A Beginners Guide to Voice Lessons

by Jill L. Beram-Liimatta, Music & Arts Lesson Instructor


The Components

  • The Notes: Every note written on sheet music or staff paper corresponds to a key sung with the voice. The notes on the music will tell you which notes to sing.
  • The Rhythms: Each note will be a certain shape and color. These differences in shape and color dictate how long each note should be held for.
  • The Time Signatures: The time signature tells you how many beats are in each measure. This will give you the “feel” for how a piece is to be played.
  • The Dynamics: Communicates volume and intensity of the music being sung.
  • The Tempo: How fast or slow the music moves in time.
  • The Interpretation: A combination of a composer’s written intentions for performance and the vocalist’s technique. Character is often associated with interpretation.
  • THE LANGUAGE: If a piece of music is in a foreign language, teachers will often assist students in the pronunciation of the performance. See optional IPA book of choice below..

Tools for Success

Pencils are necessary in taking notes to compose notes and helpful reminders for best practices. Your teacher is a trained singer with the insight and skill to instruct. Taking notes increases the likelihood of a student remembering important technical skills. Audio recording devices are also often helpful to record critical instructions. Ask your instructor about this practice.

Metronome Shop Now >
This device provides steady beats through clicks in a tempo can be adjusted to fit your needs. Metronomes help develop a singer’s sense of rhythm and steady beat.

Sheet Music Shop Now >
Whether a beginner or a professional, no vocalist is complete without sheet music. This is the literature from which the singer will learn to read and perform. The student’s teacher will have good judgement as to which pieces are best for study based on age, range, character, style, time period and content. Selecting age and character-appropriate music is the key to growth, vocal health and technique. Singing music that is not appropriate for one’s own voice can lead to vocal issues such as hoarseness and nodules. See vocal health below.

It is imperative that vocalists read music because most of a composer’s intentions are expressed not only through melody and rhythm but also through dynamics, language, and tempo markings. A well-rounded singer will interpret multiple aspects of sheet music at the same time. Singers should plan to sing from all categories of music including, but not limited to Broadway, foreign languages, jazz, opera, art songs, pop and standards.

Supplemental Books - Pronunciation (IPA) (Optional)

International Phonetic Alphabet for SingersDiction

Vocal Health

Warming Up: Just as an athlete trains for a marathon, a singer will train for a vocal production. Technical skills that build the instrument (your voice) and the skill (your brain) are advised. Warm-ups are meant to gently stretch the vocal folds and diaphragm mechanisms.

An example of a standard warm-up

musical notes

The mechanism of breathing

breathing diagram

Anatomy of the vocal cords

vocal cords

Posture and good practice habits

Practicing with the correct posture will lead not only to correct acquisition of skills but a healthy routine as well. Singing with incorrect posture can lead to fatigue and possibly worse, injury!

Practice Time

Make sure the following are met each time before you begin singing:

  • Lean slightly forward with one foot spaced in front of the other so you have balance, intention and focus.
  • Your head should be kept straight by using the “Puppet Method.” To do this, gently lift a hair in the middle-top of your head as if you were on a puppet string. This will align your posture instantly.
  • The jaw and tongue remain relaxed and gently loose.
  • Keep knees loose and relaxed.
  • Shoulders should be down and relaxed at all times. Avoid raising shoulders at inhalation (see diagram of breathing above).
  • Arms and hands should remain loose and relaxed.

Practice Log

A practice log is essentially a journal that helps you to keep track of what, when and for how long you practiced. This is not only helpful to the teacher who will help keep track of your progress, but it will also help you develop a sense of routine and to keep track of what you may need any extra help with. Your instructor will direct you to the number of minutes advised for practice each week.

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