Developing A Unique Singing Voice

Phil Circle
5 min readFeb 14, 2021

What’s so special about that person’s voice? You know the one. They just have something that’s always recognizable. You know all their material and when something new comes out, it could show up in your stream and you immediately know it’s them. That’s the unique voice, the creative voice, shining through. Were they born with it? Well, yes. But they may have also worked for it. Dichotomy? Nope. Here’s what you do.

Singer-songwriter Darin Jellison

Developing comfort with the unique qualities of your voice is a multilayered thing, as well as an ongoing process. One of the benefits of finding your unique voice is that it will give you a wider range of expression and literal pitch. It’s also based heavily in your creative voice, which will also evolve, or I should say change according to your life at any given time.

Here are a series of things you can do to begin, or continue to develop the unique qualities of your singing voice. They can be done in any order and no one is particularly more important than another.

An exercise for developing your creative voice is to write twice a day for ten minutes without censorship of any kind and without any intention whatsoever. The first time should be the minute you wake up. You should use a pen and paper in a notebook and never read any of what you write. Do this for 30 days and then set it all aside for a week before reading it cover to cover.

This builds a comfort with your creative self and an ability to recognize your own little quirks and other special qualities that set apart your way of thinking from the rest of the world. Which, by the way, are probably similar enough with thousands of others that you can connect with them So get comfortable. Put another way, once you are okay with the way you see the world and express your own human condition, you’ll be perfectly okay with doing the same on behalf of others. This is our role as artists, after all.

Now, to the human voice, the vocal instrument.

Things to know about the human voice:

Most of us are really not comfortable with the sound of our own voice, especially when we hear it the way others do. And remember, nobody hears your voice the way you do, through flesh and bone conduction. This enhances lower frequencies and creates a combination of the voice “in the room” and the voice “in your head.” That’s not the metaphorical or mind’s ear, that’s the actual resonant voice.

Our singing voice doesn’t fully mature until about age 22–23 and isn’t at its peak until the mid thirties. Opera singers often don’t get leads until 35–40, for instance.

It’s the most difficult instrument of which to gain a real mastery, and is the most highly affected by both external conditions and internal issues. These latter things don’t have any effect on, say, playing guitar. If you have a cold, you can still play guitar. If you’re really tired, your guitar doesn’t lose tonal quality. And eating pizza doesn’t make your guitar phlegmy.

The human voice, with all its unique personality and personal identifying characteristics, is still a tool. It can be improved upon and everyone has the ability to use it well, with varying levels of work. Pitch, for instance, is learned.

Things to do to improve and enhance the unique qualities of your voice:

Spend time using your voice with absolutely no affectation whatsoever. Sing as if you just discovered your voice, like a little kid. Delight in it. Even be goofy and ridiculous. Imitate different kinds of vocalists in a comedic way. As always, however, be careful not to strain your voice. Anytime you experience a tugging like the feeling of stretched muscles in your throat, back off.

If someone says you sound like someone in particular, make no effort to sound more like that person. If anything, embrace further the unique qualities of your voice. When I learned to ignore the soundalikes I was compared to and be completely myself, people would find that I sounded that much more like the person they compared me to, when I did one of their songs.

Choose three songs you feel an emotional connection to, as if you could have written them yourself. Learn them top to bottom, lyrically and melodically. Don’t worry about whether you sound like the original artist. In fact, ignore that tendency. We all have it, imitation is how we learn to speak in the first place, so it’ll take some effort. Write out the lyrics by hand and leave a space between each line. Now go back and write the subtext beneath the lyrics. i.e. how you feel as you sing them. Not how you think the lyricist felt or what you think literally they’re saying; how you feel. Find an instrumental accompaniment for the song and start singing along to it as if you wrote these lyrics and melodies. Make the song your own story. Don’t listen to the original except as a reference when you can’t get a musical technicality straight.

Now, record yourself singing these songs. Wait 3–5 days. This will help you listen to the recording objectively. Pay no attention to whether you emotionally like your voice. Just hear it as a technical instrument. Is it on pitch? Are you opening your mouth? How’s your elocution (annunciation)? When you notice something isn’t on, don’t react to it emotionally. Just recognize it. Your subconscious will take note of it and begin fixing it. If you do like something you hear, same thing. Your brain will begin reinforcing it.

By working any or all of these techniques into your routine, you can gradually experience the tremendous benefits and satisfaction of knowing what your true voice sounds like. You’ll find a wider range of expression and a greater vocal range in general. Depending on your age you’ll find that this unique voice of yours may continue to evolve. Have fun and enjoy your new instrument.

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Phil Circle

Phil Circle is an award-winning singer-songwriter, author and coach, native Chicagoan who lives in Los Angeles, and founder of Phil Circle Music in both cities.