There is a famous Chinese proverb which says “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song”. Poignant though this may be, the proverbial bird probably never had to worry about sounding flat or not hitting the right note!
Does the song in your heart get garbled on its way through your windpipe and come out as a mere shadow of its former glory? Don’t let your lack of talent leave you feeling off-key! Contrary to popular belief, singing is a craft like any other, and can be practiced, honed, and ultimately, perfected.
Step 1: LISTEN
In order to climb a ladder, place your foot on the lowest rung first. While learning how to sing, the lowest rung and vital first step is to listen! Many people who believe they are tone deaf are simply not listening properly.
Start off small, listen to notes in a scale or even an easy melody like “Happy Birthday”. There are a myriad of apps and web pages you can use if you do not play an instrument. Listen to each distinct note, see how they differ from each other, and learn the difference in pitch between them.
Try this in major (happy sounding) and minor (sad sounding) scales. As Dame Julie Andrews said in The Sound of Music, “When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything!” Once you’ve graduated from these, listen to more complex compositions; try to identify separately not only notes that are sung, but also those in guitar riffs and piano cords.
Step 2: BREATHE
We’re on that second rung now, and this step might seem redundant to you fledgling singers, but you should know that breath control is one of the most important aspects of singing. Those born with the ability to sing do this without even realizing it!
Start each singing session with some breathing exercises. Practice taking quick but deep breaths in, and let them out slowly, while sounding out a note or a melody. Next, listen to songs with varied tempos and tunes and try to identify and emulate the vocalists’ breathing patterns.
Step 3: SING
This step encompasses the next several rungs of the ladder. Start out with scales or simple vocal exercises to warm up your voice. Your vocal cords are controlled by muscles, which, like any other, need to be stretched out before the race.
Once you are feeling loose and limber, test out your range. Check out the lowest and highest notes you can comfortably hit, and find songs that fit the bill. Now you are ready to try out a song! Once you are good at the easy ones, give the more ambitious ones a shot.
Slowly try to broaden your range by pushing your voice. It is vital to pace yourself while doing this; you absolutely do NOT want to strain your vocal cords! It is best to do it one note at a time, over multiple days.
Step 4: REPEAT
One thing you should know about this ladder we are climbing is that every other step is ‘listen’! At each stage of your singing lessons, you must constantly, unfailingly listen to yourself, and the accompanying music. Don’t expect to sound like Whitney Houston right away, because as tedious as it may sound, practice really does make perfect!
Music brings more joy to people than almost anything else, so make your practice sessions’ fun by picking songs from different genres that you enjoy. Sing for your friends and family, listen to their feedback, and always strive for improvement.
Like our little friend, the bird, let your voice soar!