Self-Awareness Singing4 min read

I have been taking Ken Tamplin’s singing course for the last 10 months and have taken 1 in-person class with Ken at his studio.

After hearing me sing a song and going through vocal exercises with me, Ken mentioned I have a solid grasp of the concepts and am well on my way.

Recently I have been trying to determine what my vocal tone and style will be. In the process of my search, I have watched and listened to hundreds of singers from all different types of genres. I realized that by working on what I call self-awareness singing I can better self-correct when I am practicing.

My favorite types of content to consume are American Idol video compilations of the best and worst singers.

I like to think about which technical elements the singer has that makes them great, or horrible. The majority of people could listen to someone sing and in 5 seconds know whether they are good or bad even without knowing anything about proper singing technique. Why is that?!

We could sense when someone is upset without them verbally telling us. We can see their eyebrows point downwards and eyes glare and their lips narrow. A five-year-old doesn’t have to read about what an angry person looks like, to know his mother is upset. The same applies to knowing whether someone is a good singer.

Understanding Elements of a Great Singer

In the videos, I watched I came up with the following ideas for what makes a great singer

  • Pitch/tuning
  • Tone (resonance)
  • Performance
  • Power/Compression
  • Control/consistency
  • Sustain/staccato
  • Vibrato/straight
  • Pronunciation
  • Rhythm/timing
  • Phrasing

To keep it simple, the most important components are pitch, tone, control, and phrasing. I think the others kind of follow under these categories.

When listening to videos of American Idol singers and acoustic live cover song performances I thought of these 4 elements and came to the conclusion that professionals do the small things well.

A great musical performance consists of a combination of many small elements that are done well and multiply to produce an amazing final product.

There’s something special about a solo artist playing a stripped version of their songs where every subtle part of their voice and instrument is heard crystal clear.

Becoming a Great Singer through Self-Awareness Singing

To become a great singer, it certainly helps to have a coach next to you every day you do your vocal exercises and begin singing a song to provide specific instructions, but none of us probably have this advantage. Instead, we have to self-correct.

Listening to yourself on a video or audio recording is one thing. It can certainly be humbling… But even when we listen to ourselves it’s tough knowing if we would be received as a good singer by an audience, mostly because we are so used to hearing our own voice every day. Those bad singers on American Idol actually thought they were great!! This is where self-awareness singing comes into play.

When listening to songs, I make more of an intentional effort to focus on the elements previously mentioned (tone, pitch, control, and phrasing). Slowly I have begun to technically understand why most people would find a voice like Lou Gramm’s amazing and why a mega-successful pop star like Ed Sheeran wouldn’t be regarded as highly as a great singer.

While understanding what most people would believe is great singing we can also listen to recordings of our own voice more frequently and compare line by line of singing to the studio version. Now, we can begin to determine where our voice fits into the wide array of different popular singers.

For example, you notice you can bridge from chest to head voice better than a singer like Chris Martin from ColdPlay, but are struggling to have as powerful and smooth of a mix voice as Steve Perry.

Self-Correcting Isn’t Easy

Although not easy, we begin to learn our weak points without needing someone else there to provide feedback. The awareness we developed from repetition and feedback loops is the beginning of self-correcting more effectively. By learning more about what makes a great voice and what tone we want to have (everyone’s preference is different) we can build a self-awareness singing that helps guide us for what adjustments to make without needing a coach by our side.

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