Many singers, upon finding out that I am a professional vocal coach and teach voice at the collegiate level, always ask me what vocal exercises I use. I sense that they are looking for the Holy Grail. All singers are looking for that one drill that will send them over the top with a feeling of vocal confidence unparalleled in human history. They are sure to be disappointed! But there are some effective ones to use in your private practice sessions.
All singers are looking for that one drill that will send them over the top with a feeling of vocal confidence unparalleled in human history. They are sure to be disappointed!
One of the pleasures of teaching at the collegiate level is the frequent opportunity to observe other voice teachers in action. I get to see them actually teach a live voice student. I always tend to see basic themes with variations. Many times this is related to basic vocal warm-up and vocal development exercises which address range, flexibility, and tone.
Following are five types of exercises that have appeared in these visits and have a legitimate, recognizable physical function. You may even recognize some of them. You might be using them without knowing why. Here they are!
- Humming, tongue trills, lip trills, or singing into a narrow tube (a straw) on slides, glides, scales, or arpeggios (broken chords) over a wide pitch range.
What is accomplished: Allows the respiratory (breathing) muscles to engage fully and quickly. Minimizes unwanted tension by limiting force on the vocal folds (cords). Separates the vocal folds to allow the edges to vibrate. Stretches the vocal folds effectively.
- One to two octave slides or glides. First sung in a downward tonal direction and then up and down. The singer uses the vowels i/(ee) or u/(ooh). These slides allow for a transition from low chest all the way to a high falsetto. It even mixes some registers. Hey, could we be dealing with some contemporary singing here?
What is accomplished: Creates a muscular scenario for maximum vocal stretch. Causes a correct coordination between all muscles used for singing. Avoids muscular tension when changing registers.
- Forward tongue roll and extension (outside the mouth and over the lip), using the vowels a/(ah) and i/(ee), on a five-tone scale.
What is accomplished: Separates singing (phonation and articulation) and the movement of the lips and tongue. Causes muscular independence.
- The classic “Messa di voce” (a controlled crescendo then decrescendo on a long held note).
What is accomplished: Lets the vocal folds adjust gradually to different speeds of vibration. Coordinates muscle tension in the vocal folds. Coordinates crescendo and decrescendo under varying breath pressures. Also, all muscles inside the larynx (voice box) must function efficiently with these varying breath pressures.
- Staccato on arpeggios (broken chords)
What is accomplished: All notes are sung crisply. They are started quickly with accurate clarity of pitch, thus creating a proper coordinated function for vocal fold vibration. Eliminates unnecessary tension in the vocal folds while changing pitches.
Please keep in mind the idea of theme and variations. All five of these drills can be applied to many different situations and different teachers. There is no magic bullet or magic elixir that can be applied to singing. The singer must work smart with proper information that allows for continual effective improvement.
There is not one vocal drill or arpeggio or group of sung notes that will make you a better singer. But all of these drills can be used with different note patterns and still be effective. You must find out what needs to be worked on and fix that. Then you move on to the next vocal item that needs to be fixed. It is similar to peeling an onion, one layer at a time. Now go sing well!