How to Improve Your Vocal Tone

Disclosure: Some posts contain affiliate links, which earn us a commission if you make a purchase through them.
  • How can I make my singing voice sound better?
  • What are the best exercises for improving vocal tone?
  • Are there any bad habits that can negatively affect my vocal tone?

Vocal tone is an often overlooked aspect of improving your singing. Several singers tend to train their voices for strength, stamina, and pitch and often neglect to develop the quality or definition of their tone. A strong vocal tone will enhance the best characteristics of the singing voice and provide you with a series of tools to broaden your expression as a singer. In today’s article, we’ve compiled a list of fundamental techniques and habits to help improve your vocal tone. We’ve also put together some quick tips for caring for and maintaining your voice for a better vocal tone. The list below can be used by any singer, regardless of your skill level or preferred genre of music to sing to. 

Vocal Tone Explained

Vocal tone can also be referred to as the timbre or texture of someone’s singing voice. The voice is an incredibly versatile instrument and produces a wide variety of tones. Vocalists like Mariah Carey and Marvin Gaye have a far different tone than that of Tom Waits or Ja Rule. In the same respect, certain singers can access more tones than others, which results in a more dynamic vocal performance. 

It takes a different technique to develop specific areas of your vocal tone. Some singers have a prominent chest voice and will need to employ specific exercises and habits to maintain this strength. Other singers may have a lighter or whispery tone which resides in the head voice region and requires specific habits and techniques to improve this.

Thankfully, there are a handful of exercises and basic habits that any singer can use to find their natural tone as well as develop it. Take a look at the pointers below to learn more about improving your vocal tone. 

Start with the Breath

Our lungs act as the primary engine for our voice when we sing, with the main fuel source being the air we breathe. It’s crucial to learn correct breathing techniques to efficiently control and harness any form of vocal tonality. 

The very first thing you must learn as a singer is to breathe using your gut and not your chest. Using your gut to breathe allows more air to enter your diaphragm, and gives you greater access to the intercostal muscles that control airflow in and out of the lungs. 

Breathing from the gut may seem counterintuitive to some, but it is very easy to learn and practice. Place a hand on your stomach. Inhale through your nose and push your belly button into your hand. As you exhale, lightly push your belly back down to train this mechanism into your body. With some practice and exercises, this type of breathing should eventually become second nature. 

Breathing Exercises for Better Vocal Tone

  1. Take a series of short, quick breaths through your mouth in sets of around 10– 20. Try to fill your lungs with air as much as possible on the inhale, and push as much air out on the exhale. Make sure to breathe from the gut and not the chest. 
  2. Keep your jaw shut and create a hissing sound for as long as possible. This exercise will also help strengthen areas of your larynx as well as some facial muscles used for singing. 
  3. Several professional singers and vocalists often use a straw for their breathing exercises as they believe it helps stretch out the vocal cord. You can use a straw to blow bubbles in a glass of water for quick or extended periods. Alternatively, you can try humming through a straw, using scales and vocal slides to exercise your breath and tone. 

Warm Up and Practice

Warming up is one of the most important habits that any singer or vocalist can adopt. Because singing requires you to engage and activate certain muscles in the face and body, these muscles will naturally perform better after some stretching and light exercises. Experienced producers, sound engineers, and performers can often tell when a vocalist’s voice is warmed up, as their pitching is generally more accurate as their vocal delivery has more conviction and is more dynamic. 

Common Vocal Warm-Up Techniques

  1. A common warm up for several professional singers is the yawn and sigh technique. Imitating a yawn is a wonderful method to stretch the muscles around the vocal cord. The sigh warms up a slightly different set of respiratory muscles and also activates the parts of the voice used for whispers and vocal fries. This simple technique also prepares the lungs to start taking in more oxygen.
  2. Lip trills stimulate and relax the muscles in the face needed for accurate pitching and enunciation. A lip trill is done by forcing air out through your lips with a closed mouth. Try to lip trill while holding a single note for as long as possible, then try sliding up and down between notes for greater dexterity. 
  3. Voweling is another common warm-up routine that singers utilize before a performance. Voweling is done by singing out phrases using the different vowels in your respective vocabulary (for English we have sounds using a, e, i, o, u). This exercise can be done using scales, slides, or other melodic patterns to sing out each different vowel. 
  4. Humming is a light, non-abrasive way to warm up your voice without straining it. You can use the same phrases as the vowel technique for humming, but make sure not to over-exert your voice for volume for this drill as it can cause strain and diminish your vocal tone.

Make Use of Your Body

The best singers understand how to make use of their bodies to generate a better vocal tone. There are certain techniques and practices that you can implement to help your body steer your voice comfortably and gain greater control of your tonal range:

  • Posture – Correct posture is vital for allowing the diaphragm to perform efficiently while singing. Make sure to relax your shoulders, straighten your back, and sing using your gut for better control. 
  • Hands – Many singers use their arms and hands for gestures to help guide their voice to its preferred pitch or timbre. You can use your hands in the same way a conductor leads an orchestra to create stronger coordination between your brain and your singing mechanisms. 
  • Eyes and Face – Most vocal performances require a good sense of enunciation for maximum impact and effectiveness. You can ensure strong enunciation by stretching the facial muscles, opening your jaw and eyes as wide as possible, and moving your features around freely. While singing, try to pick certain spots in a room to lock your eyes on as this can help you maintain focus while performing or practicing. 

Tips on Vocal Tone Care and Maintenance

  • Rest and Restore – One of the most important aspects of vocal care is proper rest. Rest not only involves taking adequate breaks between singing performances but also includes getting sufficient sleep to rest the muscles used for singing. One of the most obvious signs of a diminished vocal tone is a tired or weakened delivery from lack of rest. 
  • Hydrate – Any seasoned singer will always advise you to drink room temperature water before, during, and after singing to help preserve your vocal cord for a consistent tone. The larynx can dry out and even become inflamed from overuse and insufficient hydration, resulting in a scratchy and weak vocal tone. 
  • Stay healthy – Singing can be a surprisingly physical activity on the body, and healthier people tend to have a stronger degree of control of their voice. Try to avoid things like fast food, dairy, and smoking around the times of your vocal performances, as all of these have a direct negative impact on the quality of your vocal tone. 

Final Thoughts

Training and developing your vocal tone is a fairly simple concept, but it does require a level of consistency and focus to achieve proper results. Some singers may be naturally gifted at singing, and others may want to better their skills or develop new ones tonally. Others may simply be looking to find their voice to use around a campfire or at a local karaoke party for fun. In either case, you can use the above-listed tips to maintain and grow your tonal range as a vocalist. 

  • Can you change the tone of your singing voice?

While it is impossible to change the natural tone of your singing voice, it is possible to expand your voice to adopt elements of other singing tones. For instance, you could have a strong chest voice and learn to integrate it with your falsetto. 

  • Why am I flat when I sing?

A flat note while singing is usually caused by an error in pitching. Pitching is the brain’s way of targeting specific notes before singing them with your voice. If your voice sounds flat while singing, try lifting your eyebrows and cheekbones as you hit your high notes to trick your brain into pitching slightly higher. 

More Stories
6 Best Professional Karaoke Amplifiers (2020)