Many people dream of becoming famous singers, think of the legendary Miriam Makeba and the late great Johnny Clegg and how influential their singing careers have been. There are also plenty of aspiring singers who want to be crowned the next SA Idol or The Voice champion.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the vocal range and voice control it takes to be a singing sensation, and this is where some vocal training and singing lessons could help. For those of who aren’t natural songbirds and can’t quite hit all those high notes, your goals might be a bit less ambitious: perhaps simply trying to overshadow your little brother’s performance at the annual family gathering. There are plenty of different reasons why people may want to learn to sing.
In the past, music such as Afrikaans pop, Soul, Jazz, Marabi and Isicathamiya filled every household. For many it was an integral part of everyday rural and urban life and served as a welcome distraction from certain hardships. Parents and children alike would happily sing songs to pass the time. Many would sing whilst in taxis, on buses to and from work or school, and even whilst heading to their local supermarket or spaza shop. Music created a sense of unity in the community.
Things have changed somewhat since then.
These days, with the rising popularity of tablets and YouTube, commercial pop and RnB has, to an extent, replaced the more traditional musical masterpieces that were commonly sung in traditional South African households.
Without practising regularly, most of us are far from being anywhere near as good as Simphiwe Dana, whose success has seen her hailed as the "new Miriam Makeba". Even less so when we need to sing in public.
Surprisingly, did you know that singing in the shower can actually help to improve your singing?
It offers great acoustics and you’re cut off from any judgmental ears, so it’s a great place for a vocal warm up and for practising new singing techniques. Simply think of it as your private recording studio.
Singing is a passion and you are never too young or too old to start. Whether you are a shower singer or aim to become the next great Top 40 artist, it all starts with determination and a passion for the art. So why not see how far you can take your passion by taking a few singing lessons with a certified voice coach to teach you the fundamentals such as breath control and how to avoid straining your vocal chords.
Singing out of tune – A common singing problem
This expression may have made its way into our daily lingo, however, understanding exactly how singing works is a surprisingly complex domain. In fact, singing out of tune is so common that scientists recently conducted an in-depth study to determine why people do this.
It is believed that when someone loves music, but can’t carry a tune, subvocalization is likely to be the culprit. Subvocalization is essentially singing the lyrics in your head before singing them aloud, and this interferes with your pitch.
Interestingly, the study also found that the participants who weren’t able to focus on the melody were inclined to be less in tune when they repeated it. This brings to mind the following saying by George Lucas,
“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.”
In other words, when you truly focus on something and put effort into it, there is a massive reward to be reaped.
How Can You Sing in Tune?
Singing practise and training involves generating a sense of vocal freedom, so to speak. To create a sound or a specific pitch, we use our vocal folds and the muscles around them. For beginners, it starts off with learning where to place each pitch and finding the right balance between the muscles. With regular vocal training, you will develop muscle memory and over time gain more pitch control.
The great news is that these days the internet has a comprehensive hub of videos and tutorials to help you with vocal exercises. There are plenty of effective tips you can follow too, such as how to learn to be able to control the air pressure in your lungs and use your core muscles to push air through the trachea.
In a good singer, vocal health, posture, alignment and breath management are key. While we don’t often think about it, one of the biggest causes of hitting false notes is stress. In the same way that the pressure can get to top athletes, a singer’s performance can be negatively affected by anxiety and stress.
A good way to overcome this is to simply focus on your breathing and relax, as breathing is one of the most important aspects of singing. The more air you have flowing through your body, the better for your voice.
If you are attending any vocal training sessions, your singing teacher will be there to help you learn how to correctly use your diaphragm, as well as provide you with warm up exercises and vocal coaching, which, cumulatively, will help you learn to sing and – actually - hit all the right notes.
Being aware of how your body works and having an understanding of music theory can also help tremendously.
Is There a Specific Age for Having Private Singing Tutorials?
We are all born with the key ingredients. Having a beautiful singing voice can sometimes be an inherent gift but in many cases, from a young age, a voice can be nurtured and trained to become strong, and more powerful.
If a child has a keen interest in singing, it’s always better to nurture that talent from the get-go. As an adult it does tend to get slightly more difficult to sing in key as, physically, our vocal cords can become tighter. Strengthening and training the muscles and vocal cords from an early age could therefore prove to be a great benefit later on.
In South African, we have a rich, diverse cultural heritage and several official languages. Singing forms part of our culture, but often learning to sing in different languages can be challenging. Singing lessons at school are rather limited and, while we may learn the national anthem and perhaps a few songs from popular musicals, it’s very rare that we would be taught to sing by an accomplished music teacher.
The great news is that there’s no age limit placed on singing success. Whether you are of school-going age, in your late teens or an adult, you can still become a genuine songbird with a bit of practise and lots of determination. Singing sensation Yvonne Chaka Chaka is 53 years old and still among South Africa’s most-beloved and popular female music artists.
Can You Get a Musical Ear?
For those who simply want to sing along to their favourite songs without upsetting the neighbours, some music theory lessons and singing tips will help them better understand music and recognise different notes.
“Aural skills” as they are better known, are musical listening skills that help one develop the ability to hear music and sound, and ear training is the process of developing these skills. In addition to becoming more musical, one can also:
- Play back a rhythm and learn to distinguish between the different sounds played
- Practise humming along to a melody
- Connect your ear training with an instrument such as a piano.
Another great and easy way to strengthen your singing is to partner up with someone who has perfect pitch and ask them to help you. Copy their techniques, try to emulate their sounds and steadily get closer to their level.
The Best Methods for Correcting Your Vocal Cords
So far, we have reviewed a few key things to avoid singing out of tune, such as:
- Learning more about the physical properties of singing
- Learning to sing in tune
- Working on your musical ear
- Listening to yourself singing.
If you start with these steps, learn the fundamentals and put them into practise, your singing dream may just become a reality.
Don’t forget to make use of all the available online platforms which offer a wealth of great tips and tricks to help you in developing your musicality.
If you prefer a more one-on-one approach, there are a host of vocal coaches available in or around your area or even via Skype who, with their expert knowledge of anatomy and physiology, can help you get started and teach you all you need to know about becoming a better singer.
Whether it be through online singing lessons or face-to-face vocal training sessions, to learn to sing requires a lot of patience and mimicry or imitation, so, remember, the more you sing, the better you sing, and the more you listen, the better you sing! Start your journey today and, who knows, we might all be streaming your hit songs soon.