learning to sing

One of my bands is The Glowing Garden, an experimental art-rock threesome. Recently our lead singer Glen moved to San Francisco, and we’re on hiatus until high-speed rail is running.

Glen has a great natural voice, a set of pipes that turns heads. I’d been in a nice comfort zone doing backup vocals and the occasional lead. When I began playing solo much more often, I soon realized that my singing voice needed some serious help.

My vocal challenges make sense. I started singing by emulating low, pitchy, emotional singers like Johnny Cash and Michael Stipe. If I went high, I emulated Kurt Cobain. A recipe for vocal chord disaster. I knew I was capable of a smooth higher voice – if not great, at least good and atmospheric like David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. Yet I also knew there were cracks in my voice and my pitch was far from perfect, so I kept my vocal style low and “mysterious.” I never worried about having a healthy, natural singing voice, as long as I sounded “cool.” In reality, my vocal delivery was far more weak than intriguing.

I set out to find a vocal coach. After some sticker-shock I decided to start with an online coaching program. It’d be affordable and should give me a good foundation before working with an in-person vocal coach. The fact that I’m a reclusive introvert made this decision easy.

I started with Aaron Anastasi’s Superior Singing Method. This is a great beginners’ program, and it’s organized to make the most of a limited time investment. A short video accompanies each of Aaron’s lessons, and the program is eight weeks of short exercise sessions. Aaron is cool and likable, and he responds to questions posted on his site. I went through his program twice. My voice improved and I became more confident (after doing the “nay, nay, nay” exercise for a week or so, you just stop caring what people think).

Looking to find another good program, I tried Brett Manning’s Singing Success. This is a pro series with great information, exercises and coaches. I found it a little too “slick” for my taste, with infomercial-style voices and music. And we get to hear Brett prove that he can sing in four octaves, at the same time! Please folks, I already bought it, stop selling it. It’s a sprawling, comprehensive course. I got through about half of it, and then got lost and decided to try something else. A scaled-down and simpler version would suit me better. I prefer daily routines (like Aaron’s) that are actually possible to do every day. Singers with plenty of spare time aspiring to become fluent in many conventional styles will love this. It’s overkill for me. I just want to sing my own style.

During all this time, I had watched a number of Roger Burnley’s free vocal coaching videos on YouTube, and every single one was helpful. I was like someone who bumps into an acquaintance every so often, but never realizes they are “The One” – until that fateful day. It hit me like a ton of bricks – what I was looking for was right in front of me: Roger Burnley’s Singing Made Simple program.

Roger is perfect. He’s not only a successful vocal coach who’s worked with some of the music industry’s top stars – he’s also my coach. Yesterday he coached me in-person over the phone. It’s no surprise that I wasn’t nervous talking to and singing for Roger for the first time. His personality is so endearing and engaging that I felt like we already knew each other from watching his coaching videos.

No, I didn’t have to sign up for some sort of “VIP Membership” add-on with extra monthly dues. Roger includes the coaching calls in the base price of his program.

Roger does not brush over the basics, or cover too much ground at one time. His lessons break down the fundamentals of freeing your voice. He explains exactly what the purpose of each exercise is, and how it trains your body to sing without tension. My OCD side loves knowing exactly what I’m working on and why, not wondering if I’m “doing it right”. I had some major breakthroughs in the first couple of weeks, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

I realize now that vocal freedom is the goal. With a relaxed and healthy voice I can emulate whomever I wish, but more importantly, I’m finding my own unique, natural voice. A true voice is far more intriguing than a hidden one!

If you want to learn to sing, you can do it. You must find a place where you can sing every day without worrying about how you sound. This is so important because the key to becoming a good singer is allowing yourself to sound horrible and not let it scare you. You’ve heard it before: “You gotta fail a hundred times before you succeed, kid.” Well, the sound of “failing” while singing is scary. It has frightened many people into believing they just can’t sing.

You know this: the only way to truly fail is to give up, or not even try. Like Wayne Gretzky said: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” If you’re patient and practice every day (whichever program you choose) you’ll amaze yourself. Sooner than you think, you’ll have a great voice, and a great time singing.

Please let me know how your singing journey fares!



1 Comment

  1. John,

    Thanks for writing your piece about learning to sing. Like many, I play guitar to an ok standard but my singing isn’t great. In truth I really find it hard to get a handle on just where I am on the ok to bad scale – I do know I’m not good. I was searching round the internet to see what help was out there. I don’t have lots of spare money so I’m not in a position to pay for lots of 1:1 tuition (even over skype) unless I really felt I was capable of improving. The problem, however, with a video course is the lack of feedback as I don’t have the confidence to asses my own voice. I was interested to see you like the Roger Burnley course – I will look into the cost of that but I also saw a recommendation from you on the Nicola Milan Singing Secrets course, but again that is a course without feedback, as far as I can tell. I would be interested to know whether you would recommend Nicola over Roger or some other course you may have found. Singing confidence is a huge issue with me. Best wishes and thank you for writing what you did.

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