“The voice is a second face.” – Gérard Bauër
The academic definition of somebody who’s self-taught is somebody who learns on their own without a teacher.
The French writer Georges Le Meur has a better definition of being self-taught. According to him, being self-taught is a “formative approach that isn’t subject to a third-party […] freely decided and directed by the actor themselves. They teach themselves without entrusting their learning responsibilities to an intermediary educator […] This does not mean that they do not call upon other people. To this effect, we need to remind ourselves that the permanent quest of the experts seems primordial throughout research.”
The self-taught are therefore tenacious, passionate, belligerent, fearless, and creative workers. The same goes for those teaching themselves to sing. In the same way as any other artistic domain, singing lends itself perfectly to self-teaching.
You can learn to listen to your own voice and correct the notes that are out of key, adjust your vocal cords and your vocal timbre, master breathing, then, bit by bit, you can start calling yourself a singer.
With that in mind, let’s have a look at some of the ways you can teach yourself to sing! Here’s Superprof’s best advice for gaining self-confidence and teaching yourself to sing well.
As soon as we hear our favourite music, we can’t stop turning up the volume and singing along. However, you’ll need to adopt the right posture when you sing.
Before you start singing, you need to make sure that your body is in the right position since a good posture, like in sport, allows you to get the most out of your physical abilities.
It’s important you work on your posture when singing rather than trying to look cool. (Source: Kaique Rocha)
The basic rule is to have a straight back, either standing or sitting, with your legs parallel and aligned with your shoulders and your feet flat on the floor. A straight back allows the singer to open their chest cavity and fully fill their lungs with air. This also allows you produce nice notes more easily and sing in key.
Since the voice is basically a wind instrument, breathing makes up 80% of singing. Slow and deep breathing exercises – breathing in and out slowly – can stimulate the abdominal muscles which can give your voice more punch.
In fact, once you start singing a song, you’ll want to start developing your own style. However, not everyone is capable of being their own boss when it comes to learning how to sing. A lot of shy people rush off to get a singing tutor or a vocal coach. Otherwise, the only other option is to teach yourself how to sing.
Whether you’re shy or fiercely confident in your own abilities, there will be times when you start to get discouraged.
How can you sing well and where should you start?
Firstly, you should listen to your own voice, develop your ear (musically), and believe in your own abilities and potential. It’s very rare that a singer had perfect pitch or a finely-tuned musical ear when they started singing.
Training your vocal cords and sticking with it come after you’ve gained self-confidence and become aware of the fact that anyone can get a good singing voice if they work at it.
Some people are obviously more gifted at it than others but even the worst voice can be corrected and improved. You need to know how to listen to yourself singing whether you record yourself and do it later or if you do it in real time.
We should start our vocal training by finding out how our voice actually works.
Music theory is fundamental when it comes to learning how to sing. (Source: pixabay.com)
There are 5 fundamental elements to any good voice:
Breathing: while breathing comes to us naturally, breathing when you sing is a very different set of skills. By controlling your breathing with your diaphragm and opening your chest cavity, the singer can relax their body (which also alleviates tension) and circulate air around their body more effectively when they inhale and exhale.
Elocution: this is a skill that requires you can pronounce phonemes (both consonants and vowels) well during your singing.
Rhythm: knowing when to start and stop singing along with music is the sign of a great singer.
Pitch: the pitch and quality of the notes you sing is dependant on whether or not you’re sharp or flat when you sing (too high or too low in terms of pitch). When you sing a song, the vocal parts need to be in the same key as the song as you go from one note to another.
The Voice: Everyone’s voice is unique and unlike any other. Your body, gender, age, vocal cords, and many other factors will determine the type of voice you have and its general qualities. It will also determine your vocal range and tessitura (the range of notes you can produce without too much difficulty).
Knowing your body will give you the information you need to correct any errors you make. Now let’s move onto more serious matters – how to work on your voice.
There are often several steps to take when achieving any goal. The same can be said for teaching yourself to sing.
When you perform in a group, it doesn’t mean you’ll have less work to do. (Source: dimitrisvetsikas1969)
We recommend that you firstly warm up your voice. Ideally, you should do this in the same kind of place where you’d perform (like a stage). Every musician should do the same. A pianist will warm up their fingers and a trumpet player will practise breathing.
For a singer, you should work on your vocal scales. Try a mid-range scale, then a low scale, before finally moving on to a high scale. Then you should repeat this pattern until your voice is relaxed.
After that, try progressively increasing the volume before progressively decreasing the volume. This will help expand your vocal range.
Now move on to something a little more complicated: sing the notes in a C major scale (including the semitones) and go back to the original C. Singing all the notes (including the sharps and flats) will help increase your vocal agility and flexibility.
You should then do scales for between 20 and 30 minutes in order to strengthen your vocal cords and find your range (be it tenor, baritone, alto, mezzo-soprano, soprano).
You can use a piano to help you by singing each note being played on the piano. This can be useful for helping you find a song’s key or just making sure that you’re in tune. Each famous singer will have done this. A piano’s an invaluable tool for anyone teaching themselves to sing with the help of a private vocal coach.
As with many things in life, it helps to have a role model to follow. This is particularly useful for singers who are working without the help of a voice coach or private singing tutor.
You can teach yourself to sing and play guitar at the same time, too! (Source: FirmBee)
Here are a few examples of self-taught singers who all learnt to sing in a variety of different ways.
The French singer Georges Brassens (1921-1981) isn’t the first singer you’d probably think of but he became hugely successful in his time.
While he was a bad and shy student at school, his mother refused to give him music lessons until he started perform better at school. He learnt to play guitar and sing by himself.
During the Second World War, he wrote his first poems in a labour camp near Basdorf near Berlin in Nazi Germany.
While living in poverty in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he wrote a number of songs which would later become hits: Hécatombe, La Mauvaise Réputation, Le Mauvais Sujet Repenti, La Prière, Je suis un voyou, Le Parapluie, Chanson pour l’Auvergnat, La Chasse aux papillons, J’ai rendez-vous avec vous, Brave Margot, Jeanne, Le Gorille, Je me suis fait tout petit, Saturne, Rien à jeter, and La Non-Demande en mariage. However, he didn’t even want to become a singer.
He was shy and frozen by stage fright. He preferred that his poems be performed by singing stars. He taught himself music, poetry, and singing by waking up at 5am every morning and working on his until he went to bed until he died.
When we think of beautiful voices, we often think of opera singers. Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007) was one of the best tenors in recent years. Coming from a humble background, he wanted to be a teacher. Far from the career of a famous singer like we know him.
He learnt to sing on his own in opera choirs in Modena and only really started his career aged 26 after having spent one year as a teacher.
We know him as a talented tenor because he helped make classical music more popular during this time who performed duets with famous groups like U2 and famous singers like Sting and Mariah Carey in charity concerts.
With a different vocal timbre and style, there’s Prince (1958-2016), the kid from Minneapolis. This eccentric musician was above all a genius. At the age of 20, he produced his first album on which he played 27 different instruments.
He learnt on his own, firstly with the piano and the guitar and teaching himself to sing. This wasn’t a one-off, though. Prince produced all his albums on his own in the studio. He usually put down the piano first and recorded his voice last.
Some of his compositions required over 24 hours of non-stop work in the studio. A good role model to follow.
Don’t forget that you always need to put on a show! (Source: StockSnap)
The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin (born in 1942) learned to sing in her father’s choir aged six. She made public performances as part of her father’s “Gospel Caravan Tours” where she sang solo parts aged 14.
This is where she was discovered by John H. Hammond but it wasn’t where she became famous. It wouldn’t be until 1967 that the hits would come. She said that it wasn’t until she went to Atlantic Records and sat in front of a piano that the hits started coming. She just needed to do what she felt like and it worked.
Writer and rap artist Eminem (born in 1972) started on his own and is now one of the biggest-selling rap artists of all time. After a difficult childhood, Eminem discovered rap and started taking part in rap battles. He managed to build up his reputation as a white rapper in genre that was predominantly black.
To learn more about his motivation and how he got started, the film 8 Mile covers the whole story.
Learning to sing on your own doesn’t mean you can’t use resources to help you improve your vocal techniques and your singing in general. There are plenty of videos on YouTube that can help beginners to make quick progress.
How can you become a singer?
Eric Arceneaux’s YouTube channel is a good place to start. His YouTube videos cover a variety of different aspects of singing from how to protect your vocal cords, vocal workouts, warm up exercises, ways to sing in key, how to stand correctly, etc. Eric has plenty of great advice for those who’ve just started learning to sing!
Felicia Ricci has plenty of videos on how to improve your singing. She has tutorials on plenty of different aspects of singing: how to sing with emotion, how to sing without tension, how to sing into a mic, how to fix your singing using breath, how to sing high notes, as well as videos on how to memorise songs and lyrics and how to relax your tongue while singing. There are plenty of videos on her channel that you’ll find useful.
Improving your singing voice from the comfort of your own home is more than possible. Online tools can be a great help:
This site offers several different music classes, from guitar to drum classes, with singing classes, too!
240 video tutorials
For all levels: from beginner to advanced
24/7 access from a computer or a tablet
The option to get singing lessons with established tutors
There are also videos from Jasmine Roy with over 200 videos covering:
Of course, since most work deserves to be paid, you’ll find a lot of resources that you have to pay for. There are several subscriptions available to choose from depending on how long you’re going to use the site for.
Once you’ve got all the tools you need to get a good voice, it’s time to use them wisely: practise, listen, then evaluate yourself.
You don’t need amazing equipment to record yourself singing. (Source: LubosHouska)
To keep improving, recording your voice is a great way to gain a better understanding of your abilities and the errors you’ll need to correct.
When you vocalise, elocution is important and every vocal coach will tell their students to look at themselves in the mirror when they sing in order to help themselves avoid making the wrong notes.
Filming yourself can be useful for:
Seeing where you’re going wrong when you make false notes.
Looking at your gestures and correcting the unpleasant ones.
Listening to the notes you make and ensuring that they’re the right pitch.
Listening to your vocal timbre, tessitura, and resonance.
Improving your vocal range.
The best way to do this is to choose a song that you really like, a song whose lyrics you’ve mastered, and sing it while recording yourself. You should then watch the video and see what isn’t working. Start again until you’re happy with the recording.
Once you’ve done this, you should then show the video to a friend of family member so you can get constructive criticism and the positives and negatives from your performance.
Most people avoid this because they’re scared of being judged, have anxiety, or are just overcome by stage fright.
Here are ten tips for how to avoid this and perform in front of a whole heap of spectators.
Choose your piece carefully: don’t set the bar too high, choose a song that you can easily perform and one that will make you feel comfortable.
Practise: there’s no secret to getting good at singing! Practise makes perfect.
Start with friends and family: their criticism is often much easier to swallow than from strangers, a jury, or a producer.
Carefully choose where you’re going to sing: try to choose a familiar place where you’ll feel comfortable singing.
Choose your outfit carefully: make sure you’re not wearing something too tight that will hinder your ability to breathe and make sure you’re comfortable wearing it.
Arrive ahead of time: to avoid needless stressing, give yourself time to do some warm up exercises, test the mics, and relax.
Relax before you get on stage: breathing exercises, mediation, and yoga are all good ways to make sure you don’t feel stressed before you get on the stage.
Eat and drink: eat a bit but not too much. You don’t want a show with your stomach rumbling. This can be really off-putting and render your other preparation useless. Make sure you’re hydrated, too! Stress can dry out your mouth so make sure that you drink water.
Don’t let the little things bother you: things rarely go exactly as planned. A slight breeze on the stage, a bigger audience than you first thought, blinding lights, the sound being slightly off, etc. There are so many little things that can go wrong that it’s pointless worrying about them.
Focus from start to finish: take this opportunity to make that little voice in your head shut up.
Learning to sing on your own is more than possible. Only a lack in self-confidence will stop you doing this and that can be overcome.
You can learn to sing in key on your own: there are plenty of famous singers who’ve managed this. However, be aware that this can take a lot of work. Learning to sing on your own can require more work than working on your voice with singing lessons or private singing tutorials.
You can help yourself with online resources like YouTube channels and music websites.
You should film yourself so that you can see where you’re going wrong when you sing.
You’ll eventually need to move on to singing in front of an audience even if they are just your friends and family at first.
You’re not the first person to embark upon this journey, after all! Everything in its own time. Don’t try to become a famous opera singer after your first practice session. The second step needs to be less ambitious like singing in a group or in a local venue.
If ever you feel lost when carrying out your own vocal training, there are always voice coaches available who can give you push in the right direction. And if the cost of private singing lessons worries you, its worth knowing that there are plenty of options for singers on a budget.