How to Sing a Note
Singing a note is easy, everyone can do it, right? Yes and no. Everyone can do it but you can spend hours and hours debating on how you do it right and that’s what I want to do here. Just kidding. This is a brief article about the sequence of steps you run through to sing a note. Is there a perfect way? No, there are a thousand. Different singing styles come along with different techniques to produce, hold and support a note. Nonetheless, some basic patterns are generally useful for every singer in every style of music.
There are four phases that you run through when singing a note. Preparation, beginning, middle and end. Each phase has an important impact on the quality of a note sung. Together, they form and shape the performance and with it the produced sound.
Preparation is the most important phase of them all even though it doesn’t contain any singing. Without preparation a note is a car without driver. Pointless, dangerous and without any use.
The very first step is the decision to sing a note. Sounds obvious but if you think about it, there is a lot more to it than just a simple decision. What matters is how you make the decision. Are you self-assured? Do you feel comfortable doing it? If you decide half-heartedly to sing a note you also sing it with just half your attention and energy. It has a direct influence on the sound and quality of the note. Many people feel uncomfortable when singing out loud but in the end there is really nothing to it. If you don’t record it, a sound is a thing that just exists in the moment it is produced. Over time you will get used to this phenomenon, your own voice and other people listening to it. Give it some time.
If you feel comfortable and self-assured about singing you have enough mental capacity left to consider the following points before you produce a note.
- Purpose: The most important question that you can ask yourself is, “what is the purpose of this note?”. It determines all the other following points. Get it clear and go on.
- Pitch: Try to hear the pitch you want to sing in your head before you sing it. It is difficult in the beginning but you get better over time.
- Timing: Consider where the note is placed in time. Not only think of it logically, like it is the second quarter note of a four by four beat, but also feel it. Feel where the note belongs in the time grid.
- Timbre: What is the colour of the sound I want to produce? Which vowel do I want to use? Is it open or closed, piercing or dull, close or far, bright or dark, fresh or dead, hard or soft? Does these qualities change over time? Consider these questions shortly and intuitively. Know what the timbre is, just know it.
- Intensity: Decide how hard you want to sing. What is the intensity of the note? Remember, a note is not fixed. It is a living thing that develops over time. Create a mental impression of the whole note from beginning to the end in your head. Most of the time it is not just a line. It grows or shrinks, it gets bigger and smaller. Play with it and see if you can create what you thought.
I use the word influence a lot but every phase is interrelated and has a direct impact on the following ones. So, here I go again. Until now, I only talked about mental activities but they are the root of all physical reactions. Over time, you get good at connecting physical activities to its correlating mental idea.
What is the physical part of singing a note? It is actually the movement and positioning of your whole body by help of your muscle system. It is about how you stand, how your head, back and shoulders are positioned, about how you breath and where you breathe into. The magic lies in the correct use the instruments like your tongue, your jaw, your mouth, larynx, diaphragm and of course your vocal chords. If I go more into detail, it would easily blow the frame of this article. Trust your intuition. if it feels right it is right most of the times. To really learn the correct use of your physical parts I would suggest you find a local vocal coach.
You can’t master everything I have mentioned above at the same time. Pick out one point you want to work on and concentrate on it until you see yourself improve. The next time pick another element. Gradually, you get better and better and everything you learned runs on autopilot in the end. Sometimes there are moments where you realize that you got better and that it just works out. Look forward to these moments. They are pure fun and boost your motivation and self-esteem.
Preparation is over! Wake up, now it is time to start doing instead of just thinking. But wait. A split second before you begin to actually produce a sound you have to build up tension. With that I mean you mentally know and hear the purpose, pitch, timing, timbre and intensity of the note and position your whole body and your muscles like you would already sing. Then let the air flow out of your lungs and produce a sound.
In that way, it is more likely that you hit the right pitch with the right amount air. In some styles of music it might be common to slowly glide to a note. That is ok if you chose for it. But don’t let it be caused by bad preparation and technique.
Here it is important that you consider what I mentioned under intensity. Don’t let the note be static. Give it some character.
When it comes to your body, try to hold the tension you build up in the beginning. Even if you sing a really quiet note you have to support it with your diaphragm and your whole body as it it was a loud one.
The worst mistake you can do here is to let go to early. Keep up the tension a bit longer then you sing a note. The pitch and timbre of a note stays the same and you have a fine ending. As your stream of air stopped completely you can finally let it go.
As you can see in the length of the paragraphs preparation is where the magic happens. It is all about the right focus and the correct timing. Every other part happens naturally.
Don’t be overwhelmed by this load of information on how to sing a note. Read it, become conscious about it and work at parts from time to time. The most happens automatically but in the beginning it can be a bit wobbly like when you learned to ride the bike.
I hope I made some points clearer to you. It is by far not absolute what I wrote but in my eyes a good starting point. Feel free to comment on every detail.