There are few things that hit as hard as a well-controlled, soulful voice. Soul singers can add an extra sense of deep meaning to their vocal delivery. In doing so, they manage to reach their listeners in a way that most other singers couldn’t on their own.
Everyone that can sing can tap into the more soulful parts of their voice. In today’s article, I’m going to run you through a few simple tricks and techniques that you can do to enhance the soulfulness of your singing.
Find Your Place
One of the most defining things about a soul singer is their ability to control the volume, tone, and sustain of their voice. These techniques are referred to as dynamic control.
To be able to see how far you can push your vocal in these areas, you’re going to need to determine where your vocal core is. Establishing the center of your vocal will provide you with a base to work from and experiment with.
Start by singing a soft, whispery vowel (generally “ah” or “hee” works well) over and over. Slowly increase the amount of force you put into your projection with each repeated vowel. Keep increasing the volume and force until you are at your loudest without shouting.
Your voice should feel as if it starts at the bottom of your larynx at its quietest and up into your palette at its loudest.
Once you’re at your loudest, work your way back to a middle point. This area should feel relatively effortless and more like a speaking voice level. Your vocal core will be at this volume and you’ll want to develop a mental link to this region when turning on your singing brain.
Chest, Nasal, and Head Voice
Singers utilize three main areas of their upper body when they sing. Each area produces a different tone. Great soul singers can effortlessly switch between these areas depending on the type of emotional expression they are aiming for. Below are a few pointers on how to access these three types of tone while singing:
- Chest – Chest voice feels like the most natural voice and is also used foremost of your low to mid-level notes. You will use your diaphragm and chest to sing your deepest and loudest notes. Think of the chest voice as the root and trunk of the tree that is your vocal.
- Nasal – This region of your voice is the crossover point into your head voice. The easiest reference for head voice is the high-pitch vocal of The Bee Gees. This region of the voice allows you to sing your middle and top-end notes.
- Head Voice – As the name suggests, head voice is responsible for the higher notes in your vocal range. The head voice is also where your falsetto sits and is a delicate area of the voice. Strong soul singers know the entry point of their head voice and have great control over the dynamics in this area of their voice. When training your head voice, try not to over-exert yourself as this can very easily lead to a vocal strain or injury.
Vocal Runs & Vibrato
Vocal runs are a popular technique in soul and R&B music and really allow a soul singer to flex their singing capabilities. Vocal runs occur when a singer decides to change pitch while sustaining a vowel or phrase. Have a listen to singers like Luther Vandross or Marvin Gaye and you’ll quickly pick up this habit.
You can develop stronger coordination between your brain and your voice by practicing scales and arpeggios. You can then further this skill by practicing the vocal runs that you hear on other soul records.
Vocal Runs are not to be confused with scats, which are more percussive and are broken up by many breaths as opposed to being sustained over a single breath.
Another signature characteristic of soul singing is the confident use of vibrato. Vibrato is a slight modulation of the pitch while singing. The sound is achieved when a singer contracts and releases the air passage to create a wobbling effect on the larynx. Vibrato can be pretty easy to learn, but quite tricky to master.
Start by singing a single vowel and imagine your larynx beginning to shiver as you gently pull back on your breathing. You should start to hear or feel a movement in the pitch of your voice. The harder and quicker you contract this muscle, the more distinct your vibrato will sound.
Feeling Your Voice
This final point is more of a mental note than anything else, but it’s probably one of the most crucial to singing soul music. Soul as a genre usually consists of very powerful people singing about raw, vulnerable parts of themselves.
This is how the genre acquired its name, as singers were thought to be sharing parts of their souls to generate their immense power.
The most iconic soul singers managed to reach very deeply into their emotions when singing their songs. If you want to be able to sing like the best, you’re going to have to be comfortable digging up very uncomfortable, honest parts of yourself.
Soul singing should make you feel something whether you’re singing or listening to it. Don’t be scared to use whatever emotion you have in order to sing freely, and you’ll instantly feel yourself become a more self-aware and present singer.
Soul singers like Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and Beyonce have become household names thanks to their powerful, honest vocal deliveries. Artists like these could not have made it to where they are no sheer talent alone.
Strong, consistent soul singing takes hours of learning, training, and practice.
Fortunately, the voice is an instrument that you can carry everywhere and practice whenever you get the chance. We hope this article gets you one step closer to reaching your soulful singing goals.