The Complete Guide to Improving Vocal Control
Let’s face it:
Everyone wants to improve their vocal control.
Besides expanding vocal range, improving voice control is the #1 thing that students ask me about. Just look:
But here’s the problem:
Vocal control means something different to every singer.
Some think vocal control means singing on pitch. Others think it means singing without strain.
Why can’t we all agree on what vocal control means?
Well, part of the problem is that the idea of vocal control is a bit vague.
But we definitely know vocal control when we see it:
We’re always impressed by how great singers like Sam Smith, Ariana Grande and Freddie Mercury can control their singing voices.
But if you’re just starting out, how are you supposed to find vocal control?
What if I told you that there’s a definite step-by-step path to complete vocal control over your voice?
And rather than watching more dumb YouTube videos, you could do some simple vocal exercises that would instantly improve your voice?
Sound too good to be true?
Today, I want to show you what vocal control actually means and give you the step-by-step guide to improving your voice control. And for every step, I’ll give you a vocal exercise to help you progress every day.
Along the way, we’ll see why voice control is so hard to define why so few teachers can tell you how to do it.
And I promise, if you follow each of these steps and practice the exercises daily, you won’t believe how much your vocal control improves.
Ready to get started?
What is Vocal Control?
Can I tell you something crazy?
Vocal control means something different to everyone that hears it.
Like other singing ideas such as breath support, placement and singing into the mask, vocal control is one of the concepts in singing that means something slightly different to everyone.
Why is that?
Well, the voice is the one instrument that you can’t touch or see. And your voice sounds different to you than everyone else.
After all, nobody talks about trumpet control, or guitar control, or flute control.
That’s because vocal control is a catch-all term to talk about several different singing skills, rather than just one!
So rather than just practicing breathing for singing, or singing in tune, or singing in a mixed voice, vocal control lumps everything together.
That’s also why it’s silly that so many vocal coaches give you just one exercise to improve your vocal control.
Vocal control is the result of working on several different things in your voice. And as you build each skill you gain more control over your singing.
So how do you do that?
Here’s the bottom line:
Vocal control comes from working with singing techniques that help you use every part of your voice.
And as you work with each part of your vocal range, you’ll gain more singing control.
But how do you know exactly what you need to work on?
First, let’s look at the definition of vocal control, then I’ll show you how to find it in your voice.
Here’s how I define vocal control:
Vocal control means mastering the basic foundations of singing and being able to apply them to your performances.
So basically, you can think of vocal control as having two parts:
1. Mastering singing fundamentals and…
2. Applying them to your performances.
That means that you need to understand the fundamentals of singing and work with exercises to help you get there.
And then finally, you’ll learn to apply these ideas to your songs.
So let’s talk about the steps of vocal mastery and then I’ll show you how to apply them to your performances.
And for each step, you’ll find that you have more control over your voice.
Here we go!
Vocal Control Step #1: Sing in Tune
Let’s get it started:
The first step in improving vocal control is to learn to sing in tune.
This may seem obvious but the truth is if you can’t sing on pitch, it’s harder to control the other parts of your singing voice.
So if you’re not singing in tune yet, it’s best to start there.
What does singing on pitch mean?
In case you’re not familiar with the idea, in every song, a vocalist sings a melody where the musical notes and lyrics are changing.
But many beginning singers have a hard time finding the right notes in their singing voice to match what the singer is doing.
I can’t tell you how common this is!
Even if you have a great ear or play another instrument, you may not always be able to match what you hear with your ears with what comes out of your mouth.
That’s because singing on pitch is a two part process.
You have to:
1. Hear the note and…
2. Match the note with your singing voice.
For the first part, there are tons of great ear training exercises you can do.
But even if you have a fantastic ear, it can still be hard to match the notes with your voice.
The biggest reason is because your vocal cords need to stretch or thicken the exact right amount in order to hit the correct note.
Think of your vocal cords like guitar strings.
In order to hit the right notes on a guitar, you place your fingers on the frets in order to get the perfect pitch.
The voice works the same way!
Your vocal cords have to be the perfect thickness and length in order to get the note right.
So how do you find this perfect thickness in your vocal cords?
Here’s my favorite exercise to help you sing more in tune:
Sing in Tune with this Simple Exercise:
1. Say the number “One” out loud at a comfortable volume.
2. Now find a note at the bottom part of your vocal range (try C3 for guys and G3 for girls) and sing the word “One” on that pitch.
Try to keep the same power in your voice as when you speak the word.
3. Next, sing the numbers 1 through 5 on a 5-Tone scale, making sure to keep each note strong.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a keyboard.
Here’s a video where I walk you through the exercise:
Once you’ve mastered this scale, you can start adding higher notes and singing more complex scales.
But most ear training starts with really simple scales just like this 5-Tone. And if you practice it every day, you won’t believe how much easier it becomes to sing in tune!
Vocal Control Step #2: Sing in Chest Voice
Now that you’re singing more in tune, it’s time for the next step; singing in chest voice.
After all, what’s the point of singing in tune if all your notes are weak and breathy?
Most singers need to work on the bottom part of their voice so that the notes have good vocal tone and power.
In fact, if you’re singing too breathy, it’s much harder to control your voice.
So how do you strengthen the lower notes in your voice?
By singing in chest voice.
Chest voice, if you’re not familiar, is a term made up by old school Italian teachers and singers to describe the notes at the bottom of the vocal range.
Basically, singers noticed that when they sang the low notes in their voice, they would feel a vibration in their chest.
You can try this right now:
Place your hand on your chest and say your name out loud in a very strong way.
Do you feel that vibration?
That’s chest voice.
But here’s the problem:
When people are just learning to gain more vocal control, it’s hard to find the confidence to sing those low notes strongly.
So when you’re first learning to sing, it’s important to work with singing techniques that help you find chest voice.
Here’s my favorite exercise for singing in chest voice.
Sing with Chest Voice with this Easy Scale:
1. Place your hand on your chest and say the word “Gug” (as in “Gutter”) out loud at a strong volume.
You will probably feel a strong vibration against your hand as you say it.
2. Next, find a comfortable note at the bottom of your voice (again try C3 for guys and G3 for girls) and sing the word “Gug” on that note with the same strength as you were speaking it.
3. Finally, sing the “Gug” on the same 5-Tone as the last exercise.
Again, don’t worry if you’re not sure how to do this exercise.
I walk you through the “Gug” exercise in this video:
You won’t believe how powerful your voice gets with this simple exercise!
Vocal Control Step #3: Sing in Head Voice
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been on tour or are just starting out, everyone wants to sing high notes!
So how do you sing high notes?
The answer is head voice.
And now that you’ve learned to control your voice by singing in tune and strengthening the chest voice, it’s time to take a look at the top part of your voice.
So what is head voice?
Head voice is a term made up by old school Italian teachers and singers to describe the notes at the top of the vocal range.
Basically, singers noticed that when they sang the high notes in their voice, they would feel a vibration in their head or skull.
Try this right now:
Place your hand on the back of your neck sing a very high “Whoop” sound like you’re at a basketball game.
Do you feel that vibration on your hand?
That’s head voice.
The truth is that singing in head voice is the key to controlling the top part of your voice.
That’s because you can only take your chest voice so high before you strain or break.
Singers who push their chest voice on high notes are called belters.
And while learning to belt well is a skill, most beginning singers learn to belt high notes incorrectly by straining their voice.
Remember, we want to work with vocal exercises that give you total control over your voice. And part of that control means learning the right way to sing high notes.
So if you want amazing vocal control over the top part of your range, it’s time to master your head voice.
Here’s my favorite exercise for singing high notes in head voice.
Sing in Head Voice with this Silly Exercise:
1. Take a breath and say the word “wee” (like “week”) out loud at a normal volume.
2. Next, find a comfortable starting note at the bottom of your range (try C3 for guys and G3 for girls), and sing the word “wee” on this pitch, keeping the tone even and relaxed.
3. Finally, take a breath and sing and octave and a half scale where you replace each note with the word “wee”
Check out this simple video where I walk you through it:
Don’t worry if those high notes sound weak or breathy at first. Right now we’re just trying to gain the vocal control of going from the bottom to the top of your voice.
Once you’ve worked with this exercise for a bit, you won’t believe how much easier you can get up to your head voice.
Vocal Control Step #4: Sing in Mixed Voice
So you can sing on pitch, find your chest and your head voice, but what happens in between?
A big vocal break!
But what causes this vocal crack in our singing?
A vocal break happens when you’re switching from one vocal register to another.
In other words, vocal breaks tend to happen when you’re switching from your chest voice to your head voice.
Now, before you go further there’s something you should know:
Every singer has a vocal break.
But many vocalists can make it sound like they don’t.
How do they get such amazing vocal control over their break?
They learn to sing in a mixed voice.
What’s mixed voice?
Mixed voice is the blending of the chest voice and head voice registers to create one smooth and even-sounding voice.
Basically, you can think of singing in mixed voice means having the right combination of chest voice and head voice on every note in your voice, especially through your vocal break or bridge area.
That way, you don’t hear a huge change in sound when you switch!
So if you combine and connect these two voices together, you’ll hear that the changes in your voice are so smooth, your vocal break disappears.
How do you sing in mixed voice?
Here’s the honest truth:
I don’t care if you’re Jason Mraz, Stevie Wonder or P!nk, every great singer has to learn to sing with a mix.
That’s because singing with a mix requires some very special vocal warm ups that give you perfect control over your chest voice and head voice.
And one of the best ways to do that is to work with silly or ugly sounds when you do vocal exercises.
So if the next exercises seem funny to you, don’t worry, they are.
In fact these silly sounds are the best way to blend the chest and head voice.
So without further ado, here’s my favorite exercise for singing in mixed voice.
One Silly Sound to Sing in Mixed Voice Immediately:
1. Say the word “Nay” (as in “neighbor”) out loud at a comfortable volume.
Now, pretend that you’re a little brat on the playground and say the “Nay” in a bratty way. The sound should be very nasal and witchy sounding.
2. Next, find a comfortable note at the bottom your voice (try E3 for guys and C#4 for girls) and sing that note out loud on a bratty “Nay”.
3. Finally, sing the bratty “Nay” on an octave repeat scale where you replace each note of the scale with a bratty “Nay”.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a piano.
Here’s a video to walk you through the exercise:
As you’re singing this warm up, make sure to keep the sound very “bratty” and bright-sounding.
This bright vocal sound is the key to growing your voice through your vocal break.
And I promise, once you’ve done this exercise a few times, you won’t believe how much vocal control you have over your break.
Vocal Control Step #5: Sing with a Resting Larynx
There’s no getting around it:
As you gain the vocal control to sing with mixed voice, your larynx is probably a little high.
Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of a larynx before.
Let me explain:
Your larynx is the hollow muscular organ in your throat that houses the vocal cords.
The larynx is surrounded by cartilage that creates the “Adam’s Apple” in the front of your neck.
But what does the larynx have to do with singing and why do we need it to “rest”?
Here’s the way it works:
Every time you swallow or yawn, your larynx moves up or down.
Try this right now:
Gently place your thumb and index finger around the front of your Adam’s apple and pretend to yawn.
Do you feel how the larynx lowered as you yawned?
Yawning lowers the larynx.
Now, do the same thing, except place your thumb and index finger around the Adam’s apple and swallow.
Feel the larynx shoot up as you swallowed?
Swallowing raises the larynx.
Now there are lots of muscles that make the larynx move up and down. And since the vocal cords are housed inside the larynx, they go along for the ride.
But the problem is many beginning singers engage the swallowing muscles as they sing making the larynx go up.
And if your larynx is too high, the vocal cords get too pressed and you get a squeezy and strainy vocal sound.
So now that you’ve got the vocal control to sing in tune with a mix of chest and head voice, it’s time to sing with a resting larynx.
Now, before we jump into the exercise, let me say this:
Getting rid of the muscle tension that keeps your larynx high takes a lot of time and practice.
But one of my favorite ways to relax the larynx is to work with specific vowels that relax the voice.
What does that mean?
Well, some vowels raise the larynx more than others.
And one of the most relaxed singing vowels is the “uh” vowel like you’re saying “other”.
This “uh” vowel lowers the larynx, raises the soft palate and allows the tongue to rest.
So if you’re looking to sing those high notes without straining, try an “uh” exercise.
Here it is.
Sing with a Neutral Larynx with this Simple Exercise:
1. Say the word “Mum” (as in “Mummy”) out loud at a comfortable volume.
2. Next, find a comfortable note at the bottom of your voice (again try C3 for guys and G3 for girls).
3. Finally, sing an octave and a half scale where you replace each note of the scale with the “Mum” exercise.
Here’s a great video where I walk you through how to do it:
Do you feel how open and powerful that “Mum” exercise is?
If you practice this exercise every day, you’ll be amazed at how much control you have over your larynx.
Vocal Control Step #6: Sing with Vocal Effects
Now here’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for:
I mean who doesn’t want to sing with great vocal effects like sustains, vibrato and dynamics?
But rather than thinking of vocal effects as something you add to songs to make them sound good, you can also use vocal effects to improve your singing control.
Here’s what I mean:
Let’s say that you’ve started learning how to hit high notes with tons of power.
That’s awesome, but how long can you hold that note?
Here’s the bottom line:
When you’re first learning to sing with a mixed voice, odds are you can only sustain those high notes for a short period of time.
However, if you learn to sing with more vocal control and sustain that note, you’d be able to hold those notes as long as your breath allows.
Or here’s another example:
Let’s say that you can sing in a mixed voice on your high notes, but only at a very low volume.
But you sound kind of robotic when you sing at one volume all the time!
The truth is that people need to hear variation or else they get bored.
And then there’s vibrato!
Is there anything better than that little wavering you hear in people’s voices when they hold a note?
Here’s what you need to know:
Sustains, vibrato and dynamics are incredibly important in keeping the listener’s ear engaged.
I mean, who wants to hear you sing in straight tones all the time? No one.
But here’s the catch:
Vocal effects don’t sound good until you’ve gained the vocal control to master the other steps in this article.
That’s because it’s easy to hit a high note with power for a second. It’s harder to hold that note for three seconds. The same is true for vibrato and dynamics.
So if you’re singing high notes in tune and without strain, you should experiment with some vocal effects for each one of those notes.
The truth is that there are a lot of different exercises to improve your sustains, vibrato and dynamics.
So today, I’ll show you my favorite exercises for finding vibrato when you sing a note.
One Simple Exercise to Learn Vibrato
Here’s how you do it:
1. Find your solar plexus by finding the spot on your stomach that’s about halfway between your belly button and your breast bone.
2. Next, make a fist and cover the fist with your other hand. Place both your hands in this position on your solar plexus.
They should both be about an inch above your belly button.
4. Now sing and hold an “ee” vowel (like “eat”) on a comfortable pitch while you push your fist and hand gently into your solar plexus.
If you do this right, you’ll hear a big wobbling in the “ee” vowel that you’re singing.
Here’s a cool video to walk you through it:
Do you feel that wavering in the notes?
Now, with this exercise, you may feel very silly getting those notes to wobble with your hand.
But that’s just the start! Once you learn to add a bit more vibrato to your singing, you won’t believe how much control you have over it.
Vocal Control Step #7: Sing Songs
Here’s the ugly truth:
Nobody cares about how well you can sing vocal exercises.
You’re here to learn to sing songs better!
In fact, the point of all the singing techniques I’m showing you is to give you the vocal control you need in order to sing songs well.
Why use singing exercises to help you sing songs?
Here’s the truth:
Singing songs is WAY harder than doing a bunch of vocal warm ups!
Why is that?
Well, in songs, everything is changing all the time: the melody, the vowels, consonants and dynamics are in constant motion.
But in vocal warm ups, we’re keeping something constant so that you can train the vocal control you need to do it in a song.
In fact, the whole point of warm ups is to train your voice to do things that you can’t do very well yet.
So if you’re already singing the vocal warm ups very well, let’s see if you can apply that same idea to a song.
One of the best ways to do that is to select a phrase from a song that you’re working with and replace the melody with a vocal exercise that you’ve had success with.
That way, you’re applying the same vocal exercise to the harder melody of a song.
So without further ado, here’s my favorite exercise for improving vocal control in songs:
One Simple Way to Improve Your Songs Immediately
1. Select a phrase from a song that’s been giving you a hard time.
2. Next, sing the melody of the song but replace the words with an exercise that works well for you.
For example, let’s say that the “bratty Nay” exercise worked really well for you back in Step #4.
Well, you would sing the phrase of the song but you would replace each word with a bratty “Nay” sound.
3. Now that you’ve sung it on the “Nay”, sing the phrase again with the exercise until you feel that it becomes second nature to you.
4. Finally, go back to the lyrics of the song and see if you can keep the same vocal control that you got with the exercise except with the actual words of the song.
If you do this consistently with every song that you have trouble with, you’ll find that you can sing all your songs better!
Then, after some time, you’ll be amazed at how you can sing these songs without doing any of the exercises first.
By now you’ve worked with some of the best singing techniques to get vocal control of your voice.
You should also see that there’s a definite step-by-step path to mastering your voice, starting with simple things like singing in tune to harder stuff like relaxing your larynx.
In order, the steps should look something like this:
- Sing in tune
- Sing in chest voice
- Sing in head voice
- Sing with a mixed voice by connecting your chest voice and head voice
- Sing with a resting larynx
- Use different vocal effects in your singing and finally…
- Sing songs!
And you’ll see that every step of this path builds on the last one until you’ve got complete control over your voice.
Then once you’ve worked with these vocal exercises for a while, you can test yourself by singing phrases from your favorite songs and applying an exercise that works well for you.
And if you continue practicing the exercises every day and you’ll be astonished at how much vocal control you have!