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What are some of the most common mistakes made by people singing without the ability to get a vocal coach?

Although I don't like my voice all that much, I would like to make it tolerable since its a pretty standard male voice. I sing in the car everyday and can already tell I'm improving because of a change in vocal range, sometimes my throat gets sore and I've gathered that this means I'm doing some things wrong.

Just curious about the most common things.

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First off, relevant to your question, a tight throat is a sore throat. The number one most common mistake novice singers make is controlling their breath (and thus volume and phrasing) by constricting their throat. First, this clamps down on several key areas of resonance, reducing projection and increasing the nasal quality of your voice (which most people find objectionable. Second, by creating a "bottleneck" here in the middle of all this vibration, you're just asking for a sore throat.

The number 2 common mistake of novice singers is related; "pushing". To try to reach notes beyond your comfortable range or "tessitura", you further tense the muscles in your throat to stretch the vocal chords, and squeeze your chest muscles to force more air through. After just a few minutes of this you can ruin your voice for the rest of the night.

The fix to all of this? Relax. Practice singing at about half volume, moving your head from side to side. Work on keeping the neck muscles relaxed; they hold your head up, nothing more. Breath control comes from the diaphragm; the "shelf" of muscles that hold your lungs up in your ribcage. When you breathe, don't breathe using the ribcage. Your ribs can't move, so why try to expand that area? Instead, you get much more breath much more easily simply by allowing your abdominal and lumbar area to expand. This lowers the diaphragm and draws air in like a bellows or a syringe. Then, the easiest way to control the airflow is to concentrate on keeping that "full of air" feeling as you use the air; keep your abs expanded and your diaphragm lowered all the way through the phrase. Keep your throat relaxed, and you'll find you can sing this way for hours on end.

Lastly, if you have a "pretty standard male voice", you shouldn't be singing along with most songs on the pop or rock charts. Just as one example, Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" has as it's highest note ("make out like it never happened and that we were nothing") a C5, one octave above middle C. If you can hit that note reliably in "chest voice" you would be in very rare company. Gotye himself sings that note in the upper range of his "passaggio" (a quality of the male range somewhere between chest voice and falsetto, and requires a lot of good practice to use well).

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awesome, thanks for the info. Will have to try the head thing and make myself relax much more. I just get emotional with the songs I sing to as well haha. I guess I usually sing between C3 and C4 and do often try to go above my range... I don't listen to any pop music but I do appreciate it when it has quality and skill. I have trouble with higher notes in C4 and stuff below C3. I don't have an especially low or high voice but its slightly on the higher end for a male I think. I should use a spectrum viewer on my voice sometime –  Travis Dtfsu Crum Oct 4 '12 at 15:21
    
also noticed after reading your answer that I tend to use all the air in my lungs when projecting as well –  Travis Dtfsu Crum Oct 4 '12 at 15:26
    
If your tessitura is between C3 and C4, you're a "bass-baritone"; you can probably get up to the Es and occasional Fs above the bass clef that are expected of a lyric baritone, but you're more comfortable within the bass clef, while lacking the notes down to the E and F below the bass clef which mark a true bass. That's a bit speculative since you're untrained; as you develop your voice (preferably with a coach) you'll gain access to higher and/or lower notes and "fill out" your range beyond your tessitura. –  KeithS Oct 4 '12 at 15:28
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If you're "using all the air in your lungs when you project", my wild guess is that you're not really "projecting", you're just singing loud. There is a big difference. Projection (and real volume) comes from proper technique; loud comes from forcing more air past your chords. –  KeithS Oct 4 '12 at 15:30
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On top of that, the effortlessness that comes from talking is what you want to feel when you sing. –  Sean Larkin Oct 5 '12 at 2:54
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