5 Easy Techniques to the Perfect Vocal Tone
Let’s be honest:
Everyone wants a beautiful and full-sounding vocal tone when they sing.
I mean what’s better than listening to a singer that can sing across their whole range, but also sound great when they’re doing it?
Whether you like the smooth crooning of Michael Buble or the powerful belting of Beyonce, vocal tone is something many beginning singers struggle with.
But the truth is that there are lots of singers out there who can sing great technically, but still need to work on their vocal tone.
We’ve all heard singers that can hit crazy high notes in their range but sound nasal or forced.
And having taught over 500 students, I can tell you this:
Vocal tone can be one of the most important singing concepts to master.
Actually, when we talk about vocal tone, we’re usually talking about the phonation and resonation systems working together in perfect harmony.
What does it all mean?
Here’s how it breaks down:
The Phonation system is made up by the vocal cords.
The Resonation system includes your larynx, pharynx, tongue, jaw, teeth and lips.
Before you close the tab scared out of your mind that you’ll never sing well, let me just say this:
Even if you’re not crazy about your vocal tone, don’t worry!
There are some very simple and effective singing techniques you can do to master these different singing systems and your vocal tone.
It’s just takes some time and practice.
So today, I’m going to show you my 5 favorite techniques for perfecting your vocal tone without hurting your voice.
No matter what level you’re at, I promise these exercises will help you sound and feel amazing about your singing.
Sound good? Let’s get started…
By the way, if you want to watch a great video that takes you through all these exercises, check this out:
Vocal Tone vs. Musical Tone
Can I tell you something weird?
Students email me all the time saying they want good vocal tone, but what they actually want is to sing on pitch.
That’s because musical tones and vocal tone are easy to confuse!
So if you’re not sure about the difference, don’t worry.
Before we talk about vocal tone, here’s what you need to know:
Musical tones are the notes that you’re singing.
Vocal tone is the sound of your voice as you sing.
While there are some similarities between musical tones and vocal tone, the best way to memorize it is this:
Musical tones are the notes that you’re singing and vocal tone is how you sound when you sing.
Musical tones might be C, D, E, F, G, A, or B.
And your vocal tone might sound breathy, rich, nasal or brassy.
And just to be confusing, you could say:
You want to sing musical tones with the perfect vocal tone.
So to be clear, today we’ll be talking about how to sound good when you’re singing the right notes.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about what vocal tone actually is.
What is Vocal Tone?
Now that you understand the difference between musical tones and vocal tone, let’s talk about what vocal tone really is…
Here’s how I define vocal tone:
Vocal tone is the unique sound, color or timbre of your singing voice.
For example: you could probably tell the difference between Sam Smith and Bruno Mars singing even though they can hit high notes.
You might say that in general, Sam Smith’s vocal tone is whispery whereas Bruno Mars’ vocal tone is more brassy.
Can you hear the difference in vocal tone of these two songs?
Here’s Latch by Sam Smith:
And here’s Grenade by Bruno Mars:
Even though these two vocalists are singing some of the same high notes, what you’re hearing is the different vocal tones of these two singers!
The fact is vocal tone is like wine. There’s no wrong way to describe it.
So you can describe vocal tone as:
- Nasally or…
- A million other descriptions
For another example, you could probably tell the difference between P!nk and Beyonce’s voices even though they’re both Sopranos.
For instance, you could say that P!nk sounds a bit tighter in her vocal tone whereas Beyonce sounds more woofy in her singing.
Can you hear the difference in the vocal tone of these two songs?
Here’s Try by P!nk:
And here’s If I Were a Boy by Beyonce:
So why does vocal tone matter?
Well, vocal tone is usually the reason that you like one singer better than another.
To prove it, all of the singers that I mentioned are technically great singers. But I’ll bet that you still like one better than the other.
Probably because of their vocal tone.
And even though all of these singers have great vocal tone, there are lots of vocalists who need to learn to sing and aren’t sure how.
So now that you understand what vocal tone is, let’s talk about where it comes from.
Where Does Vocal Tone Come From?
It’s time to have the talk…
Where do babies, I mean um, vocal tone come from?
Here’s what you need to know:
Vocal tone comes from the interaction between your vocal cords and your vocal tract.
Let me explain:
The vocal cords, or vocal folds, are two layered folds of muscle and membrane in your throat.
They look like this:
When you sing or speak, the vocal cords vibrate together and create sound waves.
The vocal tract, on the other hand, is the cavity in your throat that runs from your vocal cords to to your lips.
The vocal tract includes your larynx, pharynx, soft palate, hard palate, tongue, teeth, jaw and lips.
You can see the whole vocal tract here:
The job of the vocal tract is to shape the sound that’s created by the vocal cords.
To look at it another way, you can think of your vocal cords as the strings on an acoustic guitar.
And your vocal tract is like the body of the guitar.
When you play the strings, the vibration of the strings resonate in the body of the guitar to create the beautiful, rich tone of an acoustic guitar.
In your singing voice, the vibrations from your vocal cords are resonated in the vocal tract to create a beautiful and rich sounding vocal tone.
But you have to have BOTH the vocal cords and vocal tract working together to sound good!
Well, without the vibration from the vocal cords, there would be no sound, because there’s nothing for the vocal tract to resonate.
And without the resonance from the vocal tract, you would just hear a buzzy sound from the vocal cords, because there’s nothing to shape the sound.
Check out this cool video where scientists put different vocal tract shapes on top of a vocal cord synthesizer:
I can hear you now:
Enough of this science crap already! We get it, Matt. You’re a big nerd! I just want to sound better when I sing.
I hear you!
But before you can understand how to sing, you have to know how the voice works.
That’s because even though EVERYONE uses their vocal cords and vocal tract when they sing, not everyone sounds as good as Sam Smith, Bruno Mars, P!nk and Beyonce.
That’s because these singers have found the perfect balance to create an optimal vocal tone.
For example, if your vocal cords are vibrating well but your soft palate is too low, you’ll end up singing nasally.
That’s because the soft palate is part of your vocal tract.
Or if everything in your vocal tract is perfect but the vocal cords are vibrating too softly, you’ll end up with a weak, breathy tone.
So in order to sing well, both of these systems have to work together in harmony.
And that’s something everyone wants!
So what is this mythical perfect tone?
Let me explain…
What’s the Perfect Vocal Tone?
As we discussed, good vocal tone comes from the vocal cords and vocal tract working together in harmony.
But what does that sound like?
Well, at first it’s probably easier to describe what the good vocal tone is not.
The optimal vocal tone IS NOT:
- Overly breathy
- Overly nasal
- Squeezy sounding
- Strainy or…
- Too dark or operatic-sounding
The optimal vocal tone IS:
- Easily produced
- Sounds effortless and…
- A mix of bright and dark tones (what the Italians call chiaroscuro)
Obviously, EVERYONE wants their vocal tone to sound resonant and rich.
But there are still a lot of singers who sound too breathy or forced.
So how do you actually make your voice sound resonant and rich without manipulating or straining your voice?
The answer my friends is vocal exercises!
Well, because in vocal exercises, we can actually train the vocal cords and vocal tract to work together.
For instance if the vocal cords are too loose, we can do a vocal exercise to get them to vibrate more strongly. That leads to a more rich sound.
Or if something in the vocal tract is off, like the larynx being too high, we can do singing techniques to get the larynx to rest a bit. And that makes the voice sound more relaxed.
And as you gain more vocal control over these parts of your voice, you’ll naturally start singing with a better vocal tone.
So all of the vocal exercises I’ll show you today are designed to get your vocal cords and resonators positioned perfectly so you master your vocal tone.
And as you keep working with these exercises, you’ll be able to find a good vocal tone you can use in all your singing.
So without further ado, here are my 5 favorite exercises for improving your vocal tone without straining your voice.
Vocal Tone Exercise #1: The 5-Tone Count
When you’re first getting started with vocal tone, it’s important to match your singing and speaking voices.
Think about it:
Many singers actually change the way that they sound when they go from speaking to singing.
However, very few people speak too breathy or nasal.
So if you can keep your vocal tone the same between speaking and singing, your vocal tone will improve immediately.
Actually, singing as you speak is the basis of Speech Level Singing technique.
So in the first exercise, you’ll start by speak-singing numbers on a very simple scale.
Here’s how you do the 5-Tone Count:
1. Say the number “One” out loud at a comfortable volume.
2. Now find a comfortable note at the bottom of your voice (try C3 for guys and G3 for girls) and speak-sing the word “One” on that pitch.
3. Finally, 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 piano.
Check out this video walking you through the exercise:
Remember, try to keep the same vocal tone in your singing as you have in your speaking voice.
Do you feel how much stronger your voice sounds?
If you hear that your vocal tone is getting too breathy, don’t worry. Just go back to saying the words “One, Two, Three, Four, Five” out loud.
Then try to sing the notes with the same vocal tone as your speaking voice.
When you do this exercise daily, you’ll see just how much richer and fuller your vocal tone sounds!
Vocal Tone Exercise #2: The 5-Tone “Gug”
Now that you’re using a bit more of your natural voice when you sing, it’s time to use an exercise that relaxes the vocal tract while keeping the cords vibrating effectively.
In the next exercise, we’ll be using a very powerful vowel-consonant combination for every note you sing.
In this case, you’ll use the “Gug” sound which keeps the vocal cords closing effectively while relaxing the vocal tract.
Here’s how you do the “Gug” exercise:
1. Say the word “Gug” (as in “Gutter”) out loud at a strong volume.
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 scale I showed you in the last exercise.
Again, don’t worry if you don’t have a piano.
Here’s a video that walks you through the exercise:
Now as you’re doing this exercise, it’s important to keep a strong emphasis on the “G” consonant.
The “G” sound is giving you the support your voice needs to vibrate effectively.
And with more vibrations, your vocal tract will be able to resonate the sound a lot better.
You’ll be amazed at how much better your voice sounds when you practice this exercise every day!
Vocal Tone Exercise #3: The 5-Tone “Buh”
I have to be honest:
Nasality is one of the hardest things get rid of when you’re learning how to sing.
That’s because sometimes it’s easier to sing nasal when you’re first starting out.
For instance, sometimes I give my students a “bratty Nay” exercise because the “N” consonat helps the vocal cords close more efficiently.
Here’s an example of the “bratty Nay” exercise:
But the “N” consonant is nasal!
So where does this nasality come from?
Here’s what you need to know:
Nasality comes from lowering the soft palate.
That’s because if the palate is too low, the sound waves from your vocal cords are directed through the nose rather than out the mouth.
It kind of looks like this:
So, in the next exercise, I’ll show you how to keep the soft palate raised into the correct position without straining your voice.
It’s called the “Buh” exercise and it lifts the soft palate while helping the cords close at the same time!
Here’s how to do the “Buh” exercise:
1. Say the word “Buh” out loud like you’re saying the word “butter”.
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 “Buh” on that note with the same strength as you were speaking it.
3. Finally, sing the “Buh” on the same 5-Tone as the last exercise.
If you don’t know how to play the 5-Tone scale on piano, don’t worry.
Here’s a great video to show you how to do the exercise. Just switch out the 5-Tone count with the word “Buh”:
As you’re singing the 5-Tone “Buh” make sure to direct the sound out the mouth, rather than in the nose.
You’ll be amazed at how you can eliminate your nasality immediately when you practice this exercise!
Vocal Tone Exercise #4: The Octave Repeat “Gug”
Since you’ve found the perfect vocal tone on the lower notes in your voice, it’s time to get that same beautiful sound on your high notes.
Now here’s the good news:
If you’ve mastered your vocal tone on low notes, you’ll find that singing high notes gets easier.
That’s because if the vocal cords and tract are working together well on the lower notes in your voice, your high notes are much more supported.
Think of the voice like it’s a house.
If the foundation at the bottom is strong, then the rest of the house will also be strong.
The same is true with the voice.
So if you’re finding the right vocal tone on the bottom notes in your voice, it’s time to sing a scale that will take you up to the highest notes in your voice.
In the next exercise, we’ll be using the “Gug” sound while you sing an octave repeat arpeggio.
The amazing thing about the octave repeat scale is that it gives you 4 opportunities to hit the notes with perfect vocal tone every time you sing it.
Here’s how you do the octave repeat “Gug”:
1. Say the word “Gug” out loud like you’re saying the word “Gut” but with a “g” at the end.
2. Next, find a comfortable starting pitch (try F#3 for guys and C#4 for girls) and sing the word “Gug” on this pitch. Try to keep the same strength as you had in your speaking voice.
3. Finally, it’s time to sing some high notes. So take a breath and sing an octave repeat scale where you replace each note of the melody with the word “Gug”.
Don’t worry if you can’t read music or aren’t sure exactly how to do the exercise.
Here’s a great video to walk you through how to do it:
Do you feel how strong and clear those notes are at the top of your voice?
That’s exactly what we want in your vocal tone when you sing.
And as you continue practicing this exercise, you’ll find that the notes at the top of your voice sound richer and fuller.
Vocal Tone Exercise #5: The Octave Repeat “Mum”
Let’s be honest:
Nobody wants to sing a “Gug” for fun.
You’re here to learn to sing songs better, not just vocal exercises!
But remember, we’re doing these exercise sounds in order to make your vocal tone perfect.
That way you can start to take the feeling of that perfect vocal tone and apply it to your songs.
So for a moment, let’s try a singing technique that’s closer to real singing than the exercises we’ve done so far.
In the next exercise, you’ll sing a “Mum” sound on an octave arpeggio repeat scale.
But I have to warn you:
It’s very easy to make this exercise nasal or breathy!
That’s because an “M” consonant is actually a nasal consonant.
Why should you sing a nasal exercise?
Well the truth is that if you take ALL the nasality out of your singing, you’ll actually sound weird like you have a cold.
Try this right now:
Pick a line of your favorite song. Then plug your nose with your fingers and sing the line from the song.
Do you hear how the vocal tone sounds like you have a cold?
That’s because a small amount of nasality is what makes us sound human when we sing.
So in the next exercise, your challenge is to keep your voice sounding good without being overly nasal.
In fact, you can think of the “Mum” exercise as a test to make sure you’re not singing overly nasal.
Here’s how you do the “Mum” exercise:
1. Say the word “Mum” (as in “Mummy”) out loud at a comfortable volume.
2. Find a comfortable starting pitch (try F#3 for guys and C#4 for girls), take a breath and sing the word “Mum” on this note.
3. Finally, sing an octave repeat scale where you replace each note of the melody with a “Mum” sound.
If you don’t have a piano handy, don’t worry.
Here’s a great video to walk you through the exercise:
As you sing the scale, make an effort to keep the “Mum” directed out the mouth rather than in your nose.
You can even try recording yourself to see if you hear too much squeeziness or nasality in the tone.
I promise you’ll be amazed at how much the “Mum” improves your voice when you’re singing songs.
Congrats! By now, you understand what vocal tone means and what people look for in good vocal tone.
You’ve also seen 5 of the best exercises for singing with good vocal tone without hurting your voice or singing too nasally.
But even if you’re singing with the right vocal tone right now, keep working.
The truth is the best singers in the world work with these same kinds of exercises every day.
So work with these exercises every day and listen as your vocal tone improves immediately!