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Can You Really Become a Master Singer Without a Teacher?

Having a clue what to do can actually be your breakthrough

John Huthmacher Staff Reporter
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5 min read
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Like almost anything you do, if you do it enough you are going to get better. Stay hungry, and don’t be too hard on yourself.
Stephen Riker of RikeR


Chaotic Resemblance frontman Travis McConnell remembers well when learning to sing became his obsession.

Though he grew up singing gospel songs in church, it wasn’t until he was invited on-stage to sing during a concert in Tallahassee, Florida by his favorite Christian rock group, Audio Adrenaline, at age 11 that he fully committed to developing his singing voice into an instrument worth hearing.

So he would spend the next five years learning harmony and other vocalization skills in school choirs in Oklahoma; experiences that included performing live at Carnegie Hall. It was during this time he launched Chaotic Resemblance, the band he has since grown into an international act that performs year-round at clubs, churches, and other concert venues around the globe.

“That choir director was amazing,” McConnell said. “He helped me learn to stay in key, harmonize, and learn what my range was. That’s when I really started to figure things out.”

Developing the Right Voice

Though he has never worked one-on-one with a professional vocal instructor, McConnell has developed his powerful voice through trial and error methods that have included scream along sessions with his favorite heavy metal artists and persistent use of his instrument during shows and rehearsals.

In fact, apps including Spotify and Napster have helped keep him connected to his favorite artists, where he draws inspiration and ideas from fellow singers like veteran Les Carlson of Bloodgood. Tools like the metronome app keep him on beat and in sync with the band on-stage and in the studio.

“Singing is just like anything you do: it’s about consistency,” he said. “I’m a runner, and if I’m training for a marathon, most of my runs are going to be at a conversation pace. What is going to make you a strong singer and a good vocalist is consistently singing.

“That is how you are going to expand your range and not tire and blow your voice out. You’ve just got to get familiar with it. It’s something you can continually get better at if you work at it.”

How an App Can Help Your Voice

Apps like Sing Sharp help make that time investment count by offering warm-up exercises and tips on developing pitch and overall vocal quality. With Perfect Ear, singers can delve into music theory to better understand and direct their every note.

World-renowned tenor Juan Diego Florez is best known in opera circles for possessing exceptional vocal range. In a 2011 New York Times titled, “The Note That Makes Us Cry,” he identifies mental concentration and adrenaline as the means to that end.

“You think very high,” he said. “You give a lot of space in your throat. I imagine a keyboard in my head and reach for the note there.

“You have to hit them (high C notes) without effort, but that’s acting. You’re concentrating on making those notes sound great.”

When a Recorder Makes a Great Tool

Being able to hear one’s recorded voice can be invaluable when attempting to sort out what works and what doesn’t vocally. The Smule app offers recording tools for singers to practice and share tracks with others.

Stephen Riker, whose band, RikeR, includes twin brother Seth on drums and their father, former Head East member, Steve, on bass, said he still gleans information on his voice from live recordings of the band.

“Like coaches take game film to see their players’ weak spots, you need to record yourself,” he said. “Self-observation is a way to see those weak spots and fix problems.”

See How Other Singers Perform

Though he came to his role of lead singer out of necessity — no one else wanted it, he said — Stephen says he’s now comfortable with the role. Watching and learning from singers like former Head East vocalist John Schlitt — whom his band now supports at live shows — drives him to be the best version of himself he can be.

“For me, the biggest thing has been observation of people who are really good and trying to pick up on what they do,” he said. “I told John Schlitt that being a big fan of his was a really big deal for me. I definitely don’t have his talent and range, but when I just tried to flat-out impersonate him, it enhanced my singing.”

With that being said, Riker believes that, to some degree, all humans possess the ability to sing. It is up to each aspiring vocalist to put in the time it takes to develop the level of vocal skill they possess.

“Honestly, if I can get to a point where I can carry a tune than literally anybody can,” he said. “Like almost anything you do, if you do it enough you are going to get better. Stay hungry, and don’t be too hard on yourself.”

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Can You Really Become a Master Singer Without a Teacher?

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