If you want to learn to be a better singer, there’s no better teacher than Flying Colors’ front man Casey McPherson. During the pandemic, Casey’s been offering lessons to those who aspire to music business success (check out his site if you’re interested). He recently let me sit in on a session with an up-and-coming vocalist. As a lyricist, it makes sense for me to learn as much about vocalists’ challenges and preferences as I can. Being the ultimate nice guy, Casey invited me to tag along. The singing tips are Casey’s. The life/relationship advice is mine, but as one half of Casey’s “favorite couple,” I guess I’m qualified.
1. The Vocalist’s Workout:
Lay down on the floor and stack books on your belly. Start with two. Maybe buy two books you’ve always wanted to read and use those. Better yet, find a cool secondhand book shop and pick two random books — or ask a mysterious stranger to suggest his/her/their two favorite books. Okay, back to the floor. The books are on your belly. Breathe, making the books rise and fall. As you build strength (and a six pack — the healthy kind), add more books. You should read these books. You’re getting pretty up close and personal with them, so knowing what’s inside is important. The same rule applies to people you let near your belly. Also, a six pack is only hot if you’re smart too, and you did just meet a mysterious stranger. Read the books.
2. Every Breath You Take:
You’ve got to think about breathing, not just singing. Really long lines full of many words, complicated melodies, that big note you hold onto — these are all potential trouble spots. You might run out of air, so you need to get, and keep, a healthy supply (but NOT Air Supply). Breathe from your belly up. Don’t just fill your chest. Even before you start to sing, take a look at the lyrics and plan where you’re going to breathe. Think of it like gassing up at rest stops during a long road trip, perhaps with your new book shop friend. DO NOT play Air Supply songs on this road trip or the budding relationship is doomed. All out of love, indeed.
3. Instrumental Advice:
Somewhere along the line, you may have been told that you’re “just a singer” and not really a musician. False! YOU are an instrument. And you can, and should, decide where your voice will resonate. Depending on the song or the line, it’s going to be: your head, chest, or belly. If this concept isn’t resonating with you, try this: Borrow the “om” from meditation and sing it. Start really low in your belly (sing ah), then move up to your chest (oh), then your neck (oo), then your head (um). You should feel the vibration in each of those spots. Once you can do that, you can apply it. You can also just meditate. It’s good for you. Maybe your new book shop relationship went south. It’s okay. Acknowledge the loss, feel your feelings, and then move on. You’re an instrument, but so is your heart, and the heart is the only broken instrument that works.
4. Practice. Really, You Have to Practice:
And don’t just practice what’s easy for you. Practice what’s hard. Choose a pattern and sing it. If you’re a pianist, grab your Hanon book and sing those exercises. If not, sing arpeggios or scales (major, minor, and if you’re really brave, chromatic). Sing consonants, then vowels, move the patterns around. Do this for 5-10 minutes every day. Add it to your growing list of newfound good habits — like reading and meditation. If you’re in a relationship, take another 5 minutes daily and think about how you can be a better partner, then act on it. If you’re single, spend those 5 minutes thinking about why you may be choosing the wrong partners (Hint: Do not date people who like Air Supply). You’ll probably find that your “type” is your problem.
5. Boring Is Bad:
It’s important to keep your vocal interesting. Same with relationships, especially if your partner is a Gemini. Contrast is key. A vocal can be very precise and considered without being boring. Think about the distance from the mic. Is this an intimate moment? Get close. If you’re singing loud, back up a bit. Master mic technique instead of merely changing levels because that’s easier.
6. Tongue Untied:
What should you do when there are too many words in a line and you just can’t fit them all in? Change it! If it doesn’t feel comfortable to you, then it will never feel comfortable to the listener. They’ll get stuck on it just like you do. Good lyrics are economical poetry. Does anyone really want one of those sparkly greeting cards with long, rhyming, sappy poems? Only people who like Air Supply. “I love you” works just as it is; it’s also important to remember that “No” is a complete sentence too.
7. Little Things:
Pay attention to the little things. Little things mean a lot. Here are a few:
Consonants can be jarring. Use the end consonant of a word and blend it into the next word. Like this: “But take” become “Bu take.”
Big jumps, like octaves, can be tricky. Visualize the note and sing on top of it. Sing onto it but not up to it. Not working for you? Try this: Singing sharp is harder than singing flat, so shoot sharp and you can end up on the right note.
When singing a two-part harmony, don’t sing the end consonants on the second part. It will blend better.
If you’re replicating a choir, change your approach for each part so you sound like a slightly different singer every time. It’s more interesting.
8. Pop the Question (no, not THAT question):
Ask yourself who you are in each verse and chorus. Go line by line and know what you are saying, what emotion you are conveying. Then ask yourself who you are. If you don’t know the answer, then you won’t really be able to share your music and connect with listeners in a meaningful way. You also won’t be able to truly share the rest of you with anyone else, not even that mysterious stranger…and you’ll be left making love out of nothing at all.
Ecstatically happily married, Buffy Leach is an award-winning writer with a head full of words and a heart full of music (but NOT Air Supply). She draws upon her colorful history and ongoing adventures to craft killer hooks and bring a fresh approach to universal concepts and craft killer hooks. Always writing, Buffy is also always looking for new opportunities to create and collaborate. Follow her on Instagram @buffyleachlyrics or visit buffyleachlyrics.com.