How Singing Can Improve Your Overall Musicianship

Every player knows that mastering an instrument takes years of practice and dedication. But what if the key to unlocking your full potential as an instrumentalist lies in your voice?

Singing isn’t just for singers. When instrumentalists incorporate vocal techniques into their practice routines, they don’t merely Singing isn’t just for singers.hone their vocal abilities, they build fundamental skills and deepen their emotional connection to music. Here’s a look at how singing can improve your overall musicianship.

A BETTER GRASP ON PITCH, RHYTHM AND HARMONY

Renowned vocalist and vocal coach Jaime Babbitt has sung with legends like Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Leon Russell and Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus, as well as on hundreds of national TV and radio spotsfor major brands . She is a sought-after lecturer and educator and the author of the book Working With Your Voice: A Career Guide to Becoming a Professional Singer. Babbitt feels strongly that singing enhances pitch accuracy and intonation while also fostering a deeper rhythmic awareness.

A female singer with her hand raised in the air.
Jaime Babbitt.

“From a rhythmic standpoint, it can open one’s mind a lot, no matter what type of instrument they play,” she says. “If they play a chordal instrument, there are times when keeping both vocal and musical rhythms steady is tough and takes practice, but boy, does it solidify your polyrhythmic chops.”

For musicians who play chordal instruments like piano or guitar, singing can deepen an understanding of melody and harmony, even unlocking new songwriting possibilities. “I tell my voice clients it would behoove them to learn a chordal instrument, as I believe it solidifies their relationship to pitch,” Babbitt explains. “Why wouldn’t the converse be true for instrumentalists?”

MAKING A DEEPER CONNECTION WITH MUSIC

Singing isn’t just about hitting the right notes — it’s about connecting with the heart of music itself. “Singing is of the most emotional acts one can perform in this life,” says Babbitt. “Look at the place singing has held throughout history, from one culture / era / epoch to the next. We sing for joyful occasions, sorrowful occasions and everything in between!”

By tapping into the emotional power of singing, you’ll infuse your playing with greater depth and expression, and you might even open a path to more meaningful storytelling in your songwriting.

GREATER CONFIDENCE

Does singing improve stage presence? “I think that depends on the person,” says Babbitt. “For some, it can be a distraction, especially if their instrumental chops have been around far longer than their singing chops. That might be more anxiety-producing than anything. For others, having another avenue of expression can be fiercely liberating.”

According to Babbitt, the degree of improvement comes down to three factors: How much time you can devote to practice, what your realistic commitment level is and where your financial comfort level is with regard to hiring a vocal coach.

USING THE BODY AS AN INSTRUMENT

Being able to conjure notes with your body requires a different skillset — and a different mindset — than playing notes on an instrument, so embrace a beginner’s perspective.

“From my experience with musicians, just because they can play the notes doesn’t mean they can always sing the notes accurately,” Babbitt explains. “When you try to intonate yourself physically, it’s a process happening inside your body, versus using, say, a violin bow. Without the muscle memory of knowing how to use your body to form pitches — how you physically have to do a million things to produce a particular note — you have to get used to that to produce sound with your body.”

Babbitt adds that those who play non-fretted or non-keyed instruments — strings or trombone, for example — tend to have a more fluid relationship to vocal pitch. “They should try not to be surprised if there’s a bit of sliding around the pitch!”

Because of bone conduction and body resonances, your voice sounds different inside and outside your head, which can be a psychological barrier. “Musicians often don’t like the timbre or sonic quality of their recorded voice compared to the voice inside their own heads,” says Babbitt. “Vocalists don’t always like it, either, believe me! It’s just that they’ve had so much more practice getting used to it.”

Getting comfortable with the sound of your voice from every vantage point means spending time actively listening to both your “inside” voice and your recorded voice. This is where having a good vocal coach/teacher can really make a difference, according to Babbitt, especially with regard to healthy, efficient and in-pitch sound production.

INCORPORATING SINGING IN PRACTICE

If you’re new to singing, start with basic vocal exercises to familiarize yourself with your vocal range and capabilities. Breathing exercises, pitch-matching exercises and vocal warm-ups can help you establish a solid foundation for vocal development.

“Alternate playing a line, then singing it,” Babbitt suggests. “If that’s challenging, start with an ear-training app that matches pitches. Many apps will record you so you can start to hear when you’re closer or farther off.” Then move to interval training, singing the root to the second, root to the third, root to the fourth, etc. “Find mnemonic devices by associating songs you know that contain those intervals,” Babbitt advises.

Experiment with playing and singing simultaneously to get comfortable with pitch relationships, sharpen coordination and dexterity and improve improvisational skills. “Just as Ella Fitzgerald was an instrumentalist, I think musicians can become like Ella!” Babbitt says. “If they play chordal instruments, they can take a page from the George Benson playbook and sing their lead melodies. If they play non-chordal instruments, recording themselves playing scales and then singing over those scales can be a great exercise too.”

Vocal exercises can help wind players improve their breath control, stamina, tone and phrasing. Babbitt’s favorites are called SOVTs: Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract exercises. These include straw phonation (making sound through a straw), lip and tongue trills, and humming. “They’re the best things that ever happened to me and to my own vocal practice and I swear by them,” says Babbitt, who also recommends taking advantage of free online resources such as ear-training apps, singing apps and beginner tutorials. She suggests singing along to karaoke tracks using the free Transpose Chrome plug-in to vary the pitch of any YouTube video, and she’s a big fan of yoga and meditation. “Everyone thinks yoga is great for flexibility and longevity, and it is, but ultimately, it’s about the breath,” she says. Working with a coach can accelerate your progress and ensure that you’re practicing effectively.

FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE

Finally, focus on the positive. “People are so easy to point out what they are bad at,” Babbitt says. “They’ll sing a song, and then we’ll talk about it and they’ll go right down the list of what sucked. I urge them to always look at what they’re doing well because that’s what you’re going to learn from. When you’re doing something like singing, which requires muscle memory, if you do something that that wasn’t good, why would you keep reinforcing it? Look at the things that you’re doing well and capitalize on that.”

Incorporating singing into your instrumental practice isn’t just about mastering a new skill — it’s about realizing your full potential as an artist. With dedication and practice, you’ll harness the transformative power of your voice, build confidence and reach new levels of musicianship in the process.

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