Why do you want to improve your singing ability? Whether you're aiming for stardom or just hoping to sing in your church choir, practice is key. You need to practice everything- scales, reading music, breathing, pronunciation. When I say everything, I mean everything. Practice makes perfect. These five exercises are some of my personal favorites, and have been proved to work by many others. They can be used to help you through roadblocks to performing a certain song, or just to improve your general talent.
Most of these exercises can be performed without any additional materials, but you may find it useful to use a piano or keyboard for pitches. If you don't have an instrument, you can find a synthesizer online.
First and foremost is the most basic element of singing: breath. There are a number of very helpful breathing exercises you can employ, but we'll start with the simplest.
First, lie down on a flat surface (the floor is safest). Keep your face up with your back straight, and place your hands on your stomach. Take the deepest breath you can, and feel how your belly swells with it. You can also do this with a book if you want.
Now, take another deep breath. Form your mouth into an "ooh" sound and blow out at a comfortable pitch for as long as you can. Repeat this at least five times before trying with other vowel sounds and pitches. Stand up and compare your voice to how it sounded before the exercise- it should sound and feel smoother than it did before.
This is because the exercise forces you to think about your breathing, open up your airways, and focus on controlling your diaphragm. The diaphragm is an organ that essentially pushes air up from your lungs. You have to master singing from your diaphragm if you want to have a strong, sustained sound.
While deep breathing will help improve how much air you can take in and expel, hissing will help you control how fast you do it. This technique is very simple and often used to teach breath control to children. It should be noted, however, that like many vocal exercises hissing can be very annoying to those around you. Depending on who you live with, it may be advisable to wait until you are alone to try it.
You probably already know how to hiss, but just in case here's the overview: take a breath, make an "s" sound with your mouth, and keep going.
There, easy! Now remember to breath very deeply as you worked on before. You should feel as though the air is being drawn to a very low point in your body, near your stomach and hips. Do not raise your shoulders as you inhale; it inhibits air flow.
Hiss and hold the sound out for as long as you can. The more you do it, the longer you'll be able to produce a sound. While on some level breath control has to be conscious (to control volume and keep from running out of air in awkward places), this exercise helps your body feel how to support a sound without pushing all of the air out at once. This control and support will keep your long notes from wavering and give a more even tone to your voice in general.
The Reverse Sip
This is one of the exercises that requires a tool. Luckily, the only thing you need is a simple, disposable plastic drinking straw. Technically all straws will work, but anything with twists and turns will make it harder to get air through the straw. You'll also want to avoid slushie and milkshake straws; their larger circumference lessens the effect of the exercise.
Take a deep breath. I'm sure you know how by now. Now raise the straw to your lips and blow out through it as long as you can. Do it again, this time while holding a note. Repeat with different notes each time, but don't try anything too far out of your comfortable range.
You should, however, be pushing yourself breath-wise. Keep blowing until you feel discomfort, and if you can until you feel pain. Just keep going until you can't form a sound anymore and then stop. Be sure to take a few breaths between each repeat so you have fresh lungs each time. If you begin to feel faint or dizzy, stop immediately.
This exercise works by combining the principals of hissing and ordinary singing. The straw prevents all of the air from going out at once, but is large enough that you can form a note without humming. It takes more air to sing than to hiss, especially at loud volumes, and it feels very different in your lungs and throat.
On a side note, Broadway and television star Kristin Chenowith has professed her use of this technique. If you've ever wanted to be just like her, this is a perfect place to start.
Unless you're Nirvana, pronunciation is just as important as pitch and breath control. Music may be the universal language, but if you're singing in English, the English speakers watching you will want to hear your words so they know the story. Your tone should convey the raw emotions of the song, but your words spell out the story and details.
Bear in mind that different genres of music have different requirements for pronunciation. Rock and country don't have the demand for the crisp, clean sounds associated with musical theater. Nevertheless, if your lyrics are completely indecipherable, nobody will ever know what you're singing about.
You probably already know a few tongue twisters; no doubt the escapades of Peter Piper pervade your childhood. However, it's advisable to use a wide variety of tongue twisters of different lengths and focusing on different sounds. This will keep you from forming pronunciation habits and instead help you become more generally nimble with your speaking. The internet is a valuable tool for this purpose. You can simply use a search engine and look up "tongue twisters" to find a plethora of practice lines.
Trilling is one of those things that is very simple to do, but hard to explain, so if you can't get it at first you should ask someone to show you.
To do the actual trill, push your lips together in an "mm" sound, then purse them a bit and exhale. Direct the air so that your lips rapidly tremble. The necessary technique could be likened to blowing a bubblegum bubble, only instead of gum you're using your lips. The resulting sound should be something like "brlbrlbrlbrlbrlbrl."
Now, you can do this with a pitch as well. Simply act as if you're humming with your throat and lungs while you trill with your lips. First, try staying on one pitch for as long as you can. Then try others, especially ones at the edge of your range. This exercise is great for breath control like the others mentioned, but unlike the others it has the added advantage of automatically strengthening whatever note you sing.
Just try it. If you're having trouble hitting or sustaining notes well in a song, trill through it. If you can hit the whole thing on trill, you can sing it- you just need to work on your breathing! The song will flow easier and sound better after you trill through it, and high notes should come more naturally.