Sunday, January 08, 2012

How to improve your singing voice

This post is part of a series of occasional Questions and Answers.
Just contact Chris if you want to submit a question.



Tim wrote in to ask:

“I have been trying to sing for a very long time but I feel I always get tight in the throat when I lose confidence, when I hear myself sound bad, or even if some people are around.

“I was in a chorus for a year and I could hit every note, I just can't exactly ‘sing’, do you know what I mean?  I can’t hear myself out of a group.”


Well, Tim, there are quite a few things going on here! And I’m sure there are plenty of other singers out there who can relate to what you’ve written.

  • tightness in your throat
  • loss of confidence
  • being in a choir vs. singing by yourself
  • what you mean by “I just can’t exactly SING”
  • what you mean by “I can’t hear myself out of a group”
  • what you mean by “sound bad” even though you “could hit every note” before

tightness in the throat

Many beginner singers feel a tightness in their throat, or their throat might feel sore after a session of singing.

The reason is that you are allowing muscle tension to creep in and you’re also letting your breathing become shallow. These are both symptoms of being nervous or under-confident. I doubt if you found this to be a problem when you were singing in the chorus.

But if throat tightness and/ or soreness is a regular occurrence, then you are not singing with the correct technique and I suggest you get some voice coaching. However, if it only occurs from time to time, then it’s confidence that you need to work on.

loss of confidence

When you lose confidence it’s usually because you’re focusing too much on yourself and not just letting things happen by themselves. When you were in the chorus you could hide amongst the other singers and not worry too much about what other people thought or whether they could hear your individual voice amongst all the others.

Then you just got on with the singing and, by your own admission, did it well. So you know you can do it, it’s just a matter of being able to recreate the same thing when you’re by yourself. My suggestion would be to re-join the chorus and keep that side up whilst you explore singing on your own more.

I’ve written about How to be a confident singer where I point out that it’s all to do with not caring what others think about you.

being in a choir vs. singing by yourself

In a choir there are lots of other singers singing the same part as you so you have support. You are also not exposed, but just part of a group.

If you find that there’s a big difference between the two, then you can develop your singing by yourself abilities (if that’s what you want to do) whilst singing in a chorus.

Begin by standing a little way off from your section so you can clearly hear yourself and the other parts. It’s just you versus the rest, but you’ve got your part nearby to support you if you go off.

You can then try standing at the join between your part and another harmony. This gives you good practice at keeping your part by yourself. To develop this even further, you can go and stand entirely within another section and sing your own part.

Take little steps and if you find yourself going ‘off’, retreat to your own section. Gradually you will find that you’re more accurate when on your own.

“I just can’t exactly SING

When people say they can’t sing, they can mean lots of different things:

  • they can’t sing in tune
  • they don’t think their voice sounds ‘nice’
  • they don’t sound like their favourite professional singer
  • they can’t hit certain notes
  • they run out of breath easily

... and so on. See Why can’t I sing for more.

So the first thing you need to do is to decide what YOU mean by ‘sing’, then you can begin to figure out what to do about it.

“I can’t hear myself out of a group”

This is an interesting one! Most people find it difficult to hear themselves when they’re IN a group. It can be quite freaky when a section is blended very well. It’s as if you have disappeared and the sound is being created all on its own.

Are you sure that it’s YOU who you’re hearing or is it just the PART that’s being sung? If it’s the latter, then maybe you just need the re-assurance of the other voices around you.

“I sound BAD

This is related to why you think you can’t ‘sing’. Once again it can mean many things, but what interests me here is that you say that you could hit all the right notes when in the chorus, so does that mean you sound ‘bad’ because you’re not able to hit all the right notes when you sing on your own?

how to move on from here

The first thing you need to do is to be very clear about what you want to achieve or the area that you want to improve. You can’t do everything at once, so pick one thing to start with.

You also have to be realistic. If your definition of being able to ‘sing’ is to sound exactly like Justin Bieber or your favourite death metal lead singer, then you’re on to a loser. You have a unique voice and you need to find the easiest, most natural way of expressing that (you might want to check out How to make a song your own).

From your original question, it seems there are several goals you might start with:

  • hitting every note right when singing by yourself (see Learn how to sing in tune)
  • being more confident when singing outside a chorus
  • finding a way of getting rid of the tightness in your throat
  • improving the ‘quality’ of your singing voice so it’s no longer ‘bad’

Whatever you choose to focus on, good luck with it and do let us know how it turns out.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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