Opera is renowned for being a highly challenging style of singing. This is true, and it takes dedication and discipline to learn how to sing opera. With that being said, anyone can do it, providing they start with the basics and gradually build their skills.
You don’t need a limitless vocal range and expertise in the subject of music theory to sing opera. It’s a case of assessing the natural operatic strengths of your voice and developing them over time.
This beginners’ learning guide will provide you with the basic and intermediate steps you can take for developing your operatic vocals.
Table of Contents
Step 1 – Warm-Up Routine
If you dive straight into singing opera without warming up your voice, you could cause lasting damage to your vocal cords. Not only that, but you won’t be able to use your voice to its fullest potential.
A vocal warm-up routine doesn’t need to be complicated or take up too much time. It’s more important to establish a routine that works for you and leaves your mind and body feeling ready for operatic singing.
I’d recommend starting your routine with lip rolls, as this allows you to warm up your voice without putting any strain on your vocal cords or diaphragm. Begin by singing scales that feel comfortable within your range using the lip roll technique.
You can then repeat the scales using a variety of sounds. Some ideas you could use are the “mm”, “oh”, “ah” “ee” and “ya” sounds. Each of these causes your mouth to form a different shape, and therefore engages different parts of your vocal muscles and cords.
Once you feel that your voice has warmed up, you can move on to the following exercises that will help you to develop the ability to sing opera.
Step 2 – Conscious Breathing & Diaphragm Control
Singing opera requires you to sustain notes for long periods. This skill is only possible if you use the correct breathing techniques. You should develop this before you turn your attention to physically producing operatic sounds.
Before you sing a note, you need to take a slow, deep breath in. This breath should extend beyond your normal inhale and fill up your lungs with air completely. The more air you get into your lungs, the longer you can hold a note.
It’s good practice to try not to make a sound when breathing in. It shouldn’t sound like a gasp, but rather a gentle, controlled intake of air. Inhaling through your nose is desirable as this will slow down your breathing and keep it consistent.
Once you’ve mastered this controlled, discreet breathing technique, you need to focus on expanding your diaphragm as you sing. This will provide your voice with the necessary support as you sing each note.
To locate your diaphragm, place your hands around your waist in a fairly firm grip, and cough. You’ll feel a muscle push your hands out. This is your diaphragm. Notice that when you inhale deeply, this muscle expands, and it should maintain this expansion as you sing a note, until you take another breath.
If at any time you feel you are straining when singing opera, keep your hands firmly around your waist to check that you are using your diaphragm correctly and that you are supporting your voice.
Step 3 – Find Your Operatic Vocal Range
Each vocalist naturally has an operating range that they are comfortable singing in. Identifying this before you attempt to sing opera will save you valuable time and effort.
The main voice types for singing opera are:
The soprano is the highest female voice in opera. Contralto is the lowest female voice, and countertenor is the highest male voice. Males with the lowest vocal register sing in the bass range.
To find which voice type you have, there is a simple but effective method you can use. It requires you to have access to a piano, or some other way to select and listen to all of the notes on a piano.
If you are a female singer, you should start by playing middle C on the piano, and then ascending through the notes until you reach the C that is two octaves higher. If you can reach thee notes comfortably, you are a soprano. If you struggle to hit the highest C, you are probably a mezzo-soprano.
Step 4 – Developing the Fundamentals
When learning how to sing opera, there are two main fundamental skills that you must focus on initially. These are singing with power, and singing higher notes. Even if you are a bass singer, you will need the ability to access the upper part of your vocal register.
Singing with power doesn’t mean you should strain your voice and try to push the sound out. It requires a good posture, proper breathing technique, and constantly ensuring that you are engaging your diaphragm when singing.
You should incorporate singing scales into your daily practice. Start by finding the lowest scale that you can sing, and gradually ascend until you reach the upper limits of your vocal range.
If you go through these scales once a day, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your voice becomes stronger. Then, you can start to aim for scales that are more difficult for you to reach, and your voice will strengthen over time.
This exercise will also help to develop your operatic ear. A large aspect of singing opera is being able to listen attentively to the other singers in the choir to find the correct place for your voice to sit.
The more you sing scales, the more your ear will become competent at noticing intervals between notes. This will be greatly beneficial when you first sing as part of a large group or choir.
Step 5 – Listen & Study
Now that you’ve learned the physical methods for learning how to sing opera, it’s also important to use the resources available to you to speed up your improvement. Thanks to the internet, you can access an abundance of opera music to draw influence from.
It’s a good idea to choose an opera singer who has the same vocal range as you. Then, you can exhaust their back catalog, learn their material, watch interviews with them and try to extract all of their knowledge on how to sing opera.
Spending time learning the material of your favorite opera singers will also help your sense of rhythm, and dynamics. You could even attempt to read the sheet music as you sing along if you want to increase your ability further.
Every musician or singer has influences who inspire them. There’s nothing wrong with imitating the style of an accomplished opera singer because it will lead you to take aspects of it and make them your own.
Learning how to sing opera, like any musical skill, requires dedicated practice over a substantial period. Consistency is the key to seeing improvements, so forming a daily practice routine is of paramount importance.
It’s also important not to become disillusioned if you don’t see dramatic improvements in your ability right away. Everyone’s voice develops at various speeds, and learning to sing opera is a lifelong commitment that can be highly rewarding, provided you stick at it.