How To Sing Opera
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Did you know that YOU have a genuine, operatic voice?
I know what you’re thinking: “You have to be born with it.” Right?
Everybody has the same ‘equipment’ and to say that you have to be ‘born with it’ to sing is like saying that you have to be ‘born with it’ to walk.
We all have legs and we all can walk.
We all have voice boxes and so we all can sing!
Singing is a technical subject: I'm talking huge textbooks and enough physiology diagrams to freak out a med student!
But let’s be real, you don’t want to read through all of that stuff and I don’t blame you – it’s boring! You just want to sing!
That’s why I’ve cut all the fat and covered only the essentials that you need to know to begin singing better today! Right NOW!
Whether you’re in middle/high school or middle age, in a choir or a shower, I'm going to show you how to develop an operatic voice quickly and easily while loving every moment of it!
Just A Regular Guy Who Became An Opera Star
The Singing Mindset
[Everybody Can Sing Well]
Every single human being can learn to sing well.
That doesn’t mean that everyone’s voice is going to be as beautiful as Pavarotti’s but it does mean that with proper technique everybody can produce a healthy, free, resonant sound.
That means YOU!!
In singing, relaxation is key. Learn to observe and feel your body and understand its language; it will always tell you what’s going on.
A lot of people have various tensions and it takes time and patience to retrain how your body behaves – but it’s totally doable!
There’s no such thing as complete relaxation.
Remember when you first rode a bike and clutched the handlebars while your whole body tensed up trying to learn this new and scary skill?
Then you finally figured it out and relaxed.
You have to make some sort of muscular effort or you'd fall off the bike like a limp noodle!
But now that you know what to do - your effort is minimal.
It’s the same with singing: find the minimum amount of effort required to achieve the greatest result. Less is more!
We all have them… They betray our emotional states and level of comfort.
Whether you rock back and forth, fidget, twiddle your fingers or play with something to occupy the “silence” of a relaxed body, there are reasons for it.
I encourage you to explore them.
Also remember that a nervous habit is just that - a habit!
You can develop confident, calm, relaxed body language simply by paying attention to it and correcting it until it replaces the old habit.
Everybody has emotional/psychological issues; fact of life!
The sooner you deal with yours, the sooner you can move on to productive pursuits.
I'm not a psychiatrist - so why do I bring this up?
Because the mind-body connection is HUGE for a singer!
A singer's body is his or her instrumentand any kind of personal issues can and will affect your singing and mental clarity.
I've found self-help books to be really valuable for sorting out my "stuff".
They're cheap, effective and empower you to overcome your problems, yourself.
Notice that growing requires you to step outside of your comfort zone.
Learning to sing will definitely do that . . . enjoy the ride!
Ok . . . Less talk, more rock! Here’s the good stuff!
The first thing we need to do is to get you standing correctly.
Stand up in front of a full-length mirror.
If you don’t have one, just observe yourself carefully.
Plant your feet shoulder-width apart or wider (whatever’s comfortable for YOU…that’s a golden rule!)
Next, swivel your hips back and forth.
Feel where the top of your body meets the trunk of your body and line up the top and bottom.
If you swivel the hips too far back you’ll be bent forward and falling over.
Too far forward and you’ll feel a pinch in your lower back and a feeling like you want to fall backwards. (Find where it’s comfortable for you!)
Pretend there’s a string connected to the middle of your chest and that it’s lifting your chest straight up.
This is about where you should hold your chest.
Too low and you’ll feel your ribs collapse (they’re connected to the breast bone!).
Too high and your shoulders will pinch and you’ll look puffed up and silly!
Find a happy medium that feels comfortable for you.
Consciously relax your shoulders.
Check up on them frequently to make sure they are at ease.
Swivel your head slowly in every direction and feel where it sits evenly and in balance.
You should be looking straight ahead.
Your arms should hang freely at your sides.
You may feel awkward at first but it will feel natural soon enough.
The idea is that your body is open and exposed and all the power of your being comes out in your voice.
Allow yourself to feel vulnerable; it will lead to growth.
Put your hands on your lowest ribs.
Pretend like you’re breathing into the floor and notice how your ribs move up and out slightly.
Once you have taken your breath, notice the ‘position’ of the space between your chest and hips.
This is the area of your carriage and it should remain in this slightly elevated, out-of-the-way position as long as you’re producing sound.
As you exhale air during singing, maintain your carriage in this position.
When you breathe out and relax, it’s fine to drop this back down.
Allow air to rush into your lungs rather than forcing it.
There’s very little you have to do to get a low, deep breath.
Just relax and let it happen.
More breath is not necessarily better.
As you progress you will develop intuition around when to breathe in music and how much breath to take.
Take only as much as you need to sing a phrase comfortably.
Make sure that when you allow air to come into your lungs, you don't heave your chest.
Your breathing should feel like you're filling your lungs from the bottom-up NOT the top-down.
Me Demonstrating How To Keep A Low Larynx
To achieve a free, resonant voice you must keep the larynx in a low, stationary position during singing.
Here's me showing you how to do this (click on the video to see full screen version)--->
This one seemingly little the hallmark of operatic technique.
Put your hand on your throat and swallow.
The structure that just moved up and down is called the larynx (pronounced leh-rinks).
There are a few ways to do this:
Keeping your hand on your throat, take a breath in through your nose like you’re smelling some roses attentively.
You will notice your larynx drop.
Keeping your hand on your throat, yawn.
You will feel your larynx drop.
What’s happening is that your tongue is moving back and down and depressing the larynx.
A lot of people can simply drop their larynx.
Get in a front of a mirror and try this.
If you can’t do this yet, use these methods until you can simply lower your larynx on command.
Avoid jamming it down forcefully.
Simply lower it until it is comfortably settled.
The way you begin a sound is called your onset.
There are three different kinds: hard, soft and balanced.
You want the balanced onset.
Here's how to do it.
Pretend like your baby nephew is trying to put a dirty toy in his mouth and say "uh-uh!"
Do it a couple of times.
Now do it slowly.
What you're feeling is your vocal chords opening up quickly and popping just a little bit.
This is an example of the hard onset.
Now pretend like you want to annoy your friend by breathing garlic breath on them by saying "ha".
Do this without any sound at first, then add a little sound.
It will sound breathy.
This is the soft onset.
The balanced onset is in between these two extremes.
Keep doing both and taking away or adding air and pressure until your sound comes out without a pop and without breathiness.
Close your mouth and hum at a normal volume.
You will feel a distinct buzz in the nasal area of your face.
This area is your mask.
Play around with how much buzz you can get going in the mask.
You want to feel vibration in this area at all times.
A good teacher can help you determine how much ‘mask’ is appropriate.
Too much will result in a "nosey" sound and too little will result in a hooty quality.
Certain vowels lend themselves to resonance in this area.
“Eeh” as in “Me”, is the easiest one.
You want to maintain resonance in the mask on every vowel at all times.
This will take some practice because sensations in the mask tend to be elusive (especially for young singers).
But…you’ll get it!
Keeping the sound in the mask gives it a ‘point’ which helps singing in-tune dramatically and brightens the tone.
Vibrato is a periodic ‘beat’ in the sound during singing.
It is the result of getting your breath control handled, tension minimized, larynx low and sound in the mask!
Listen to a few famous opera singers and pay attention to the relaxed consistency of the vibrato.
It may take some time to develop a consistent vibrato, particularly if you have some bad vocal habits to get rid of.
Be patient and work with a competent teacher and it will come.
Once you have it you’ll wonder how you could have ever sung without it!
Vibrato can’t be taught, as such.
But it can be recognized as being vibrato or not-vibrato.
This is your process for acquiring vibrato:
1. Listen to (paying particular attention to vibrato) and emulate world-class opera singers
2. Follow Golden Rules at all times (larynx down, sound in mask, carriage in elevated position)
3. Experiment with adding vibrato and “spinning” the voice. The more you play with these sensations the more in touch you’ll be with what feels and sound “right” and what doesn’t.
You won’t necessarily know when you finally have real vibrato until you’ve had it for a while. This is one area where a teacher’s continual guidance is super valuable.
Auditions And Competitions
For a more detailed audition guide visit my Singing Auditions - How To Get Into A Music School hub.
Whether auditioning for roles, solos, schools/universities or singing in competitions the same basic principles apply.
Learn your music very well!
Spend concentrated, interruption-proofed time marking, analyzing and practicing your music.
If working with an accompanist, make sure you agree about the interpretation and be diplomatic yet firm if you think they’re playing too slow, fast, loud, soft, etc.
Visualize – using all of your senses – in great detail exactly how you’re going to sing your pieces.
The more vividly you do this, the better it works.
Breathe slowly and deeply and realize that (a little) nervousness is normal and actually helps performance.
However, the better you know your music the more relaxed you'll be!
Let go of wanting an outcome.
Whether it “happens” for you or not is meaningless!
Singing badly once doesn't make you a loser any more than singing well makes you a winner.
Those are labels that only mean what you think they mean.
Let go of all that.
Become indifferent to the outcome and you’ll find yourself enjoying the process.
It's counterintuitive but it's true:
The difference that makes the difference is indifference.
Me Singing For A Mock Audition
Finding A Great Teacher
A good place to begin looking for a teacher is at the nearest university with a classical voice program.
Preferably find a teacher of the same gender as you.
You will want a teacher who:
- Has sung professionally for many years.
Ask for some recordings or a demonstration.
- Communicates clearly and effectively with YOU.
There are many competent teachers out there who teach poorly or whose teaching styles might not jive with the way you learn.
This is going to be your teacher for a while and you’ll be paying good money so make sure you can understand them!
- Is utterly honest with you.
If you sense they’d rather sugar-coat things, lie to you about your progress (or lack thereof) and take your money in a slow, frustrating process of amicable deception – keep searching.
Trust your gut on this one. You’ll be glad you did.
Meet no more than once a week and prepare questions and comments BEFORE your lesson and give full attention to your instructor while in the lesson.
Every few months or so go for a trial lesson with another qualified teacher. It will raise new questions and issues and challenge both you and your primary instructor to grow.
Music schools are not for everybody and are not necessary to be a successful, competent musician.
If, however, you choose to attend a music school or university music program here are a couple of considerations when choosing where to go:
The weight of your decision should fall on the quality of your singing teacher.
Meet with them, ask them questions and kindly ask for a brief demonstration of their singing.
Ask them about their teaching schedule for the semester.
Many teachers have too many students in their studio, which makes it hard for them to give you the full attention you deserve and pay for.
Go somewhere you think would be a nurturing environment for YOU.
Find a place with an atmosphere that agrees with your personality and doesn’t bring you down.
This is a HUGE factor . . . really think about it!
How To Sing Opera - Essential Books
This is a super-easy to read book that tells you everything you need to know about singing. Period.
This has been called the singer's Bible.
And not without reason. If there's one book you ever read about singing, this should be it.
Miller is a world-renowned voice teacher and voice scientist.
He breaks the voice down so that anybody can understand how to use it to sing more powerfully than ever before.
A Few Amazing Opera Stars
Resources for Singers
- How To Sing Opera
A website with several free and paid resources to help opera new-comers start singing.
- Directory of University Vocal Programs
Search through University Programs.
- National Association of Teachers of Singing
The National Association of Teachers of Singing is a non-profit association of teachers of singing that promotes the highest standards in the teaching of singing and vocal education and research at all levels.
- American Academy of Teachers or Singing
A select group of nationally recognized teachers of singing who work together as one body to offer professional advice and guidance to those who teach singing or perform as singers.
- National Endowment for the Arts
The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government to advance artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities.
- National Center for Voice and Speech
A multi-site research and teaching organization dedicated to studying the characteristics, limitations and enhancement of human voice and speech.
- VoiceCare Network
Courses in voice care for educators, performers and enthusiasts.
- The Voice Foundation
The world's oldest and leading organization dedicated to voice medicine, science, and education.
- Classical Singer Community
Resource-rich online version of Classical Singer Magazine.
- Journal of Voice
Widely regarded as the world's premiere journal for voice medicine and peer-reviewed research.
- Alexander Technique for Musicians
Informative articles and essays on the Alexander Technique for musicians, descriptive list of links to Alexander Technique resources.
- The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education
Body awareness through movement for musicians.
- YAP Tracker - Opera, Classical Voice and Musical Theater Auditions
Online audition manager with nearly 2500 opera, classical voice and musical theater auditions worldwide.
- African American Art Song Alliance
Founded in 1997, this is the home of interchange between performers and scholars interested in art song by African-American composers. This site contains information and links to assist with the discovery of African-American contribution to song.
- Afrocentric Voices
Afrocentric Voices focuses on African American performers and composers and on the vocal music forms they influenced, especially opera, art songs and Negro spirituals composed for concert performance.
- Art Song Central
Art Song Central is principally an archive and directory of free, printable sheet music for singers and voice teachers. An emphasis is placed on standard classical and traditional repertoire.
- Classical MIDI with Words
Public-domain classical midi files withwords. Most of these are meant to be run in Cakewalk for karaoke-style presentation of the texts.
- The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Page: Texts and Translations to Lieder, mlodies, art songs, cho
Free web archive of texts to over 87,000 Lieder and other classical vocal pieces in more than a hundred languages with over ten thousand translations.
- Arts Converge
Connecting International Classical Music.
- REC Music
A non-profit that promotes new classical music.
- Diction Domain
Voice diction resources for singers.
- Opera Canada
Opera Canada serves the field of opera in Canada through communications, advocacy and programs.
- Opera Base
Information about opera performances from over 400 management companies. This site has many display languages.
- Operatic Technique
A Demonstration of methods to lower the larynx and maintain a "back and down" laryngeal posture.