How to Improve Singing Tone
Get a better overall vocal tone when you sing
Last Updated: November 2023 | 2385 words (12 – 14 minute read)
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In this beginner’s guide, we’re going to show you how to improve your singing tone.
We’ll start with an overview of what good tone is and where it comes from before talking about common vocal tone mistakes.
We’ll then give you some vocal exercises to improve tone and finish off with some tips on getting a better tone quickly.
If you’re interested in taking things further, check out these top vocal lessons online.
Let’s get right into it…
Article Table of Contents
3 Steps to a Smoother Singing Tone
Audio Version of Article
What Is Vocal Tone?
This can be confusing when you’re first learning how to sing. Simply put, your vocal tone is how your voice sounds (literally) when you’re singing. It’s the character and attributes of your voice’s sound.
It refers to the overall qualities of your voice – not the “quality” as in whether you hit notes correctly, but the characteristics of your voice.
Often when talking about a good vocal tone, we’ll use concepts like “color” or “timbre.” When describing these concepts we’ll use works like “bright,” “dark,” “nasal,” “breathy,” and so on.
It’s a very subjective thing to describe a vocal tone, and there aren’t any vocal tone “ranges” or categories you can neatly fit your voice into. It’s not like your singing range.
The easiest way to think about it is to imagine two of your favorite singers hitting the same note – even though they’re singing the same thing, their voices sound very different.
Adele’s tone is so much different than Mariah Carey’s. That difference encompasses what we’re talking about singing “tone.”
Where Does Your Singing Tone Come From?
Your singing tone is the result of a couple of different vocal systems working together in your body.
Your vocal cords – layered muscles/membranes in your throat – interact with your vocal tract, which consists of your larynx, pharynx and the different parts of your mouth (tongue, jaw, palate, etc.).
Sound is generated by the vibration of air through your vocal cords, and then it gets “shaped” or moulded by when it resonates through your vocal tract.
The key is that those two areas of your body work together to produce your specific vocal tone. You can’t have one, without the other.
What is a Good Vocal Tone?
This is a very subjective question – there isn’t one, single “perfect” vocal tone. Everyone’s is unique.
But every “good” singing tone can be described as rich, balanced, warm and smooth.
A good tone is also:
- resonant – it “rings” and has a lot of “overtones” and “harmonics”
- natural – it isn’t created “artificially” by the singer, trying to sound a certain way
- well-supported – with enough breath support to keep it steady
- ideally “placed” – placement is where you’re resonating the sound of your voice in your mouth
In the same vein, a good tone is NOT:
- too breathy or nasally
- strained or buzzy
- too bright or too dark
There are a few ways you can optimize these areas of your tone to produce a pleasant sound that fits your voice.
We get into that more below…
Vocal Tone Mistakes
There are some common mistakes new singers make when trying to change their tone or produce a specific tone they think is good.
It’s important to watch out for this stuff, as it’s not the optimal tone you can actually sing with.
A Tone That’s too “Breathy”
This is the most common mistake beginners make – and it’s not always obvious to the singer themselves.
What exactly is a “breathy” singing tone? It’s one where you can audibly hear excess air “leaking” out of the mouth as you sing. It can come across as whispy, raspy or even scratchy at times.
This is most often caused by your vocal folds not closing together enough when you’re making sound. There’s a slight gap that allows air to escape through.
Some singers that are starting out do this purposefully, in an effort to soften their voices. If you notice that about yourself, you should stop and try to sing with your full voice.
There are some exercises you can do to help strengthen your vocal cords and ensure proper closure every time you sing.
A Tone That’s too “Nasal”
Another common mistake is for a singer to produce a tone that’s way too nasal – that is the sound is impacted by the nasal cavity in a negative way.
At it’s worst, a nasal tone sounds “whiny” or has an extreme “twang” to it. Think of it as a very “thin” sound.
But not all nasality is bad, necessarily – some really great singers have a bit of a nasal tone and it works for them. And a “twang” is often characteristic of Country music.
But be careful because, oftentimes, when singing nasally you’ll hear yourself internally and think it sounds good, but that won’t translate the same to your audience.
What’s actually happening is you’re either closing off the nasal passage from the sound or focusing the sound mostly in the nasal cavity. Both result in having a thinner tone with lower volume than you naturally should.
It often happens due to things like raising the back of your tongue, lowering your soft palate or having your jaw forward.
How Do I Get a Better Vocal Tone?
The key to improving your vocal tone is… you guessed it… vocal exercises!
You can train your voice to resonate better and you can work on your vocal placement.
But what are we doing with those particular practices to be able to sing with a better tone?
Well, getting a better vocal tone is all about one overarching concept…
Achieving the Optimal Balance
As mentioned earlier, your vocal tone is a product of two areas of your body working together.
So the goal should be to achieve balance between these areas.
As you breathe in and then breathe the air out in order to produce a sound, your vocal cords apply pressure to the air and start moving the air particles around. The air eventually travels up into your throat and mouth where they start to vibrate around the different parts and become shaped/sculpted by your teeth, tongue, jaw position, etc.
You want that entire process to be balanced.
You want to be sure that you have enough air support (i.e. proper breathing) and that your vocal cords are able to apply the right amount of muscle pressure to vibrate the air optimally.
You also need to be wary of the position of your larynx – if it moves up or down when you’re singing, you’re singing incorrectly. The larynx should be balanced and steady while your voice produces sound.
The shape of your mouth and jaw, along with your tongue position also have to be optimal to produce the sound you’re hoping to make.
But you don’t want to have to worry about all of that, because you also need to be as relaxed as possible when singing. Strain and tension is a big no-no.
Lucky for you, there are exercises you can do that will help you improve all those areas of singing.
Let’s get into some…
Vocal Exercises for a Better Singing Tone
The tone exercises below will help you refine and smooth out your overall vocal tone every time you sing.
Remember, this takes time, so keep on practicing and you’ll start to see big improvements over the course of your singing training.
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Replace Lyrics With an “Uh” Sound
Pick your favorite song and try to sing it as smoothly as possible.
But instead of singing the actual lyrics, just sing the notes using some form of the “uh” sound.
The most natural ones to use for a smooth tone are “muh” or “wuh.”
Try it out using just that sound for every note in the phrase you’re singing and notice the feeling of the air travelling through your diaphragm, throat and mouth.
Pay attention to how your vocal folds are – how open/closed do they feel. Try to remember these sensations.
— Related Article: How to Sing High Notes Better —
Speak Your Song
Next, let’s talk about the relation between speaking and singing.
When you’re speaking, you’re almost always going to use your full, natural tone. On the other hand, when you sing, you may actually purposely alter your voice.
So for this exercise try to sing with the same tonality as your speaking voice. You can do a scale or practice with your favorite song.
Try your best to keep each note you sing strong and consistent. Remember, you’re not speaking and you’re not singing, your doing both together.
Think of someone who really doesn’t want to sing happy birthday, being “forced” to sing without any enthusiasm. That’s kind of the tonality you’re going for, but less nasal.
“Uh” Octaves and Scales
Now that you have an idea of the tone you’re going for, we’re going to combine the full, smooth speaking/singing combo with the “uh” sound from low notes to higher notes..
Each of the below exercises should be sung using octaves (ex/ C3 -> C4 -> C3) and any scale (ex/ C Major/Minor)
- “Guh” – sing each note with the “guh” sound (like in the word gum). The “g” consonant will help you keep your vocal cords closed and your vocal tract relaxed
- “Buh” – sing each note with the “buh” sound (like in the word bum). The “b” consonant will help eliminate nasality from your singing tone by keeping your soft palate raised.
- “Muh” – sing each note with the same “muh” (like in the word mum) sound from the first exercise, but using scales/octaves.
Tips to Improve Your Vocal Tone
Here are a few basic tips that you should keep in mind when singing in general, but are especially helpful when improving your singing tone.
Always Warm Up
This is a must – you need to always warm up your voice before singing. Whether you’re just practicing or actually performing, a good vocal warm up routine is key.
Get the blood flowing and the muscles moving that you’ll be using to sing. It’ll help a lot in giving you control over all the different aspects of your voice – including the vocal tone you are able to generate.
We’ve got a great set of warm-up exercises you can use to get your voice in a good state.
Don’t Belt All the Time
One of the best ways for singers to improve their tone when they’re first starting out is to just decrease the volume you sing at.
If you sing too loudly, you’re focused on projecting your voice instead of singing with a smooth, even tone.
This is especially true for beginners.
Once you’ve perfected your tone, and have strong vocal cords and breath support, along with good control over your vocal tract, then you can start to work on projecting your voice with more power.
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It’s often overlooked, but breath control is one of the most important aspects of singing well. Breathing is everything – you’re literally vibrating air to generate sound.
So how you breathe is cornerstone to all the rest of this stuff.
Secondly, make sure you’re taking in enough air. Again, a short or shallow breath may not be enough to really sing to your full potential.
Finally, how you use your mouth will definitely impact your ability to sing well and your overall vocal tone.
Open your mouth up wide and drop your jaw when you’re singing anything. That will help your singing in so many ways. It makes an almost instant difference in your tone.
By creating more space within your mouth you’re automatically improving your vocal “placement.” And as a result, you’ll be able to achieve a more desirable tone from your singing voice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Your singing tone is bad likely because of improper technique or a lack of training/practice. The most common reasons for a bad tone is having weak vocal cords that don’t close sufficiently or improper vocal “placement.” This can be remedied through a series of vocal exercises and learning proper posture/breathing/technique.
Yes, you can change your singing tone through a variety of ways. However, it’s not always desirable to artificially change up your vocal tone because it leads to improper singing technique. The way to improve your tone is to use good technique to ensure proper use of your vocal cords and facial muscles.
There are no “ranges” or classifications for singing tone. But you can use descriptive words when trying to discuss a singers tone. A tone can be described as breathy, nasal, shrill, thin, full, balanced, etc. depending on it’s characteristics.
A good tone in singing is one that is full, balanced, rich and smooth. A good singing tone is not too breathy, nasally or thin. This can be achieved through proper use of your vocal cords and vocal tract. You can work on improving your singing tone with proper vocal technique and by regularly doing specific vocal exercises.
Singing tone is an important part of any singing voice. It can be the difference between a captivating performance and a lacklustre one.
Your goal as a singer is to achieve a balanced, smooth and full tone – not one that’s too nasally or breathy. And the best way to achieve that is through proper vocal training and practice.
You have to put in the work.
It can take time to break any bad singing habits you’ve been carrying up until now, so don’t get discouraged.
Keep on practicing and doing your exercises and it will make a world of difference.
Thanks for reading our complete guide on how to improve your singing tone! I hope it was helpful.
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