Do you like the sound of your voice? When you’re singing that is.
Do you enjoy karaoke?
If you answered “No” to either of the above, I’ve got good news for you. Today’s article is all about how to improve at singing and karaoke.
Here are 5 peer-reviewed lessons on how to be a better karaoke singer.
So you can better enjoy yourself the next time you go karaoke with your friends. And so you can find your voice.
1. Find Your Vocal Range
Each of us has a distinct range of vocals*.
When you try to sing a note outside of your range, it usually doesn’t sound good. Like the drunk uncle at your cousin’s wedding.
How to know which notes you can reach? Have someone play note-by-note on a piano and try imitating the notes with your voice. You’ll eventually find a note that’s too low or too high for you.
Don’t have access to a piano? Pay attention to whether you can match singers note-for-note when you hear songs on the radio. If you listen and practice enough, you’ll realize there are singers out there who have similar vocal ranges to yours. Try singing these singers’ songs.
Notice how American Idol judges tell contestants not to choose songs by singers like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.
Not only is it because they usually don’t come close to the originals. It’s because the vocal ranges of these singers are too wide. They’re almost impossible to follow.
2. It’s All About Breathing
Ask a trained singer how to improve your singing, and you’ll hear the eternally irritating words:
“Sing with your stomach, not your throat”
Right. How the hell do I sing with my stomach, when I’ve been speaking with my throat my whole life!?
“Sing with your stomach” isn’t some magic technique which makes your voice appear from your belly button. The reason it’s popular advice is because most beginners sing exclusively using the small muscles in their throats.
While this might be good enough for a short rendition of “Lemon Tree”, it’s poor technique. Singing using these small muscles makes you run out of breath quickly. It also strains your throat, and makes your voice sound “muffled”.
A better way of singing is to recruit the larger muscles in your body to help. This takes the strain off your throat, makes your tone better, and makes your voice more powerful. The trick is to:
- Practice deep breathing. Look at yourself in the mirror as you inhale. If you’re breathing deeply enough, your tummy should be expanding. If you’re taking shallow breaths, only your chest and shoulders will move.
- Practice singing a note immediately after you’ve taken a deep breath. Notice how your voice has more power this way. Your deep breath allows you to hold a note longer.
- “Throw” your voice. For a beginner, this means singing louder than what you’re normally used to. Don’t self-muffle your own voice, which is what beginners tend to do (me included).
- Activate the same muscles you use when you’re speaking loudly. Imagine yourself projecting your voice to someone at the back of a room. You should sing with those same muscles.
If you feel your throat getting sore quickly when you sing — you’re still mainly using your throat. Keep practicing the steps above and you’ll get better at it.
3. Technique, Technique, Technique
Here are more tips to improve your technique:
- Open your mouth big when you sing. Perhaps out of fear for looking like Steven Tyler, most of us don’t really stretch our mouths when singing. But it restricts range and power. Exaggerate the movements. It’ll feel strange, but it’ll get your voice closer to Steven Tyler’s.
- Stand up. Or at least, don’t slouch if you’re sitting. Shoulders back, chest out.
- Actively plan to take breaths. Before singing each line in a song, quickly take in a deep breath of air through your mouth. If you run out of breath, you can’t hit notes properly and you’ll strain your throat too.
- Did I already ask you to take breaths? Well here’s another reminder. Do you see Adele’s jaw drop and hear a short “gasp” before each line in the video below? That’s how you should be “stealing” breaths too.
4. Choose the Right Songs
“In karaoke sessions of ‘Always’ by Bon Jovi, the girls can’t sing the verse. The guys can’t sing the chorus. And nobody can sing the screaming part at the end.”
Not everyone can sing rock. Not everyone can sing jazz. Almost no one should sing Nicki Minaj. Choose music you feel right with.
Sometimes you hit all the right notes at all the right times. And it still feels “off”. Choose another song.
Pop songs by bands are usually easy. They’re catchy, and not too difficult to sing. Plus everyone knows the lyrics.
If you’re a guy and have trouble reaching the high notes of today’s music, go for classic songs. When men still sounded like men.
If you’re a girl with a low voice, try singing male singers’ songs. The key will likely suit you better.
Choose fun songs where everyone in the audience can sing along and dance to. This may mean you need to suspend artistic musical tastes for a while, and sing mainstream Top 40.
But it’s OK – you’re there to have fun with your friends. Not show off.
In Asia, Michael Learns to Rock is king.
5. Sing with Emotion
Here’s an acoustic performance by Yellowcard, who were famous about a decade ago. It’s one of my all-time favorites:
Theoretically, it’s a terribly flawed performance. The lead singer’s voice is hoarse. He’s pitchy and you can tell he’s having difficulty singing. At the climax of the song, his voice cracks as he’s belting out the heartbroken words “no one like you…”
Flawed, and yet somehow perfect.
So, despite my one-thousand words about breathing before this, here’s my most important point: Sing like you mean it. Pour your heart out. Everything else is secondary.
Music isn’t just a bunch of notes, stuck on to a beat, and paired with lyrics that rhyme.
It’s a way of expressing emotions from the depths of your heart.
The best performances aren’t those that follow all the rules, are theoretically flawless, and vocally perfect. They’re those where the singer brings out so much emotion — the audience can’t help feeling deeply touched.
If you can do that, you’re not just a karaoke singer anymore.
You’re an artist.
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*Like a muscle, one’s vocal range can be trained and expanded. There are courses all over the Internet for this. But here’s the easiest tip: just keep trying to hit the note immediately next to your vocal limit — with the good vocal techniques mentioned above. Eventually your vocal range will stretch and improve.
***Credits to my fiance, who taught me almost everything I know about singing.