Opera singers are some of the most respected artists in the world. An opera performance is one like no other and because of this, many incorrectly assume that only certain people are capable of singing operatically. The truth is, anyone can learn how to sing opera. World class opera singers are born with the same sized voice boxes as the rest of the general population. What separates them from everyone else is how they use their voices. Becoming a great opera singer is not something that can be done overnight but it is something that anyone can do. The key is understanding the 7 fundamental aspects of opera singing.
No matter what type of singing you do, being relaxed while performing is crucial. If you are nervous, you can’t sing your best because you won’t be able to get the full range out of your voice. Any type of tension can cause vocal cords to shorten and tighten. When this happens, you voice will not resonate the same way as it will when you are relaxed.
If you do find that you have difficulty being relaxed while performing, it’s important to practice different relaxation techniques and find one that works the best for you. Some singers warm up by slowly opening and closing their mouth to relax the muscles in the jaw. Others find that prolonged smiling is calming and puts them in a good mode. Relaxation techniques are something that should be practiced regularly just like anything else. The best singers in the world routinely have a “warm-up” that gets them relaxed and ready to perform at their best.
2. Breath Control
An important part of learning how to sing opera is to learn how to control your breathing while singing, which is about more than just making sure you have enough air to hold a note. Proper breath control means understanding how to get the most out of each breath. Singers who struggle with breath control often rely on other muscles to compensate for a lack of airflow. This weakens the strength of your voice and causes vocals to be inconsistent from one phase to the next. One of the easiest ways to improve your breath control is to consistently practice good posture. Standing tall and strait allows you to have maximum control over your breathing. Breathing exercises such as inhaling and exhaling for a certain number of seconds are excellent ways to slowly build up endurance and help you develop an awareness of your breathing patterns.
3. Volume Control
Opera singers are known for having loud, booming voices that carry all the way to the back rows of the theater. Of course, not every note is meant to be sung as loud as possible. Opera singers also need to be able to sing pianissimo, or very softly and still be heard clearly. A big part of volume control comes from understanding where to place your tongue and how different positions impact the volume of your singing.
4. Proper Diction
Diction refers to proper articulation of sounds, an important skill to master for learning how to sing opera. If your words are mumbled, the audience doesn’t get the message. Not only that but improper diction can be unhealthy for your voice. A greater strain is placed on the larynx by singers who do not articulate properly. In other forms of music, slurring words or mispronouncing them can be acceptable and be part of a singer’s unique style. With opera though, proper diction is much more important. There are a number of ways to improve diction. Some singers like to lip sync in front of a mirror to study their facial muscles. Others practice by singing a string of vowels.
5. Proper Pitch
The ability to sing in tune is one of the most important aspects to singing well in any genre. Major scales are an easy way to work on your pitch. Learning how to sing pitch perfect on simple one octave scales gives a vocalist the foundation to eventually master pitch with arpeggios and more complex melodies.
Vibrato is the musical effect that gives opera singing its distinct sound. It refers to the variation in pitch and how quickly or slowly that pitch changes. During the process of learning how to sing opera, vibrato is something that occurs naturally when the vocalist is fully relaxed and has developed proper breath control. For beginners, vibrato can be one of the hardest things to learn. The temptation is to force pitch changes in an attempt to replicate the vibrato effect but it just ends up sounding out of tune. The best way to train your voice to produce vibrato is not to focus on trying to create it at all. Instead focus on the relaxation and breathing control exercises mentioned earlier until your voice begins produces the effect on its own.
7. Vocal Acrobatics
The average person may not know who Rossini is but nearly everyone is familiar with “…fiigaro, fiiigaro, figarofigarofigaro, FIGAROO!” from “The Barber of Seville” Vocal acrobatics like this are extremely difficult to perform but they are one of the most instantly recognizable aspects of operatic singing. Vocal acrobatics give opera singers a chance to show off the extraordinary vocal abilities that they have developed through countless hours of practice. In much the same way as athletes do, opera singers train to develop their skills, mastering the basics before moving on to more advanced concepts.
The most important thing to remember is that everyone has the ability to learn how to sing opera. Singing operatically is not about being born with some magical singing power. It just requires hard work, dedication and a desire to learn.