How to... train your voice

In the latest from our How to… series, we chat to vocal coach Rebecca Phillips to glean her top tips on voice exercises, warm-ups, coaching and recording techniques.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 15 Sep 2014
  • min read
Rebecca has worked with loads of top drawer acts including Kasabian, Dirty Pretty Things, Ashley Roberts (Pussycat Dolls), Mary Charteris (The Big Pink) and Bipolar Sunshine.

She’s also coached a range of X Factor finalists and was a judge and specialist on BBC One’s flagship talent show The Voice last year - so she knows how to spot talent and nurture it.

Check out our Q&A with Rebecca below, and watch her video at the bottom to learn more about the skill of lyrical interpretation and emotional pull in music.

Are there any things that singers should avoid doing, in order to protect their voice?
Singers should avoid anything that’s dehydrating - so too much alcohol right before you have to sing can often affect your voice. Lack of sleep can also affect the performance of your voice because tiredness means that you can’t physically support your voice in the same way as when you are well rested. Other than that, it’s all about using your common sense and avoiding food or drink that you feel has a negative affect on your voice.

What’s the best way to improve your vocal range?
It may sound really obvious but PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. If you want to improve your range, sing more in your higher and lower range - both in vocal warm-ups and in songs. Make sure to try and stretch your range in a healthy way and you will see an improvement.

What’s the best way to polish up on your tuning?
This is a hard question and varies from person to person depending on how bad their pitch is and also why there are tuning issues to begin with - this can be for many different reasons and therefore people can respond better to different methods of pitch teaching.

The best way to adjust to singing through a PA is to make sure you have good monitoring. If you can hear yourself clearly, you have a better chance of pitching and therefore will feel more confident. Again, the more you sing through a PA, the easier it will get.

How should a vocalist warm up before a performance?
Work on a good warm-up plan with your vocal coach. This may vary depending on the songs/range you need to sing in that day and also how your voice is feeling that day.

Do you have any tips for live shows?
Be yourself. Take risks but not too many. Connect with your songs and deliver an emotionally connected performance.

Do you have any tips for recording sessions?
Pick the right mic for you. Have people in the studio who you are comfortable with but that are also honest. Interpret your songs well so that the emotion can be heard even without looking at you. Prepare your tracks beforehand so that you have an optimum environment in which to record. Make sure you are comfortable and cosy as you can be in the vocal booth.

How often and how long should you practice?
Everyday for as long as you can and feel comfortable... But remember that 10 minutes a day is better than not at all. Sing frequently and mix up your practice with scales and song work.

How long does it take to improve once you start practising?
It depends on who you are but with good coach, you will see changes much quicker than you would expect and sometimes, when working with a really good vocal coach, you will see changes and improvements immediately.

What are the best ways to protect your voice?
Eat well, exercise, sleep, practice.

What are the benefits of getting professional vocal coaching?
You can work with a good coach on pretty much any element of your voice. Students always find that they just have a better understanding of their voice when they work with a good coach and therefore can do more with it.

A good coach will also keep the singer’s voice healthy and give them tips on how to make it last longer so that the singer can deal with long studio sessions or gigs and tours.

Singers can also learn how to use their voice to communicate emotionally and can work on making improvements to range, pitch and vocal stability in general.