How To Sing!
25 Steps To Become A Better Singer
By Camille van Niekerk
Hi, future singer! I’m glad you’re here.
The following 25 steps are meant to be followed in order. If you have some singing experience, you may find that you don’t need to spend a lot of time on some of the steps (like matching pitch, for example). But if you’re a total beginner, we’ve got you covered!
Expect to spend a decent amount of time working through this list. Each step is actionable and will take time (days, weeks, maybe even months). There’s no benefit to rushing through!
Take your time, dedicate yourself to regular practice, and you’ll see progress. If at any time you get stuck, reach out to us on the Singer Forum and we will be happy to help!
Let’s get into it!
1. Set a goal
Actually, set more than one! Clear, realistic goals will help you stay focused and motivated as you continue to learn and develop your voice.
A few considerations for goal setting:
Make It Specific
Rather than a goal of “singing really high”, how about: “increase my comfortable range by 1 whole step”)
If you’re new to singing, set manageable goals that you can really see yourself achieving. Instead of “mastering Beyonce’ and Freddie Mercury’s most challenging songs”, choose songs that are almost “singable” right now, but that provide a little bit of a challenge. Singers who set unrealistic goals tend to get discouraged very easily and give up when they lose heart.
Break Long-Term Goals Into Smaller Tasks
Example: “Sing at a karaoke bar” could become: “research good karaoke songs for my range”, “try out a few different songs”, “decide on a song”, “learn the melody and lyrics”, “rehearse with the karaoke track at home”, “practice in front of a friend or family member”, “choose a date”, and “sing at the bar”.
Write It Down
It’s easy to get lost and confused when you’re learning a ton of new information. Return to your goals to remind yourself what you’re working toward!
2. Learn about (and practice) good vocal health
Your voice is part of your body. It’s irreplaceable! And although it’s very powerful, it’s also delicate and susceptible to damage if you don’t take care of it.
To practice good vocal health:
- Stay hydrated!
- Avoid smoking (and being around smoke) if possible.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Warm up before singing, and warm down if you’ve spent a good amount of time exercising your voice.
- If you have allergies, treat them with medication and/or nasal irrigation (sinus rinse).
- Be aware of the way different food/alcohol/medication affects your voice and abstain if necessary. For example, dairy can thicken the mucus in your throat, making it difficult to sing with a clear tone. Alcohol can swell the vocal cords, impacting your ability to sing (especially the following day).
- Use steam for extra hydration: from the shower, a humidifier, or a steam inhaler.
- Avoid screaming, yelling, and forced talking for extended periods of time (ie: talking over loud music at a concert or club).
- If you have a sore throat (from sickness or overuse), go on vocal rest. That means no singing and as little talking as possible.
- Listen to your body: if something is causing you pain or strain, stop! Pain is your body’s signal that damage can occur (or is occurring).
- If in doubt about any of the above, talk to your doctor!
3. Learn to match pitch
First, what is pitch? Pitch is the highness or lowness of a note. Matching pitch means that you can hear a pitch and sing that same pitch back.
If you’re working with a voice teacher, they can help guide you through this process! If you’re self-guided, a great way to work on matching pitch is with an app!
See below for more info on an app called SingTrue. The app will guide you through different pitch matching exercises and display your pitch on a graph, so you can visualize whether you might be singing lower or higher than the desired pitch.
4. Find your comfortable, useable vocal range
Your vocal range will probably expand as you train your voice! But it’s helpful to start with an idea of your range right now.
Follow the steps in this article to find your range: https://www.30daysinger.com/blog/finding-your-vocal-range
Once you’ve determined your vocal range, you know approximately which pitches (and songs) are within your reach. For example, if you’re a guy with a bass or baritone range, you’ll really struggle to sing most songs by Bruno Mars (in his same octave). Likewise, if you’re a soprano, you might hurt yourself trying to sing as low as Adele or Lauren Daigle.
With your vocal range as a guideline, you’re set up for success! Now, when you search for a vocal warmup routine or a song to learn, include your vocal range in the search. This way, you won’t be straining and struggling to hit notes that you really shouldn’t be worried about.
5. Establish great singing posture - and stick to it!
Proper alignment is fundamental to healthy singing technique. Good posture ensures that we’re working with our body and how it functions best, instead of fighting against it to force a good sound.
So let’s learn good posture from the ground up!
- Stand up and make sure your feet are hips’ distance apart. If you’re right handed, the right foot can be slightly forward. If you’re left handed, you can lead with the left.
- Hips should be slightly tucked under, and check to make sure the knees aren’t locked.
- Roll the shoulders down and back, arms resting at your sides.
- The chest and ribcage are tall and lifted. This is a proud, confident posture, and it also sets you up for good breathing.
- Last: the head. Imagine there’s a string drawing your skull towards the ceiling. Your head is balanced above the spine, floating, almost weightless. Experiment by bringing the chin forward and feeling the tension that creeps in. Now tuck the chin in and bring the head back, again feeling tension. Find that relaxed middle ground where the head is balanced and free.
This posture should make your body feel tall, supported, open, and energized. It may not come naturally in the beginning, but it will help you to breathe and sing at your very best.
Two specific warnings: beware of the shoulders and ribs collapsing in and down, and beware of the chin or jaw reaching forward.
Start your singing practice by stretching out and finding this posture, every time!
6. Learn the “singer’s breath”
Breath is our fuel! And breathing well is crucial to singing with consistency and stamina.
The goal is to take relaxed, silent breaths (usually through the mouth, since our mouth has to be open to sing), and to breathe in such a way that the belly, ribs, and back all expand.
We want to avoid shallow breaths, or clavicular breathing, in which the chest rises and falls. This causes tension where we don’t want it!
Rather, relax your abdominal muscles and let your belly expand and contract as you breathe in and out. If you’re having trouble with this, try the following:
- Breathe in and out through the nose.
- Pretend you’re drinking air through a straw.
- Lie down on your back and relax your belly as you breathe.
Build the habit of taking deep, relaxed belly breaths throughout your day to calm your body and train this “singer’s breath”,
Note: careful to not over-breathe! Over time, your body will learn how much breath is needed for a given phrase. But don’t confuse “deep breathing” for filling up to the max. If you take in more air than you need, tension will result, as your body now has to hold all that extra air back.
7. Engage the correct muscles for breath support
Breath support can be a bit elusive for beginning singers, so let’s break it down.
Many singers (and even teachers) will use phrases like “breathe from the diaphragm” or “sing from the diaphragm” when talking about support. (FYI: the diaphragm, if you haven’t heard of it, is a dome-shaped sheet of muscle separating the thorax from the abdomen.) What they’re trying to get at is this idea of creating some intra-abdominal pressure to hold back your air so that your breath and body are supporting the sound, rather than you trying to push or control the sound from your throat.
In reality, the diaphragm is an involuntary muscle! When we inhale, the lungs expand and the diaphragm contracts down. When we exhale, the lungs contract and the diaphragm relaxes back up.
Our goal is to slow the upward movement of the diaphragm as we sing/exhale. How do we do that? By using the muscles of our low abdomen and pelvic floor.
Feel these muscles working with a simple hiss exercise:
- Inhale with an open mouth, relaxing the belly muscles for a deep “singer’s breath”.
- Exhale on a hiss: but instead of squeezing the belly muscles inward, gently press them down and out.
- Practice this “down and out” movement of the low belly until it feels natural.
- Incorporate your “down and out” engagement with the following hiss exercises.
12 Count Hiss Exercise
Learn more about breath support and the pelvic floor with our tutorial on Pro breath support
8. Become familiar with common vocal warm-up patterns (scales & arpeggios)
Most vocal warm-ups and exercises are built using the major scale, which sounds like this:
Major Scale Exercise
Some use a section of that scale:
Others jump around within that scale, in a pattern called an arpeggio:
Vocal exercises use a variety of patterns, but the majority will sound similar to the above examples and should be fairly easy to follow.
Each exercise will have a set pattern (like a scale or arpeggio), which then gradually moves higher or lower in pitch. The pattern and syllable stay the same, but you’re moving higher and lower in your range.
This is by design: vocal exercises train your voice in a way that singing songs doesn’t. Because no pitch is skipped, you may find that certain sections of your voice are weaker than others. That’s completely normal! Usually those weaknesses are due to lack of use (ie: weak head voice, if you don’t use it often) or a register shift (ie: the “break” in your voice between chest voice and head voice).
Keep at it, and you’ll strengthen those weak spots with time!
9. Engage your body and balance resonance with a LIP TRILL
See below for an example of a lip trill exercise you can use:
Lip Trill Exercise
To get the most out of this exercise, make sure you’re engaging your support muscles (low abdomen) down and out when you start to trill.
What makes the lip trill so great?
- It engages and trains your abdominal support muscles.
- It relaxes your face and lips.
- It provides back pressure on the vocal folds, making it easier for them to stay together and stretch out.
- It helps you find an easy, relaxed coordination in tricky areas of your range. (For example: if you’re struggling with a specific section of a song or warm-up, replace the lyrics or syllable with a lip trill. Sing it on the lip trill until it feels relaxed and comfortable, and then return to the lyrics or syllable.)
For even more on the wonders of the lip trill, and some helpful tips if you’re struggling with it, read the article below:
10. Create resonant space and neutralize the larynx with a DOPEY MUM
This exercise is great for a few reasons:
- It opens up space in the throat and mouth for the sound to vibrate (or resonate).
- It helps to keep the larynx (or voice box, which houses and protects your vocal folds) in a neutral position.
- For the above reasons, it helps singers reach higher pitches and find their mixed voice coordination (a blend of chest voice and head voice).
The goal here is not to sound beautiful: it’s to relax and create a lot of resonant space. So rather than going for your prettiest tone, try to make a big, dopey, almost “yawn-y” sound.
See below for this exercise:
Dopey MUM Exercise
11. Set a daily practice routine that you can commit to
With many habits, and especially with singing, short but frequent practice is better than a few marathon practice sessions.
Aim for 10-20 minutes of singing practice a day and keep going for longer if you’re feeling energized and motivated!
Ideally, you should:
- Choose a time of day when your voice feels good.
- Find a space with some privacy.
- Be able to hear yourself well.
- Always practice standing up!
As for how to plan your daily routine, here’s a general guide:
- Deep breathing
- Breathing exercise (hiss)
- Gentle vocal warm-up (lip trill, hum, etc)
- Easy vocal exercises (working on vowels, resonance, etc)
- More challenging exercises (working on belting, dynamics, agility, etc)
- Ear training and/or song work
- Cool down: siren/lip trill (high to low), and stretch/massage
12. Practice the go-to mouth position for breathing and singing
Most beginning singers default to a fairly closed mouth position. This is extremely limiting and it leads to jaw tension. For your best tone and volume (without pushing), drop that jaw!
Because your mouth needs to be open to sing, it makes the most sense to also breathe with an open mouth. Yes, it’s more drying than a breath through the nose, but that’s why we keep water handy! And when you have an instrumental break, breathe through your nose.
For your go-to mouth position:
- Relax your jaw so that your mouth drops open
- Energize your face by gently lifting your cheeks and eyebrows
- That’s it!
Admittedly - easier said than done. The moment you start to sing in this position, your jaw will most likely try to close back up. Check that you’ve got enough space by putting a finger in between your top and bottom teeth. Unless your mouth is closing for a consonant, you should rarely have less space than that! For higher pitches, louder dynamics, and open vowels (like AH, UH, and OH), you’ll need even more space - more like two fingers’ height. It should be relaxed, though: never to the point that your jaw is feeling strain or close to locking out.
Keep relaxing your jaw so it can be free to move, and see the next tip...
13. Sing in front of a mirror to check for posture, tension, and mouth position
This is especially important if you’re studying voice without a private teacher! Keeping yourself in alignment and free of tension is up to you.
Look specifically for:
- Jaw or chin coming forward
- Shoulders rolling forward
- Ribcage collapsing
- Stiff/clenched jaw
- Neck muscles straining
Remember: posture is your foundation for excellent breathing and singing, and excess tension is not your friend!
14. Become acquainted with your different vocal registers
Place your hand on your chest and say “hello, my name is (your name)”. Did you feel vibration on your chest? Try it again and notice what you feel.
The lower register of your voice (and the register most of us use when speaking) is called chest voice. Your chest doesn’t have an impact on the sound; but it’s so named because of the sympathetic resonance we feel.
Now for a little more experimentation. Try any or all of the following, and notice how the vibration in your chest lessens (or disappears):
- Hoot like an owl
- Do a Mickey Mouse impression
- Make a siren noise
You’re now singing in your upper register, called head voice (or falsetto). While there are more vocal registers, these are the two main registers you’ll use for singing. Eventually, you’ll learn to blend these registers for mix (or middle) voice. You might use vocal fry (below chest voice) or whistle (above head voice); but the bulk of your time should be spent exercising chest voice and head voice.
For song work and most exercises, you should sing in the register that feels most comfortable! For exercises that cover a wide range, this will mean switching between registers quite often. Sometimes, you’ll come across an exercise designed to stretch or strengthen one register or the other, in which case you can drop out if the exercise gets too high or low for the register you’re in.
See below for some head-voice and chest-voice exercises:
HOO Head Voice Exercise
15. Gain control over your soft palate
The soft palate is directly behind the hard palate (or the roof of your mouth). Because of its position above your throat, its height has a big impact on the amount of resonant space in your mouth (and the resulting tone).
Lifting the soft palate helps create a round, spacious, ringing tone. It also improves intonation (correcting flatness), helps singers increase their head voice range, and blocks off the nasal port (for a less nasal tone).
The easiest way to lift the soft palate is to inhale as if you’re at the beginning of a yawn - and then keep that lift in the soft palate as you sing! Again, easier said than done. But the more you practice, the more control you’ll gain.
Some other tips to keep the soft palate lifted:
- Lift up your eyebrows!
- Raise your cheeks (smile).
- Flare your nostrils (sounds weird, but it works).
Try it out with one of these exercises:
YAH Soft Palate Exercise
16. Begin with a balanced onset
How you begin a note has a great impact on its strength and tone quality. Professional singers train to achieve a balanced onset, in which air flow and phonation (vibration of the vocal folds to produce sound) happen simultaneously.
Less healthy onsets include breathy and glottal. A breathy onset occurs when air flow precedes phonation. It sounds - you could probably guess - breathy and weak! A glottal onset occurs when the vocal folds seal together before air is supplied. If you say the phrase “uh-oh”, you’ll hear what this kind of onset sounds like.
For singers with a breathy onset, train firmer cord compression with an initial “G” or “B” sound.
For singers with a glottal onset, ease onset with an initial voiced consonant like “L”, “M”, or “Y”.
See below for an onset exercise!
Onset OO Exercise
17. Shape your vowels for easiest production and best tone
The way you enunciate for singing will be a little different than the way you enunciate for regular speech. In most cases, you’ll get your best tone by opening your vowels a little more than normal. For example, an EE vowel usually sounds better when sung more like IH (as in “sit”) with the jaw dropped slightly, particularly if it’s in your higher register.
Listen to the vowels in the following exercise, and practice keeping your jaw relatively stable (in a relaxed, dropped position) as you shift through these different vowel shapes:
Vowels IEAOU Exercise
Of course, keep style in mind! Classical singing uses very pure, open vowels, while pop uses more neutral/conversational pronunciation, and country uses very wide/flattened vowels. Use your ear to determine which vowel shape will sound the best and be stylistically appropriate!
18. Extend your range with SOVT’s and narrow vowels (at first)
Whether you’re looking to increase range on the low or high end, SOVT’s can really help you out!
What are they? We’re talking about semi-occluded vocal tract exercises, in which the vocal tract (primarily your throat and mouth) are partially blocked (semi-occluded). The most popular SOVT exercise is one you already know: the lip trill! But others include:
- Singing through a straw
- BB (lips vibrating together)
- VV or ZZ
- NG, NN, or MM (hum)
SOVT exercises work by reducing the amount of air pressure needed to phonate (make sound), and actually providing back pressure on the vocal folds. It’s easier for your vocal folds to stretch out in this configuration.
If that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, don’t worry! Just know that SOVT exercises and narrow vowels (like OO and EE) can make it easier for you to extend your range higher and lower.
Try the above configurations when a vocal exercise gets too high or low to be easily sung on an open vowel or other syllable!
19. Increase agility with fast-moving exercises
If you want to sing pop and R&B runs, classical melismas, or uptempo jazz, you’ve got to increase your agility! As with any singing technique, you’re strengthening and coordinating tiny muscles. You shouldn’t be sore, but you might feel a bit clumsy as you try to sing faster than you’re used to singing!
When working on agility:
- Try a narrower vowel (like OO or EE).
- Use a softer dynamic (less volume).
- Increase speed gradually: we don’t want to sing fast with poor intonation! Value accuracy over speed and increase speed as you’re able.
Try the following exercises to train agility:
9 TOne Warmup Exercise
20. Advance your ear training
Beyond matching pitch, you can train your ears by learning to identify and sing intervals. This will improve your ability to harmonize, sing in a group, and eventually write songs of your own.
A voice teacher can help guide you through ear training; but if you’re studying on your own, an app designed for this purpose is a great way to start!
Similar to matching pitch, you’ll need either a trained ear (teacher) or a program to confirm that you’re singing the correct pitches and intervals.
Check out this article for 8 recommended ear training apps and websites:
If you’re interested in learning how to sight read as well, Alfred Music’s “Sing at first sight” is a great, comprehensive book to work through.
21. Add some style
Even good, healthy singing can sound boring if all you’re doing is singing the right notes. Let’s take it to the next level by adding some style!
Note: this step is way down the list on purpose. Establish good technique first, and stylistic elements are the cherry on top! Approaching your training in this way will help you be a more versatile singer over all.
Some stylistic elements to listen for and incorporate into your song performance:
- Vibrato (or straight tone)
- Vocal fry
- Intentional breathiness/whisper-singing
- Back phrasing: singing intentionally behind or ahead of the beat
- Dynamics (volume)
- Articulation: legato (smooth and connected) vs. staccato (short and detached, as in the beginning of Selena Gomez’s “Can’t keep my hands to myself”)
- Pronunciation: vowel sounds, dropping/modifying consonants (listen to Amy Winehouse for one example of a very specific pronunciation style)
Check out our vocal style tutorials for more ideas!
22. Learn from different genres
Maybe you already have a favorite genre to sing. If you don’t, listening (and singing) in different genres can help you discover your unique style! And even if you’re a rocker, or a jazzer, or a country singer through and through, you can learn a LOT about vocal technique and stylization from different genres.
As you listen to these genres, try your best to identify and reproduce the different vocal effects you hear! See the list below for some ideas, and feel free to add your own.
Country: “twang” resonance, southern accent (listen for flattened vowel sounds), slides and scoops, brassy chest voice belt, yodel
Pop: vocal fry, runs, distinct difference between full chest voice and light falsetto, whisper-singing, high belty mix (listen to Sam Smith, Ariana Grande).
Rock: gritty chest voice, slides, vowel modification (listen and watch mouth position), strong high mix, distortion, prominent vibrato (used as an effect)
Jazz: minimal vibrato (except when used as an effect or at the end of a phrase), scatting (instrumental-like vocal solos using syllables or pieces of lyrics), back-phrasing (intentionally singing ahead of or behind the beat)
R&B: smooth and rich chest voice, intricate runs, improvisation, growls, slightly wider/slower vibrato (listen to John Legend and Alicia Keys)
Classical: pure and open vowel sounds, almost continual vibrato, wide dynamic ability (to sing over an orchestra and/or without amplification), vowel modification, “covered” tone
Musical theater: liberal use of vibrato, clear enunciation, emotional delivery, wide dynamic range, supported belt sound (chest and mix)
23. Begin to harmonize
The best way to begin singing harmony is to learn the harmony parts that exist in your favorite songs. That means: instead of singing the melody with the lead singer, you’ll listen for the background vocal parts and sing along with one of them.
Listen for the harmony part on the chorus especially, and see if you can sing along with the backing vocalist. A few good ones to start with: “Africa” by Toto and “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Pretenders. You can also choose a duet and sing along with one of the singers, since they often switch off singing melody and harmony. Try “Señorita” (Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello) or “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” (John Legend & Meghan Trainor).
Beginner tip: it’s easier to hear the distinction between two voices when they sound very different from each other. So choose songs that have a girl singing lead and guy singing harmony, or vice versa; that way, you’ll know that you’re either singing along with the guy or the girl.
For more harmony tips, see the article below:
24. Make some friends
Why keep that singing voice to yourself? One of the great joys of singing is sharing it with others! Here are a few ideas to connect with other singers and instrumentalists:
- Join a community/church/school choir!
- Team up with an instrumentalist friend to play and sing together.
- Visit the 30 Day Singer community boards and see if you have some peers nearby.
- Go to an open mic night (to support, perform, or both!)
- See if your local music store has a jam night.
- Research music classes in your area: singing lessons (private or group), community college courses, instrumental lessons, summer courses through the library/community center/YMCA/local church, etc.
25. Celebrate, reflect, and set a new goal
Your dedication and hard work deserve to be celebrated! Take yourself out to dinner or tell a friend about your accomplishment. Do something for you!
Take a moment to revisit the goals you set and ask yourself a few questions.
- What were your expectations when you wrote down your goal? How were they met?
- Did your goals (or the tasks to achieve them) shift over time?
- How will you approach your next singing goals?
Looking ahead: what would you like to learn next? Perhaps you’ve come across a vocal technique that you want to practice. Or maybe you’ve discovered a genre that you want to explore more.
Whatever it is, write it down! Make it specific and realistic, break it down into smaller tasks, and get to work!