Please note that these instructions are merely a reference. Ella Fitzgerald doesn’t sound like Diana Krall. Frank Sinatra doesn’t sound like Kurt Elling.
But jazz voices do have things in common. So let’s see what they are…
Step 1 – Range
If you find it difficult to sing with your speaking voice, you could try reading any article or blog out loud – not too loud :) – and than slowly add a melody of a well-know song or simply some made-up melody to it.
Step 2 – Volume
Make it easy on yourself! The softer you sing – with a mic it can sound as loud as you want it to, but the audience should be able to follow the lyrics – the more room you have to add loudness/volume when needed (for dramatic effect or just to stress some important words in the lyrics).
However, singing in a way that is really comfortable for you is key. Don’t try hard to sing way softer than comfortable unless it is for dramatic effect.
In short, comfort is key!
Step 3A – Clear
Jazz is generally sung with a microphone. A clear sound is the most common jazz sound. Your voice has a natural ‘timbre’ (the sound – amount and balance of highs and lows).
But keeping the mic nearer to your mouth will strengthen the low while keeping it further away will make your sound ‘thin’. So you can experiment with that as well.
Step 3B – Breezy
A breezy sound takes a lot of air, so sing very soft and close to a microphone. Again, jazz is mostly sung with a microphone. So if you can, practice with a microphone often – not all the time – but regularly. Never underestimate the impact of a microphone.
A good microphone, sound system and/or good acoustics make a huge difference when singing. Try singing in a church – you’ll get what I mean.
Don’t mistake common for uninteresting though. As lots can be done to ‘color’ your sound. And your natural sound is pretty much unique anyway.
Besides, there’s loads more to singing jazz than just sound alone.
Step 4 – Vibrato
Vibrato is the ‘vibrating’ of a tone. Alternating between a tiny bit lower and a tiny bit higher than the targeted note. It makes a tone sound dramatic yet ‘unsteady’. Not the relaxed sound we aim for in jazz. Only a special tool for some dramatic occasions.
You can make a vibrato wider by increasing the range between which you alternate. And you can increase or decrease the amount of time it takes to go from lower than the targeted note to higher. It’s a waveform. While the jazz sound is usually mostly (!) a straight line.
Step 5 – Melody
Sure, it’s jazz. Anything goes, right? But sticking mostly to the melody (at first) creates opportunity for you.
Next time (or chorus) you sing the melody – for example, after some instrumental solos, or your vocal improvisation – any variation you make on it will be much more easily heard and felt by your audience.
Yes, there’s a world of opportunity. But you are like a general commanding your troops – your possibilities: melodic, rhythmic and dynamic variations. Employ them wisely. Be tactical! Just marching all your troops into battle without strategy isn’t a good plan.
Always keep at least some possibilities in reserve.
Once the audience has heard you sing those awesome variations or high notes, what do you have left to impress?
Hope you liked it and that it helps you to find your jazz voice. Want more? My blogs (check the site menu) are all about vocal jazz and contain helpful tips. Want it all? My online jazz vocal course Jazz Singers Academy offers a complete step-by-step program.