Singing is a great way to make music, express yourself, and improve your quality of life.
But not everyone has a naturally great tone when singing. This doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to improve.
In my several years as a singer and music teacher, I’ve only come across a small handful of students who couldn’t sing, and these were only because of damage to vocal cords from illness or smoking. Everyone else could improve.
So, I decided to help you out with this guide on how to improve your tone when singing.
Improving your tone is essential for singers. Luckily for you, there are some tips, techniques, and exercises you can follow to improve your voice quality to new levels. These simple tricks are easy to follow and work for novices and advanced singers.
Let’s dig into more information about tone, practical tips, exercises, and foods and drinks that may help you out.
What Is Tone?
When singers and musicians use the word “tone,” they’re referring to the quality of a sound. For singers, this means the actual sound of your voice is the tone.
Tone has an impact on every aspect of singing. If you have a poor tone but great pitch, your melodies and songs will be right on, but people won’t want to listen.
Tone can be described in many words, but here are some common ones.
Singers who sing full are considered to have powerful voices. These voices can fill a room easily because of their strength.
Full voices are more than just loud. Opera singers are often considered to have a full or deep sound.
Adele would be one popular singer that has a deep tone.
Light voices aren’t weak, but they do have an airy quality to them. Voices with this tone seem to float easily above everything else.
Ruth B is one example of a popular singer who sings with a light tone.
The clear tone is one free of other vocal sounds. The other thing you hear from the singer is their voice.
On the opposite side, coarse voices have some “gravel” in them. These voices sound rough, like the singer is tired.
Often, these singers aren’t tired at all, but this is just the natural tone of their voice. Pink is an example of a coarse singer, and Janis Joplin is another example.
10 Tips On How To Improve Your Voice Quality While Singing
In this section, I’ll share some of my favorite tips on how to get a fuller sound when singing and train your voice to sing better. These tips aren’t a replacement for a good private teacher, but these will work for all voice types and improve your singing tone no matter your experience.
1. Warm Up Properly
I cannot express the importance of warming up properly. Like any athlete, warming up provides more flexibility and power to your vocal muscles and avoids potential harm when working out (singing).
There are many potential warm-ups that can be found online; at the end of this tip I’ll attach one of my favorites.
Here are a few general guidelines for good warm-ups to strengthen your voice:
- Start in your middle range and move down by small steps
- Go from lower-middle to high by steps
- Do larger range exercises (see octave stretch below) to help you get over the break
- Use open vowels
- Take your time
- Don’t push yourself too hard
- Support with a lot of air
A good warm-up will hit all of these areas.
2. Take Proper Breaths
Air is key to good vocal sound. Your vocal cords are muscles that work to make sound, sure. But it’s the air that vibrates for the actual sound.
Air helps your vocal cords work less and provide more potential power to your sound.
When you breathe, follow these steps for a full breathing cycle:
- Open mouth in an “O” shape (don’t breathe through nose only)
- Relax stomach and diaphragm (stomach goes out)
- Chest should not be forced up, but it will rise naturally
- Shoulders should not rise at all
- Don’t hold the air but let it in as soon as you reach the end of your inhale
- Sing with the onset of your exhale
- Use your stomach ab muscles to press slightly and send air up and out
Pro-tip: Practice visualizing your breathing cycle as a circle where the driving force is your stomach and diaphragm.
3. Open Your Throat
Opening your throat provides more resonance (full sound) and allows for air to pass through more effectively. A clenched throat provides and thin and strained sound.
Imagine you’re trying to breathe without letting the air you’re breathing touch the sides of your throat.
Warning! All of these exercises, but especially this one, should be done without stress, tension, or forcing.
4. Raise The Soft Palate
The soft palate is the top part of your mouth that feels soft and can move.
To find it, press your tongue to the back of your top teeth. Move your tongue backwards along the roof of your mouth until you feel the hard part give way to a soft, fleshy part.
This is your soft palate, and you actually have some control over it. Pretend to yawn, and you’ll notice this soft palate rise.
This helps you naturally get more air on your inhalation. This is good for singing, but even better is how this raised soft palate provides more space for sound to build in your mouth which causes a better singing tone.
When singing, imagine a small ball in your mouth.
5. Practice Good Posture
Good posture has a direct impact on all aspects of singing including breathing, sound production, and body tension.
When sitting down or standing up, do these checks:
- Back naturally straight and tall
- Shoulders relaxed not forward or behind
- Head centered over spine and body
- Head slightly tilted up from horizontal
- Muscles relaxed
- If standing, hips over feet and feet centered on the tripod of heels and the pads in front of your big toe and little toe
Here is a good posture exercise to help you get centered.
6. Know Your Voice Type
Everyone’s voice is different. Your voice type isn’t something you get to pick; it’s something your body settles into after puberty.
Knowing your type is key for learning how to reach your voice’s potential. It tells you your range you can comfortably sing, helps you learn which singers to listen to, and informs your specific singing exercises.
Note: These tips will help any voice type get better tone, but getting specific instructions on your voice type can move you along too.
The four main voice types (with many sub-categories) are:
- Soprano (high women’s)
- Alto (Lower women’s)
- Tenor (High men’s)
- Bass (Low men’s)
These words are very broad generalizations, and voice type is more than range (and whole other article in itself). A good place to start would be to watch this video and get a quick label for yourself.
7. Use Your Tongue For Proper Vowels
Your tongue shape when it comes to vowel formation is one of the constantly discussed topics in the world of singing whether you sing classical, pop, country, or whatever. Forming vowels correctly is essential.
The best way to get started is to look at this easy reference chart for vowels. Imagine the vowel sounds with these words.
As you sing, look at each word and think about how the vowel may match one of these, and try to match that shape with your tongue.
8. Pace Yourself
Your voice is a muscle. It gets tired, it can get strained, and it can get injured.
Just like any runner wouldn’t wake up one day and go run a marathon, you shouldn’t just wake up and start singing for hours on end. Even professional singers will hurt themselves singing at their concerts on occasion (every popular singer does this from time to time).
Start off singing with your exercises and warm-ups. Then practice songs for about 15 minutes at a time. You can do this twice per day.
Do this for two weeks and then increase your time to 30 minutes. Then 45 after that.
Try not to practice more than one hour without a break.
9. Listen, Listen, Listen
Almost more important than anything else is knowing what your voice would sound like. While everyone’s voice is different, you should still listen to a lot of singers matching your voice type.
This will give you clues as to what you can expect your voice to do.
One of the most common problems in singers I see of any age is trying to emulate someone whose voice doesn’t match yours. This causes undue stress on your cords and can cause damage.
I’m a baritone (a higher bass), and for years I fought and tried to sing tenor. I ended up hurting myself in high school and early college because I was trying to emulate the higher, powerful tones.
Once I accepted my voice, I found songs and keys I could sing in. After that, I have learned and grown so much.
Here are some examples of singers by voice type.
- Jackie Evancho
- Christine Aguilera
- Julie Andrews
- Kristen Bell
- Anita Baker
- Lana Del Rey
- Cass Elliot
- Norah Jones
- Clay Aiken
- Tony Bennett
- Marvin Gaye
- Elton John
- Michael Jackson
- Louis Armstrong
- Josh Turner
- Barry White
- Avi Kaplan
10. Water, Hydrate, Aqua-fy
Water, water, water. I can’t stress this enough.
Keeping your vocal cords well-lubricated avoids damages and strengthens your voice. Many recording studios and choir rooms take pains to keep the humidity in their rooms up because dryness is the worst thing for your voice.
Any time you’re singing, keep yourself hydrated with water. Read below for other examples of what to drink.
3 Singing Tone Exercises
Putting all the tips together may seem easy, but when it comes to singing, you need some exercises in your toolbox to strengthen your voice. Here are 3 of my favorite exercises to improve singing tone.
For the half step tango, you start in your middle range and work your way down by half steps. Continue down by half steps until you reach your lowest notes, and then work your way back up to where you started.
For vowels, start with “e” as in “eat.” Then switch to “a” as in “ate”. Finally, do the exercise with “a” as in “heart”.
You may notice that you’ll be able to stretch your lower range the more you practice.
Lip Bubble Octave Stretch
For this exercise, you’ll need to do “lip bubbles” while forming the vowel sounds underneath. Lip bubbles are done by lightly making your lips buzz while singing at the same time.
The buzzing encourages your voice to be more supported with air, and the distraction of the bubbles helps you go over your break much easier. The break is the place in your personal voice where you switch from chest voice to head voice.
This exercise can be done with all vowels, but you should at least go through what’s suggested in the notation.
With A “Ha Ha Ha”
This singing tone exercise is great for activating your ab muscles to help you breathe. It also works well with building agility (the ability to sing fast) with your tone.
The better breathing that comes from this exercise will support how to get a fuller sound when singing. Start at a medium speed and increase gradually.
What To Drink To Have A Good Singing Voice
As we mentioned before, hydration is directly related to your vocal tone and potential vocal power. But does this mean you can only drink water?
No, but there are some clear drinks to avoid, and some that are just fine. In general, you want natural liquids that don’t have a lot of sugar or carbonation when you’re singing.
Good Drinks For Singing Tone:
- Cucumber water
Bad Drinks For Singing Tone:
Note: You don’t have to give up the “bad” drinks for all the time. But you should definitely avoid them during practices, right before, and right after.
Foods To Eat To Have A Good Singing Voice
Foods can also have an impact on your singing voice, although to a smaller degree than drinks. Food usually passes the chords without much contact, so it’s less likely to cause problems.
In general, healthy and clean foods are better for your throat, although a little grease isn’t going to cause any problems (oddly enough, it can help soothe a sore throat).
Foods high in salt and foods with strong spices can impact your vocal tone. Salt is the biggest thing to watch for; it shrinks your chords and limits your voice.
The Bottom Line
Now you know how to improve your tone when singing. These tips may seem simple to implement and obvious, but making these elements a habit you can do without thinking is the key to reaching new levels of voice quality.
Try these ideas, and you’ll start sounding better right away. The techniques discussed above will take you from you’re at and improve you to any level you want depending on the time and effort you’re willing to put in.
Then, you can show off to your family, friends, and the whole world your singing voice. Confidence is one of the keys to a good singing voice, so learning how to improve your tone quickly creates a spiral making you better and better.