How To Sing Opera – Basics and Fundamentals
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sing opera? Do you find the opera singers majestic and extremely talented? How do they not use microphones when singing?
Opera has been around for a very long time, since the beginning of the 19th century. Pretty impressive considering the fact that pop trends change every five to ten years.
Just like the theatre, it’s nothing but pure art.
Pop singers these days have thousands of thousands of people buying incredibly expensive tickets to their shows.
You can debate how artistic the performances are, but it’s a well-known fact that they are very commercialized.
An opera house doesn’t fit more than a few thousand people. They only use microphones and speakers for an announcement. The actual performance includes nothing, but the singers’ vocal cords, folds, and a few muscles.
If this isn’t impressive, I really don’t know what is.
The fact that you are reading this article means that you’ve also been fascinated by a performance at your local opera house or have seen a movie or a show on the Internet.
Anyways, let’s take a closer look at the exercises opera singers do. This will be a good headstart for anyone who wants to learn how to sing opera.
1) Find a Professional To Lead You
Singing opera is nothing like singing along to your favourite pop song. It’s a lot more intense and demanding. Therefore, you have to be careful.
Finding a professional and taking some singing lessons will be the best bet.
Your vocal coach will help you learn and understand different patterns and modulations of your voice that are used the most in the classical singing.
You can take local classes or sign-up for online lessons over the Internet.
Even though it’s the best and likely the fastest way to learn how to sing opera, it’s going to be pricey. Worth it or not is for you to decide.
2) Join a Singing Group In The Neighborhood
As you could’ve guessed already, you will have to reach out to the local theatres, opera houses, community schools, etc. to find out if they offer any singing classes.
If it’s a community college or university club, it may be hard, especially if you don’t live in a big city. However, give it a shot.
Note that if you actually start enjoying it, you can make lifelong friends and get a lot of connections at a club like that. Something like this can turn into your “happy place.”
Another great idea would be going on Facebook and searching for any local singing opportunities.
Some websites even give you the ability to enter your postal code to see what’s going on in your area.
Often you would already need to know at least the basics as no one is going to spoon feed you.
Which moves us to the cheapest but the hardest option to learn how to sing opera…
3) Learning To Sing Opera On Your Own
Obviously, that’s what most of you came to the blog for. Who got money to pay for the instructors? Why would you ever go out there and talk to people when you can just learn over the Internet? I know I am right.
Even learning to sing can be somewhat tricky. How hard do you think it is to sing opera? Well, you definitely have to be up for a challenge.
I) Keep Good Posture
Singing is basically your air coming out of your lungs and trembling your vocal cords with a certain velocity and intensity.
If you don’t keep good posture, you are not getting the best air flow. As a result, you are not getting the best sound.
It’s preferable if you stand, but the same rules apply when you sit.
If you are standing, move your head and shoulders back a little bit. Also don’t forget to keep your feet on the floor flat, which you probably know already.
Basically, your body (every part of it) has to be in the same line.
If you are sitting, don’t lean on the back of the chair. Instead, try moving closer to the edge of it. The rest is the same as if you were standing.
II) Start By Warming Up Your Voice
There are a lot of exercises out there that you can use to warm up your voice. I don’t really see a point to list them all, as there are huge articles on different techniques and methods.
A straightforward and common exercise you may want to use is called elevator slides. It’s one of the simplest and easy to implement techniques out there.
You start from making a long and slow “siren sound” while making an “ah.” Start low and go as high as you can. Don’t push your limits, as it’s more of a warm-up than anything.
Once you’ve reached the highest point, start slowly going back down.
A couple of notes here.
Try using other vowels such as “ooh” and “ee” when doing this exercise.
Keep your throat muscles relaxed at all times. This will help you pull higher notes and speed up the warm-up process.
III) Take A Deep Breath
This is a very simple exercise. In order to expand your lungs in the long run, breath deep and keep going until you can’t inhale any more air.
A couple of notes here.
Don’t make any sound when inhaling. This means that you have to inhale very slowly, so there is absolutely no tension in your breath.
If you hear yourself breathing in, you are too tense. In the future, if you sing with tension in your voice, you will sound very rough. Therefore, it’s an excellent habit to master.
IV) Try Always Keeping Your Diaphragm Expanded While Singing
The diaphragm is a muscle which is located in the top of your chest. It shares the space with your heart and lungs and separates them from the rest of the organs in your body.
Why Is Diaphragm Important When Singing?
As mentioned earlier, the diaphragm is a muscle. You need its strength to force the air you breathe in from the lungs and through your voice.
To feel it, you can try putting your hands around your waist and cough a little bit. You will find out that your hands are being pushed away by a muscle.
Which Muscle? You Already Know The Answer.
The diaphragm expands when you breathe in deeply, and it should stay expanded while you are singing.
If you are a beginner, an easy way to make sure that the diaphragm is supporting your voice is to keep your hands around your waist at all times and feel the muscle move.
As you can see, the warm-up is pretty simple.
What Are Different Vocal Ranges?
Vocal ranges are basically the highest and the lowest notes that an opera or any other singer can hold.
You’ve probably heard these names a million times, but let’s just look at the list:
How Do You Find Out Which Range You Have?
Well, the best way to find out is to have a piano or a keyboard and match a particular note with your voice. Use the image below as a reference.
Soprano is the highest vocal range of a female voice. In order to find out if that’s the range you fall into, start by playing a middle C and try to match the note with your voice.
Then keep going until you reach the C note that is two octaves higher.
Some women can go even higher than that. However, if you can’t hit the highest C quite right, try the vocal range below.
Mezzo-Soprano is the second highest vocal range, which is also the mid-range female voice.
Most of the time they act as supporting roles in opera performances. You rarely see a lead with a mezzo-soprano vocal range.
To see if you have this voice, try the G which is just below the middle C and keep going up until you reach the A two octaves higher.
Contralto / Countertenor
Contralto and countertenor have no significant variance in the voice range. The difference is that contralto is the female’s lowest voice, while countertenor is the highest male voice range.
Start singing the F below the middle C up to the F which is one octave higher.
As I mentioned, they pretty much consist of almost the same notes, except for one.
In general, countertenors tend not to hit the lowest F, so they would start from the G rather than F.
It’s a quite interesting fact that contralto and mezzo-soprano end up blending in as there are very few authentic contralto voices.
A tenor is the higher mid-range male voice. Most tenors end up playing roles of lead heroes.
To find out if you have a tenor, start from the C that is below the middle C to the C which is above it. Just so you don’t get lost, it’s two octaves up from the lower C.
Some tenors are able to hit the highest notes, while others are more comfortable in the middle of the range. This usually reflects the character that the tenor plays.
A baritone is the mid-range vocal range for males.
If you think you have baritone, try singing the second G below the C in the centre and go up to the G above it.
If you can hold all the notes, you are a baritone.
In plays, they tend to be either villains or supporting characters. You will rarely see the lead baritone in an opera play.
We all kind of know what bass is. It’s the very lowest voice of the male vocal range.
Start with the E above middle C and try going to the E two octave below. Holding all the notes pretty good? Well, congrats, you got a bass voice.
In opera houses, you would see men with this vocal range act mostly as supporting roles.
How Do I Practice Singing Opera?
It’s pretty simple.
All you have to do is to keep practicing the range that you have and trying to sing a piece of your favourite opera.
Just like with any kind of singing, let it be pop, rap, or country, talent is only a small part of the equation. You have to practice a lot and try to parrot your favourite voices in your vocal range.
And I don’t mean doing this for 5 minutes a day.
The more you practice, the better you will get.
If you manage to dedicate an hour a day every day, you’ll start seeing results very soon.
A few useful tips.
Learn To Read The Sheet Music
In theory, if you ever want to take opera a little more seriously, you will need to learn how to read the sheet music.
Just like when playing the guitar, piano, or singing in a choir, this is a must if you are thinking ever to do this professionally.
It’s not hard to do by yourself, but having a mentor or even a buddy who knows this stuff already would make it a million times easier.
Learn Basic German, French, or Italian
I mean this is not very important. However, this would help when reading an opera script, for example.
This is mostly to understand the classics just like how you need to know English to understand Shakespear truly. There are adaptations, but they just don’t feel the same.
A lot of operas these days are being written in English, so if you don’t want to learn any new languages, just skip this step.
Start Watching Operas While Reading The Words
This is very similar to watching movies in another language to learn it. You read the movements and facial expressions of the actors while trying to parrot them.
Even though this may sound silly, this is a perfect past time when you are not practicing your vocals.
Conclusion: How To Sing Opera
There is so much information on how to sing opera on the Internet. Don’t forget the hundreds of pages books and tens of hours long video courses.
This article is meant for beginners as the first step in their long journey. Singing opera is considered A LOT harder than singing.
However, this shouldn’t discourage you. Doing something you like for living will feel amazing even after the countless hours of work that you are going to put in.
Just remember that and keep pushing!
Maybe one day you’ll be like Andrea Bocelli or Sarah Brightman, take a look at one of their performance.