Singing Tips from a Professional

Want to be a better singer? The best musicians learn from the pros. In last week’s blog post we talked about some simple tips to get a healthier voice. This week, we’re going one step further by interviewing a vocal professional.

That’s where Dr. Melissa Schiel comes in. Dr. Schiel is a professor of voice at Central Washington University and specializes in the anatomy of the vocal cords. If you’re a pop, rock, or indie singer, check out our Q&A on how to take care of your voice👇

Tonic Audio: How can singers tell the difference between normal vocal fatigue from a day of practice and more serious vocal damage?

Melissa Schiel: With the case of normal fatigue, the voice will recover quicker. After a gig or heavy practice session you should also cool down the voice. Cooldown exercises bring the vocal folds and larynx back into a normal speech position. After you do a vocal cool down and have a good night’s rest, your voice should feel normal the next day. If it doesn’t, that’s a sign that your vocal technique and/or practice schedule needs to be reassessed. Some signs of vocal fatigue are hoarseness, a change in throat sensation such as neck tightness or soreness, and increased effort when singing. Additional symptoms of fatigue are uncoordinated pitch onsets and/or loss of dynamic control.

TA: How can singers approach safely expanding their vocal range, especially if they’re not regularly studying privately?

MS: The easiest way to expand the range is with SOVT (Semi Occluded Vocal Tract) exercises. Some examples of SOVTs are lip trills, raspberries, humming, kazoo slides, etc. Anything where there is a narrowing opening for the sound to come out. This narrowed opening increases back pressure to the vocal folds from the lips which helps the folds vibrate with more ease.

I believe all singers should spend some of their career working with a reputable voice coach or teacher. No matter what style you sing, if your technique is not there, it is difficult to maintain your vocal consistency. Many people teach on Zoom and other video conferencing platforms, so it is possible to study with someone, even when on the road. There are many rock, pop, even metal singing teachers out there, so you should be able to find someone who specializes in your singing style.

TA: If a singer uses a microphone, how much consideration do they need to give to vocal health, since the microphone does so much of the work of projecting their voice?

MS: Singers of all types must consider their vocal health. The microphone boosts the sound, but you still must sound like the best version of you, and no one sounds amazing singing with a bad cold. When you are sick, the vocal folds are swollen from coughing and the mucosal covering isn’t able to vibrate efficiently.

With COVID, we are now practicing some of the personal hygiene things that we probably should have been always doing as singers. I have an Apple Watch and I loaded this app that tells me when I have washed my hands for 20 seconds. I can tell you, very few people wash their hands that long. Also, with these masks, I hardly touch my face, so I haven’t had a cold in almost two years! I’m not saying we should wear masks forever, but it may be a good idea when traveling to wear a mask on a plane, try to wash your hands longer, and don’t touch your face. Try not to clear your throat or cough as each time you do that, you are hitting your vocal folds together. Exercise, rest, and eating well will also improve your immune system. And don’t smoke anything.

What are your tips, tricks, and hacks for being a better singer? Tweet us @tonicaudiolabs and let us know!

By Mike Powers

Mike is a composer, arranger, and artist manager who writes for Tonic Audio.