As a music teacher and musician for well over a decade (*cough, cough* or two…), I hear people bashing on their own singing voices all the time.
Whenever I get the chance to listen to someone, though, their voice isn’t the problem. They just don’t use the right one.
The first step to good singing is understanding the singing voice vs. speaking voice.
Singing voice is a lengthened and more intense use of your vocal cords than your speaking voice. The speaking voice typically uses a limited vocal range of pitch and dynamics, whereas the singing voice uses more extremes of high and low and loud and soft. Speaking is usually lower in range.
Let’s look ahead for some more details and tips for singing better in the rest of the article.
Table of Contents
Singing Voice Vs. Speaking Voice In A Nutshell
In directly comparing singing and talking, let’s look at different elements directly compared with one another.
After the chart, I’ll go into each element in a little more detail:
|Speaking Voice||Singing Voice|
|Pitch Range||Narrow and low in pitch||Wider range, uses both high and low frequency|
|Dynamic Range||Tend toward the soft and medium dynamic or volume||Wide range of both loud and soft|
|Effect on Vocal Cords||Gentle on the vocal folds||More intense but not truly harsh (unless you have bad technique or are pushing)|
|Goal||Communicate the speaker’s thoughts||Communicate the expression of the composer|
|Air Use||Limited air capacity usage||Uses close to 100% of the lung’s capacity|
|Vowel Usage||Vowels are used equally or slightly more than the consonants in a word||Vowels are elongated to provide more time for pitch and tone to shine through (up to 100x more than speaking)|
|Oral Cavity||Your mouth shape isn’t thought of; you just speak||The singer intends to open their mouth and throat wider and aim their air with more spin to provide a richer tone|
With speaking, you don’t alter your frequency or pitch very much.
With small variations, you’re able to communicate nuance in your statements.
For example, at the end of a question, we raise our pitch slightly. This upturn indicates a question.
On commas in a sentence, we unconsciously keep our pitch level or give it a smaller raise.
At the end of a thought, we turn our pitch slightly down to indicate that this thought is complete.
As we get excited, we tend to speak with a higher pitch (to help indicate excitement).
If we’re irritated, we may keep our pitch even lower than normal and restrained in the vocal range.
All of this is to say that we use pitch change minimally and to effectively communicate extra thoughts.
When speaking, people typically talk at the lower end of their vocal range.
Note: This is all stated with English in mind. Other languages use pitch more, and in some languages, the pitch is tied to the actual words used.
In singing, one of the main aspects of singing is pitch.
Pitch is a tool used by composers to communicate meaning and expression.
They use high and low to make a melody as a vehicle for their performance.
Pitch is very specific and not general in singing.
The wider range (especially the high part) is what is more stressful for the voice.
The dynamic range or volume is another key difference between singing and talking voices.
In speaking, we just want to be heard, so we only talk as loud as we need to.
We can speak louder when we’re upset or speaking to a big group.
We can also speak softer in a quieter environment.
Overall, speaking is quieter than singing.
In singing, the goal is also to be heard, and often singers need to perform in larger spaces with larger groups.
As such, singing is generally louder than speaking.
But, the dynamics are also a tool used by composers to accentuate a melody.
So in practice, singing is also quieter, at times, than talking.
Effect on Vocal Cords
Speaking rarely results in tired vocal cords.
The exception is if you talk louder than normal for a while or you speak a lot more than normal for a long period.
Our voices are used to speaking; therefore, the muscles are used to work.
In singing, we put our vocal folds to a lot more use.
Singing lengthens our words resulting in more constant use of the muscles.
On top of this, we also stress them more as we sing louder and higher.
It’s not abnormal for those inexperienced with a lot of singing to feel tired or even a little sore after a lot of singing.
Like any muscle, though, the more we use it, the stronger it gets.
Also, like any muscle, the more consistently you warm-up and cool down, the less chance there is of injury.
When I was singing a lot in my undergrad, I was able to practice and rehearse for hours.
Since I don’t sing as much (elementary songs are easier), I’ve lost some of that endurance.
Still, with good technique and regular practice, you shouldn’t feel too exhausted or sore all the time.
The goals of singing and talking are quite different if you stop to think about it.
When you speak, your goal is to convey a message from you, the originator of the message.
When you sing, the goal is to express yourself through music.
You are not the originator or creator of the message. In this case, it’s the composer (most of the time).
As such, everything else is informed by this goal.
For speaking, you need to be understood. Therefore your consonants need to be clear.
In singing, you still want to be understood, but it needs to pair with the pitch, dynamic, and style of the rest of the music.
Speaking only uses as much air as needed.
We only take residual breaths unless we need to talk louder.
But even then, we only take in a fraction of the air we need.
With singing, we need a lot of air to support the higher notes and longer phrases.
As such, a good singer will take deeper breaths and practice the mechanics of breathing to maximize their potential.
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This is one of those elements that non-singers won’t even think about, but singers will hear and think, “Of course!”
When you speak, your vowels are used in equal or slightly higher amounts than your consonants.
You just say the words.
In singing, consonants don’t convey pitch very well (some of them not at all).
If a huge portion of our focus on singing is to use pitch, we need to elongate the vowels.
In vocal training, we’re taught to get consonants out of the way (as clearly as possible) and spend most of our time on the vowels.
If a note is held for a long time, this means the vowel is lengthened even more!
Some vocal coaches and choir teachers even say that you want a 500:1 vowel to consonant ratio!
Be honest: when you speak, how often do you worry about how large your mouth and throat are?
Do you focus on making your voice as resonant as possible?
Not likely. You just focus on talking.
In singing, we want our voices to sound rich and open.
A huge part of how we achieve this is through our oral cavity.
The more space we have in our mouth and throat, the better our sound will be.
As such, vowels are adapted to be more open.
As a midwesterner, I’m used to closed vowels. It’s part of our regional accent.
When singing, I sound like a different person because the vowels need to be opened up.
This is called Vowel Modification, and it’s got its own following.
Here’s a quick chart of vowel sounds and what they should be like:
|Vowel||Vowel Sound||As in…||Feels like…||Shorthand|
Is Your Singing Voice Your Speaking Voice?
In a purely technical and mechanical sense, your singing voice is your speaking voice, but it’s elongated and varies in pitch. Watching the vocal folds move while singing, they don’t look anything alike, though.
But this is due to the lengthening of the vowels, so you’ll see the vibrato and vibration more as well as the more extreme stretching of the pitches.
I love the scene in the musical, The Music Man.
As a joke, the con-man, Harold Hill, teaches these four men to sing by describing singing as “sustained talking.”
Lo and behold, all of a sudden, those four men break into a barbershop quartet.
The thing is: Harold Hill isn’t completely wrong.
Singing is sustained talking…with pitch, elongated vowels, larger mouth cavity, etc.
Here’s the clip:
Why Is Your Singing Voice Different From Your Speaking Voice?
The difference between a singing voice and a speaking voice essentially comes down to the goal of each. In singing, we express feeling through music, so we need an emphasis on pitch variety, which in turn means we lengthen vowels and produce a richer sound through air support and open space in the mouth and throat. Talking is to communicate, so clarity is key.
Does Singing Feel Different Than Talking?
Singing feels like lengthened talking, and for some, it tires out your vocal folds faster. Still, with good technique, it won’t get too tiring. Many singers describe the feeling of singing as spinning the air through their singing space compared to speaking, which just sends the sound on its way.
Your talking is your natural voice, but over time, the differences in voice use from speaking to singing may even start to feel similar to you.
4 Tips For Using Your Singing Voice More Effectively
Here are some quick tips on how to get your singing voice going and how to use it more effectively over time.
I could write a list of tips a mile long, but these four are the most important and will serve you well over many years.
Don’t neglect the warm-up!
Warming up is an absolute must!
At best, you limit your potential pitch, tone, and power when you skip a warm-up.
At worst, you increase the chance of physically injuring your vocal cords!
Here’s a quick warm-up for you to try:
- Start on C in your middle/high range and make general descending sounds on the “Loo” sound. Move up and down your voice with this vowel for all of it.
- Now, start in the middle of your range (around A or Bb for most people) and sing down the scale 5 notes with the syllable “Bah” for each note. Then, start a half step lower and do the same thing.
- Start on a comfortable low pitch (Bb or C works well for most) and sing the notes up one major scale and back down. Use the syllable “oh” for the bottom half and “oo” for the top half. Start a half step higher and repeat and repeat.
This is a very basic warm-up, but it’ll get your voice stretched and ready to go.
Join A Choir / Get A Teacher
There are a lot of ways to learn how to sing better without a teacher or being in a group.
One of my favorites to recommend is 30 Day Singer.
It does a great job of giving you everything you need for a great singing foundation (at an affordable price).
But to be honest, one on one is still the fastest and most effective way to learn.
Look for a local choir to audition for or simply sing with.
You’ll get better by singing with others who have more experience and getting tips from the director.
The vocal performance does a lot to help you stay motivated too!
If you’re serious about improving your singing, then a one-on-one weekly voice teacher is the best option by far.
Treat Your Voice Like An Athlete
One of the aspects of singing that turns so many people away so quickly is how limited their voices are right away.
Some of you want to sing like a pro with little effort (don’t we all? I know I do!).
But like athletes, you can’t expect to run a marathon right off the bat.
You need to train and work for it.
Your singing voice needs the training and endurance to sing for longer and at a wider range.
How do you train your voice?
Practice, practice, practice.
Pro-tip: Keep a journal of voice practice sessions to help remember what works for you.
Use Your Imagination
There will be times when you’re singing, and you hate how you sound.
There will be times you sing and think you sound awesome.
When this happens, you’ll feel the difference.
This is a missed opportunity by most people.
Whenever this happens, you need to latch on to what it sounds and feels like and remember that.
Over time, you’ll land in this awesome singing space more often because you’ll remember it better.
I always teach my students (preschool to 80 years old) to remember this feeling in whatever way works best for them.
For me, it’s an imaginative picture in my head.
I always picture a smoldering volcano in my core sending out spinning air through the spot between my eyes.
For me, this works.
For others, they use their hands to mirror the motion of spinning and stretching.
Whatever works for you, find that imagination and a mental image of the singing voice and practice it.
Over time, your singing voice will grow more consistent and stronger.
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