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I have been trying to sing for the longest time and I still suck at it big time. First off, I'm a seasoned musician who can tell if a guitar or piano is out of tune so I can recognize pitch but singing is just an Achilles' heel for me. I have tried different approaches that I outlined below and I still have a horrible voice.. I am wondering if I can get feedback on two major problems that I think I have:

  1. I am not hearing myself accurately. I think I am singing in tune but when I playback a recording, I'm horrified that it sounds really bad. I've done some research on this and I read that it's because of how we hear ourselves from the 'inside' and how our bone structure in the face and body get in the way of hearing how we truly sound. But none of the approach I did has so far worked (such as recording myself, using monitors, cupping my ear, etc..) that I now feel that either something must be wrong with me physically/medically or that I'm still not singing correctly, which leads me to my 2nd question:

  2. Resonance - where are we supposed to feel the vocal resonance within our body? I've narrowed how I sing in 2 different ways and I'll attempt to describe them...first is by singing softer and I feel the resonance coming from behind my face and second is by a more exerted atyle of singing where I feel the resonance coming out in front of my face. None of these two approaches made me a better singer by the way but I want to know if there's a 'correct' way to coax the resonance out of my body to solve my first issue?

By the way, I have been practicing how to sing in ages, so I don't think the advice 'practice, practice, practice' is going to work here if I'm not doing it properly (or am I just overthinking this?)

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    You probably need a teacher. And if "ages" isn't more than five years or so, it might be more practice is still what you need. I started singing more than 20 years ago and I still have a lot I could learn. – Todd Wilcox Oct 28 '15 at 19:17
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    Yes, teacher, teacher, teacher. A good teacher will tell you how to breathe properly, and give you exercises to widen your range, and work on filling the room with the sound. All that stuff. The voice is an instrument like any other, you need a qualified professional to get you up and running. – RedSonja Oct 30 '15 at 13:27
  • I have some diagnostic questions. What type of music do you want to sing? Do think of pitch relatively or absolutely? Do you have trouble with rhythm? How much music theory are you familiar with? – jomki Nov 18 '16 at 20:49
  • The material has to be right for you. You can easily suck trying to sing one thing, but not another (or suck less). The notes have to be in a comfortable range, so you are not straining on either the low or high end. Women tend to struggle with the low notes when singing songs for male parts (or covering songs by male vocalists). Men with deep voices of course struggle with the highs. If you have to switch to a falsetto to hit some high notes, that will take a lot of practice, especially the switching back and forth. – Kaz Nov 19 '16 at 2:21
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Consider doing both of these:

1) Take lessons from a voice teacher. (This costs money.)

2) Join a community chorus or church choir. (This is usually free or very cheap.)

1) Get a teacher.

With any musical instrument, there is something you can do to control the tone you make (unless you are playing harpsichord!) and you might be able to learn what you need from self-study and from reading written descriptions of how to produce tone.

Voice is a musical instrument but it's also inside your own body. It is an athletic activity. Your voice is the sum total of a lot of muscles and resonating spaces in your body and your learning to control all of them simultaneously.

Controlling and improving the tone of the singing voice is such a complex undertaking that you won't improve your singing technique by reading about it and practicing by yourself. You can, however, benefit greatly from lessons with a good teacher.

During a lesson, the teacher asks you to sing a phrase, and gives you immediate feedback on how to improve many aspects of your tone. You repeat things over and over as the teacher continues to provide more feedback and helps you to shape your tone in different ways, to gradually improve things. You become aware of aspects of vocal tone production (and even parts of your anatomy) that you never knew about, and you learn to control and manipulate these parts to produce a stronger and better tone.

This can be somewhat stressful and embarassing. You may experience frustration as you repeatedly try to modify your technique to suit your teacher and you don't at first succeed. But all this is essential and ultimately productive.

Every singer who has had voice lessons in the past finds themselves getting into bad singing habits over time and needing to go back to a voice teacher for critical feedback and instructions on how to un-learn the gradually-acquired bad habits and re-learn good habits to replace them.

2) Join a community chorus or church choir and commit to their rehearsal and performance schedule for a year. Even if choral music has nothing to do with the style of music you want to sing, you will find yourself learning to produce a vocal tone that blends well with the other, more experienced singers around you. You can apply what you learn in the choir to singing your own style of music. And being in the choir and attending regular rehearsals helps keep your voice exercised and in good shape from day to day.

Since you are already a seasoned musician, you can probably either read sheet music or pick up and learn new music by ear quite quickly, so a community or church choir director would probably be quite happy to have you join up. (Most choirs have quite a few singers with nice voices but who are also weak and slow at reading or learning by ear, so having good readers and learners in the middle of the section is an asset to rehearsals.) You could develop ensemble musical skills, and the ability to listen to and blend your tone with the musicians around you, while you work on building a stronger singing voice.

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It sounds like you have done most of what you can do on your own. You did not mention using headphones to monitor what you sing into a microphone but you did mention using monitors. Headphones will completely isolate your voice and basically override what you would hear from inside.

But I believe you would benefit tremendously from a consultation with one or more voice teachers. I don't know where you live but you can usually find voice teachers by searching on-line for voice teachers or singing lessons near you.

You might ask if they would do a free consultation to determine if they can help you sing better. An experienced voice teacher should be able to evaluate your technique and test your ability to re-create notes within your range and determine where the problem is and let you know if they can offer a solution.

I think that should be your next step. Even accomplished professional singers hire vocal coaches or teachers to help them get better.

Unfortunately not everyone can sing. My mother was an excellent pianist and taught piano but could not sing to save her life. I don't know if she ever consulted with a voice teacher or if she just arrived at her conclusion through unaided trial and error. Hopefully you will be able to find a solution and learn to sing.

Good luck!

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First off, im a seasoned musician who can tell if a guitar or piano is out of tune so i can recognize pitch.

I think there's your immediate answer as to whether you're medically or physically flawed. If you can pitch incoming sounds, chances are you can pitch outgoing sounds. It's extremely unlikely that something is being flattened or sharpened between the time you perceive the note and reproduce it (i.e. that you're tone deaf). Although it's still worth taking a hearing test if you're concerned.

It might just be that you've naturally got a 'flat' (as in dull) voice. Many singers manage to overcome this trait by simple affectations such as an overt accent or a stylised technique (think hip-hop, where there's no pitch, but rappers can still sound musical and interesting by varying timbre, diction and emphasis).

You could also try spicing things up with various effects such as distortion, flanging etc., but be mindful that listener fatigue can creep in if you do it too often.

I once read somewhere that men also experience something akin to a menstrual cycle whereby they're more/less 'in sync' at certain times of their cycle with sensory-related stuff like pitch, taste and smell. As to whether it's true I've no idea.

Why don't you grasp the nettle and put an example on SoundCloud so we can have a listen?

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The easiest way is to simply sing. I know you think you are not making progress but you probably are much better than you were. You seem to pay attention to what is going on so that is good to.

So,

  1. Make sure you sing in the proper range. If you are singing to high or low you will struggle. Don't try to sing something you can't because you simply won't get better(and likely will get worse).

  2. Pitch is about control. You develop control from exercising and it takes time(like any activity). If you think you are singing in tune but not, then maybe you don't know what you are actually doing. You should be able to diagnose this easily. Sing single pitch with a single pitch from another instrument. If you are out of pitch here but you think you were in pitch then you need to ask yourself what really is going on. Are you actually out of pitch or do you lack control and waver so that it sounds bad(e.g., pitchy)?

Make sure to work on vibrato... it can work wonders for getting on in pitch(for many reasons).

  1. The mouth is a resonator and your vowels are basically different enhancements of different frequencies. When you sing, you have to be critically aware of how your mouth is shaped because it will effect the pitch you are singing in an indirect way. There is a lot of theory about it but just experiment. Usually things like ee's sharpen the perceived pitch while oo's flatten. This is why sometimes singers sound a little strange is that they modify their vocal resonances to help increase their pitch slightly. They might even say a word "wrong"/"weird" just so they can hit the note.

Again, by practicing this you will start to see how it works. Hold a pitch and just move the mouth in different configurations and you'll quickly learn how it works. If you pay attention you'll notice there are sweet spots. Some people can control it so well they can create overtones and multiple notes(some can even sing "harmonies" this way... check out youtube for some Russian chick that is amazing at this... It's called overtone singing)

  1. Resonance is, as you probably know, when a sound reinforces itself and creates positive feedback. This happens when the instrument(your vocal track and body) are in the correct configuration. Since you are unique, your configuration is different than everyone else and part of singing is learning these "sweet spots" because they give you the most "power" for the least effort.

e.g., suppose you are pushing someone on a swing. If you are smart and want to do the least amount of work you push the person just as they reach the peak and go with the flow(push to hard to quick and you ruin the "resonance").

Singing is similar. You have to learn to control all these different factors and it takes time and proper practice(paying attention). Some things will just have to develop over time as it takes strength.

So, for a minimum of 1hr a day, you must do the following:

  1. Warm up(body, mind, and throat) = physical exercises. This, of course, is not necessary, but will help you quicker as it gets you ready and helps prevent injury or strain which simply slows you down.

  2. Do vocal warm up exercises. This is humming, lip trills, etc. This help get the throat ready for singing and starts building control and strength with minimal stress. This will make further practice more effective so it shouldn't be skipped.

  3. Practice your arps and scales. (play a chord and sing the chord tones, play a different chord, etc)

  4. Have fun! Make up songs, etc. This can be fun and since you are doing it on your own you don't have to be self conscious. Just do it. You may suck at first but you'll get better and it's more fun than just doing 3 alone. (basically add lyrics to 3 and sing the tones in different orders, etc)

  5. Sing others song... make sure you find songs you can seem to sing best. Don't get anything that is close to being outside your range. You are not here to prove anything.

  6. Realize it will take time... don't stress out, it will happen with practice, it is probably already happening and any day you might have a breakthrough.

  7. Don't worry too much about how good you are(that seems to be your problem). You suck, just accept it, that is the first step to recovery. Accept it may take 20 years for you to become a good singer. Ok, you said you sucked, but obviously you are about how good you are(it is a conscious thing).... this is the bane of becoming good though.

Think about it this way: You are a good singer, but you are just in a long warmup process. the warmup process takes about a year or 2 or 3 or 4. But once you warm up, you'll be awesome. (that is how it works and is analogous to warming up for practice)

You need to get any negativity out of your mind because it truly does prevent you from being successful... sometimes we even do it intentionally. If you have a fear of someone hearing you sing, then you have a problem with being self-conscious, not singing. When you get over the self-consciousness of it(specially if you are older, children rarely have this problem because they are so oblivious to how much they suck), you will be able to actually sing. I went through a similar process. Living around other people, being late to singing, and not wanting being to "know" how bad I suck(well, how bad I thought I sucked) preventing me from actually trying to sing. Once I just sucked it up and said "I don't give a shit what people think, I am going to do this for me... screw them if they don't like it" I almost immediately improved 10x(or whatever number you want, kinda meaningless).

Our minds are our biggest enemies. Singing is actually relatively easy once you let all the crap that makes it hard go and just sing. Why? Because to sing you have to actually make a loud noise where people can hear you... and if you have issues with that you tend to sing soft and it is relatively impossible to sing properly soft.

Proof? Think of a wind or brass instrument. If you do not put enough wind in to them they won't make a good tone! Your vocal track is simply a brass or wind instrument... no different. You have to give it good "support". Flutes, for example, will have pitch changes depending on how hard you blow. If you blow soft they tend to be flat and too hard will make them sharp. You can correct this with lip angle and other methods... singing is similar.

The good news is that all the above doesn't matter. If you simply start singing to enjoy it you will learn it just as you learned anything else in your life easily(usually the things you wanted to learn). Don't play mental games and don't fall for the games of other people and you will be success. Again, singing is truly not hard and you will realize it one day and say "WTF! THIS IS EASY!". I'm not saying it doesn't require work, I'm saying that the problems you think you have are not issues, the issue is something else... solve that problem and everything else will fall in to place. The reason why you can't sing is because you are doing it wrong... stop doing it wrong ;)

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