocalize every day with awareness and purpose. And, take lessons regularly (while doing personal practice between lessons) with a voice teacher you like and trust.
This is as close as I can come to offering a “short-cut” blueprint for achieving your vocal potential.