Singing is a craft that cannot be strictly learned out of a book. Because of this it requires lessons, coaching, and, like any other instrument, dedication. But for aspiring singers, a few lessons, videos, and some research can put them on proper footing. Here are some of the best singing techniques that both vocalists and audio producers should become familiar with.
Vocals may be described as the soul of a recording. Audio production students must prepare to enhance the talent of individuals and large and small vocal ensembles. This is done through advanced vocal arrangement, recording, editing and mixing techniques.
Learn the Anatomy
When singing, the entire body is used as the support for the instrument. Learning how the larynx (voice box) is supported by the lungs, diaphragm, intercostal muscles, and even the pelvic floor is critical to success while recording a session.
By understanding the anatomy of the singer, the audio producer can much more effectively translate that understanding into the physical activity of their vocalist. Both the audio producer and vocalist will learn which muscles and tissues play a role and learn to pay close attention to their workings; they will, in time, learn to notice when something is out of place or not working properly.
Learning the anatomy of the singer will also help audio producers to diagnose real problems with their singer’s voice or supporting anatomies, such as exhaustion prohibiting vocal support via the diaphragm or pain or discomfort when singing due to nodes or vocal distress.
Because the body is the singer’s instrument, caring for the body as well as one can is paramount. Eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, and hydrating frequently are all vital to the health of the voice.
It goes without saying that each person’s nutritional needs are different, and the singer should listen carefully to their body and its cravings to ensure proper nutrition. If possible, visiting a dietician or nutritionist can help ensure that the singer is eating a balanced diet. Their primary care physician can also conduct nutrition tests and make food or supplement recommendations.
As with nutrition, not all exercise is created equal. Some singers like running, yoga, dance, or even strength training. The singer should experiment with different physical activities that align not only with their goals but their personal taste and enjoyment, and which support their bodies most effectively. Exercise that builds core and back strength is especially important to the singer.
Appropriate hydration is also essential. Many singers drink several liters of water per day, including before, during, and after recording. However, there is something of a technique to hydrating well; when preparing to sing, the singer should avoid over-hydrating because they can simply wind up with a belly full of water, and this in turn will prevent their supportive muscles, especially the diaphragm, from working properly. Hydrating slowly and steadily is the best course of action, and taking sips leading up to a recording, as well as during, will ensure that the throat and vocal tract stay lubricated.
This goes double for eating before a recording. The singer should eat well before a session, but a couple of hours before recording at least, to give them time to digest. Heavy meals should not be ingested in the hours preceding a session, and nothing heavier than a light snack should be had in the hour before recording. As with overhydration, an overfull stomach can prevent support, and in some cases can even cause vomiting if the singer fights their body too hard to provide the voice with the necessary support despite a bellyful of food. Timing hydration and food intake properly will prevent these woes.
Correct Posture Technique
Most aspiring singers have posture problems of some sort, whether it’s slouching, locking the knees, or even positioning the pelvis incorrectly. Gendered attitudes towards posture, especially in the west, also create different challenges with regard to the singer’s posture. Women, for instance, are taught not to tuck their pelvis or stack the ribs, and men are often taught to either slouch or stand ramrod straight.
It is important for audio producers to know that good posture for singers involves an upright torso, shoulders down and slightly back, arms hanging at the sides, and knees unlocked. The singer can practice good posture technique by imagining that a string is attached to the top of their head, running up to the ceiling. By imagining what that feels like, the singer relaxes the torso, lengthens the spine, and lets the arms fall freely. Because the ribcage needs plenty of room to expand with the breath, the arms must not be clasped behind the back, as this will cause the pressure of the arms to prevent the expansion of the ribcage and can significantly interfere with good breathing technique.
Muscle weakness can contribute to poor posture as well, and this highlights the importance of exercise. Yoga, Pilates, and strength training can assist, as well as specialized physical routines for musicians such as Alexandar and Feldenkreis techniques.
Overall, the musician’s posture should create a streamlined track for the voice’s support and the vocal sound. The singer’s instructor can help them properly develop this posture and give them tips and techniques for maintaining it, both daily and during a session.
Warming up is the first concern of a singer preparing for a session. Warmup exercises help to “wake up” the vocal cords, as well as engage the supportive muscles in preparation for singing and help the singer to avoid injury to their muscles.
Warmups can take many forms. Singers commonly sing scales or five-note sequences singing up and then back down, starting at a higher or lower note with each successive cycle. They may accompany themselves, or their instructor or vocal coach may accompany them on the piano while doing this.
A common warmup technique is what is known as lip trills, in which a singer uses sound to vibrate their lips. This helps warm up the facial muscles as well as the voice. Another common technique is the yawn warmup, in which a singer yawns and allows the tone to descend following the high peak of sound produced while yawning, all the way to the bottom of their range, where they may vibrate or “rattle” to clear mucus from the vocal cords.
Audio producers can support singers by engaging them in breathing exercises to warm up the diaphragm and lungs and expel any nervous energy before they record.
Learn Your Range
Every singer has a natural range in which they are most comfortable, and every singer’s range is different. Ranges can be categorized as voice types, such as soprano, mezzo-soprano, baritone, and so forth, though some voices are hybrid types depending on their difference in range from what might be considered a standard voice type.
A singer learning their range is an extremely important technique to avoid injury. Singing too high or low can injure the voice, sometimes permanently. That is not to say that a singer’s range cannot be expanded, with careful work and tutelage by a professional, a singer can certainly expand their upper and lower ranges. But this work should only happen under the supervision of a qualified singing instructor.
Breath Control Techniques
Controlling the breath is a critical technique of the dedicated vocalist, which is why learning anatomy and taking care of the body is so vitally important for both singers and audio producers. Breath control involves learning how to properly stream the air through the body as it vibrates the voice, in a stable and supported way. Good breath control results in great dynamic control, the ability to sustain long passages in singing, and eliminates any breathiness or gaspiness on the part of the singer.
An audio producer should be aware that uncontrolled breathing can cause the singer to be unable to finish a phrase properly, to gasp between phrases, and in some cases to cause injury to the internal muscles. Breath control is the result of attention to the body and professional instruction or coaching, and is key to the singer’s longevity and professional success.
Ornamentation and Vibrato
Ornamentation and vibrato in singing are typically not taught until the singer has garnered some experience in their training, as both require what is called “vocal facility” or the voice’s ability to move rapidly through passages, and very good breath control.
Ornamentation, in sheet music, is seen as tiny accent notes leading up to or away from a main note in the passage. Often ornamentations are only one or two notes, but some passages have many, even as many as a dozen. Vibrato, by contrast, is a way of accenting the voice and emphasizing emotion via vibration of the airstream to produce variation and add richness and emotiveness to the passage.
Both of these techniques are often heard in opera and classical music. They can be challenging, and so the singer should work to establish a good foundation of skill and technique before they attempt pieces with ornamentation or to introduce vibrato into their regular singing work.
Becoming a good singer requires a fair amount of work and some level of investment into training, and as the audio producer you play a vital role in the support of a singer’s preparation during a recording session. Working with singers can be challenging, but ultimately creating great music is a rewarding feeling. As an audio producer, you have the opportunity to create a masterpiece with the help of your vocalist’s proper technique.
Audio Production Program
The Audio Production and Engineering Program at the Institute of Production and Recording is an occupational degree program designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Throughout the program, students are involved in hands-on exercises and real-world studio projects that enable them to apply their knowledge and refine their skills.
At the end of the Audio Production and Engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients — an audio resume with professional content that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.
Contact us today to learn more about the audio production programs and starting a rewarding career.