How good is my voice?

How Good Is My Voice from Holistic Vocal Coach Maruja Retana

How good is my voice?

Most of us have at least at ~some~ point stared at the ceiling, laying in bed awake at night: ‘Can I actually sing? Am I good enough? Oh no… I forgot to call Grandma. I wonder what I should wear tomorrow. Those new booties for sure. Which dress though? And seriously, how do I know whether I have a good singing voice or not??’

First of all, call Grandma right now.

Second, I feeeel ya! One moment you think you’re pretty good, and the week after that, you hate your voice with a passion and are seriously considering moving to a Buddhist monastery and living in complete silence for the rest of your days.

No worries, my love! You are probably somewhere between Beyoncé and those adorable goats that sound like humans. What I’m trying to say is: There is a middle ground. And there ~is~ a way to know where you’re at.

So, let’s get started. We’re gonna take a closer look at your vocal skills by breaking down the situation. Are you ready to go deep?

 

Singing is a skill

The key to finding out how good your singing voice is, is compartmentalization. (Just wanted to throw in an impressive word.) In other words, you gotta look at ~all~ the aspects of your performance as a singer. It helps if you can ignore how you FEEL about your voice. Do I make it sound like you have to be a robot? Maybe a little. I’m just saying: Most people don’t love their own voice, so it’s kinda hard to be a good judge when you give in to that emotion.

Bear with me for a sec. It’ll all make sense.

What I’d like for you to do, is to see singing as a skill. Just like biking, cooking, styling your hair, walking without doing random gravity checks (still working on that one). It’s a skill that can be learned.

You see, the reason why we get so emotional about our voice, is because it’s so tightly linked to our souls. Singing is literally: using your voice to express what you are feeling. So if someone else says your voice isn’t good, it feels like a rejection of who you are. And in a way you’re right: your VOICE is an extension of you.

HOWEVER, the way you USE your voice is NOT you. SINGING in itself is not YOU. Singing is a skill. When my 11 month old daughter looks at my husband and says: ‘Gagaaa’, I’m pretty sure she is not talking about Stefani Germanotta. She is trying to express something she is feeling, but she is still developing her speaking skills. I know that she means to say ‘Dada’ to her father, and I will then help her by saying ‘Da-Da’. It’s not that I’m criticizing or dismissing the emotion behind it, or her as a person. You see what I’m trying to say??

Your voice is yours, but singing is a skill. A skill that anyone can improve. That ~you~ can improve.

 

So! Now that we got that out of the way, let’s jump into it. To do this right, feel free to download this worksheet. It’ll help a lot. If you don’t wanna, just check out the list below and see if you agree with me on:

What separates a good singer from a bad singer?

Tone
Your tone is, what I like to call the ‘color’ and character of your voice. You can’t ~change~ your tone, but you can definitely modify. Adjust a little. Highlight certain frequencies and mask others a little. Think about people who are good at impressions! By adjusting your tongue, lips, jaw position, mouth resonance space, etc. you can absolutely fine-tune your tone.

Improvization
If you’ve ever been to a jam session, or watched Jessie J do a live performance, you know what this means. Improvization is your ability to ad lib, harmonize, come up with melody variations on the spot etc. It requires a sense of the key that you’re singing in. But most of all it requires flow, courage, and trusting that whatever come out is gonna be worth it. Oh, and let’s not forget FUN.

Pitch
This is a big one. You can have mastered every other skill. but if your pitch is off, it’s hard to hear through that. Contrary to popular belief: you ~can~ actually improve your pitch control! It helps to improve your ‘aim’ (a simple vocal exercise I like to call ‘the Santa’ will help with this) as well as your sense of the distance between 2 notes. You also gotta stop telling yourself you’re tone-deaf.

Volume
My personal struggle! It’s easy to think that volume is just aggressively pushing your sound out. It has actually more to do with your ability to make your body resonant as well as project your sound (in a healthy way). Do this wrong, and you can seriously hurt yourself. (Sorry to sound so ominous, lol.)

Confidence
Mmmm, my favorite. Basically, your level of ‘I got this’ 🙂 Knowing that no matter what happens, you will find a way to handle it. Being totally fine with taking up space, physically and metaphorically. Understanding that the audience is here to enjoy themselves, not to judge you.

Control
Your ability to perform consistently, deal with nerves and other less then ideal circumstances. Does it come out the way you want it come out? This resource is very important, and at the same time NEEDS to be balanced with ‘ease’, otherwise you’ll be way too uptight. That magical dance between controlling and then letting go is key.

Breathing
So so so so important. Breathing technique is easier and harder than beginners might think. Again, it’s a balance with engaging (control) and relaxing (letting go). Breath control is ~actually~ mainly your ability to truly relax the body. And then to use your air flow efficiently (even when nervous).

Soul & emotions
That X-factor… Your ability to connect with the lyrics, and make your audience feel what you feel. Simple. But not always easy. You need to be willing and able to connect to your emotions. What’s ~really~ in your heart? You need to be ok with your vulnerability, and then have the courage to share it with others.

Ease
Your level of being in the flow. Does your voice feel flexible? Or does singing feel like a struggle? How relaxed is your throat? The beautiful other half of ‘control’.

Range
Basically, range is the distance between your lowest and highest note. Can you sing comfortable in your high register? Falsetto as well as belt notes? Whistle tones, even? How about your low register? Would Barry White be jealous of you? While range is in my personal opinion not ~the~ most important skill, it is a great one to keep improving, just because you might up at a jam session where can only play that Ariana Grande song in the original key.

 

Ready to take it a step further? Next question:

What separates a good singer from a legendary one?

Vocal effects
The fun stuff! Are you able to ‘decorate’? Can you apply vibrato, grunting, vocal fry, etc.?

Runs & Riffs
Even though these could be considered vocal effects, I’m giving runs & riffs a category of their own, since they are pretty much a staple in this day & age. Runs are vocal melismas: move quickly from one musical note to another, and riffs are melodic idea that you repeat (think ‘This is what you came for’ by Riri). Not necessary by any stretch, but will elevate a vocal for sure in my opinion. But I grew up listening to Mariah religiously, so that explains a lot.

Groove & pocket
Yeah baby! This is an awesome one: Your ability to flow with and lean into the music and make your voice shine.

Musical phrasing
The way you shape your tones and make them your own. You can use vocal effects to do this, but musical phrasing mainly describes the dynamics in the way you sing. The inflections, the weight you give certain parts, the conversational element. Basically, singing the way you would speak (very dramatically, usually).

Rapport
Are you able to establish a connection with your audience? Do you interact with them verbally and non-verbally? Are they engaged or distant? Are you making the performance about them (instead of about you)?

Body language
Using your body to communicate with your audience. Being comfortable with taking up space, moving around, dancing, showing your authentic facial expressions, etc.

Branding
Really? Yes! Branding is not about manufacturing an identity, it’s highlighting your uniqueness and making yourself easily identifiable. This will ~really~ help you get booked!

Drive & grit
Perhaps the most important one of all. Natural talent is wonderful! But working hard and working smart are even bigger predictors of success. Are you able to persevere, to motivate yourself and to keep going when things get tough? Even if this is the only resource you have, you’re good to go. (Seriously.)

Phew! That’s a lot, isn’t it?? Don’t worry, they are just ways to make your goals a little bit more measurable. It doesn’t mean that you need to be a master at all of them to be ‘worthy’. The truth is: anyone who sings, is by definition a singer. There is a lot you can tweak and adjust and improve. So the real question maybe isn’t ‘How good is my voice?’, but rather…’How great can I be?’

Would love to hear from you in the comments: Can you think of any other resources that a great singer has? And what is your biggest strength & challenge?

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