Here are new, and hopefully somewhat better, versions of Fairy Tale and Dance Upon The Moon. Later this week I’ll release the third song, tentatively called Cupid.
Fairy Tale, version 2
Dance Upon The Moon Tonight, version 2
How to sing better
I’m trying to improve my voice. To sing better. The biggest obstacles to becoming a better singer, from teachers and listeners and my own judgment (often the harshest), are nasality and staying on pitch.
Nasality is simpler to understand, for me. I speak nasally, and after 30 years it’s become quite the natural behavior, a bit of a stubborn habit. A technique I’m using to reduce nasal singing comes from this Reddit thread: pinch your nostrils while singing and notice when there is air pressure against your nostrils/nasal passage. Change your sound to avoid this pressure. The pressure comes from air trying to get into your nasal passage and produce a nasal sound. Of course, you need to open your nasal passageway to clearly pronounce the letters n, m, and ng (as in sin, mom, and sing). This is why when you have a stuffy nose, it can be so hard to say “I’m not sounding like myself now”. It’s the n’s and m’s and ng’s. But you don’t need an open nasal cavity to make a clear sound for other consonants, or any vowel.
The guilty party is the soft palate. You lower your soft palate to open the nasal passage and allow air to flow in to pronounce n, m, and ng. But a lowered soft palate is also the culprit for producing that Fran Drescher sound. So if you’re singing the word “mom”, you need to learn to lower your soft palate to pronounce the “m”, then quickly raise it to get a clean, non-nasal “o” sound. This is my layman’s understanding of the mechanism. There are other variables at play, but this is the big one. In singing pedagogy and vocal science there is a lot of misinformation and half-truths. Even the truths themselves aren’t so long-established or universal. As the old saying goes, it’s not what you don’t know, it’s what you know that ain’t so…
The second problem is staying on pitch. At first blush this may seem simpler than nasality. After all, a pitch is a note, and to stay on pitch is to sing the proper note. But on closer inspection this is a thorny problem. A trickier one – for me – than nasality. With nasal singing there is a primary culprit, and a straightforward fix (raise the soft palate, create resonance in your head and away from your nasal cavity). But pitch is more complicated. First, it’s not just about hitting a note. Take for example the notes F and F-sharp (alternately expressed as G-flat). You would think, being off-pitch means you’re singing an F instead of an F-sharp, or a G-flat instead of a G. But on closer inspection, as I recently learned, there are 100 degrees of difference between the F and the F-sharp, and then again between the F-sharp and the G. Each degree is called a cent. If you intend to sing G and you’re off by a few cents, the human ear won’t notice the difference. But let’s say you intend to sing a G and you’re 20 cents too low. You’re only 20% of the way down to a G-flat, but you’ll sound, in singing parlance, flat. So you must train your ear to recognize these small, fractional differences between notes. And train your voice to hit the pitch bullseye that it intends. This is what makes clear singing so beautiful and pleasing, because the appreciative listener recognizes that subtle perfection, even if they can’t express or imitate it. This is also what makes it so diabolical, so imprecise. Like art.
And there’s more. Beyond just hitting a note within the proper cents-range-bullseye, several variables affect whether you get there and whether you can sustain the note. If your muscles are tight, you might reach past the note. If you don’t have proper breath support, you might sound flat. And throw into the mix issues like resonance space (are you trying to produce the sound in your chest or your head or a mix), the note’s duration, how the note ends or transitions to another note, and whether you sing the note with vibrato or without. Fun fun.
This isn’t an excuse. I just thought it helpful to explain – as much for myself as any reader – what I’ve learned in the singing journey and where my priorities lie.
Ultimately, I’m enjoying it. And I intend to keep practicing, keep improving, keep sharing. And thanks to everyone who’s been listening and commenting and sharing ideas and songs. I will continue to sing the same songs over and over and, if they sound better, to publish them as a record of progress. Sorta like how software gets better: fix bugs, release, add features, release, fix more bugs, etc.
Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.