Daily Practise Exercises.
The best way to improve vocal technique to practise daily. There is an old adage “Practise makes perfect.” To some degree, this is untrue. Only proper practise makes for a perfect (or near perfect ) performance. While many singers start with vocal exercises, doing so simply isn’t looking at the voice, and music, as a holistic art form.
Begin with Exercises to Relax your Body Before You Sing.
Attaining correct body alignment is the first step to the production of beautiful sound. Breathing easily and freely requires both relaxation and proper body alignment. There are many disciplines that can be explored – Pilates, for example. I have personally found therapeutic massage to be beneficial for releasing tension and easing the pain of an old injury. These are “exercises” in their own right, and ones which can be practised regularly and interwoven into the thread of daily life. Immediately prior to singing, be it practise or performance, mental preparation is required. The worries of the outside world must be “let go” which is one of the many reasons that singing is beneficial for overall good health. A short physical routine can include arm stretching, shoulder rolling, facial muscle and lip relaxation (pursing and stretching the lips several times), and slow and gentle head rolling or side to side movement. Artists develop body tension in different areas – I find that most of my tension at the end of the day will be in the shoulders. However, the tongue can also be a seat of tension, and – although it sounds a little strange when written – stretching it in and out of the mouth several times is one of the ways this tension can be released. A gentle massage of the cheeks is also of proven benefit for relaxtion.
Exercises are not merely a way of warming up the voice, and should never be treated as such. It is of vital importance to take a good ten to fifteen minutes prior to practise or performance to warm up the voice. It is also vital to establish a daily routine of exercises to work on breathing, intonation, and technique in general. When I was re-establishing my voice after thyroid surgery, I never sang a “song” for a year, and only a few in the following year. Instead, I worked on Scales, the Major and minor scales, Chromatic scales, Modes, Intervals, exercises for Portamento, Sostenuto, and both Triads – and later Arpeggios – in both Staccato and Legato. I found Vocalises to be invaluable, and started working on the Low Voice vocalises composed by Nellie Melba, a zip file of which is available on this site. These particular Vocalises, unlike some which are more complicated, are easy and are in a smaller vocal range, sometimes within the octave. They range from slower tempos through to much faster tempos. Once I had established one octave, and worked consistently through the vocalises, I moved on to the Vocalises for High Voice. A Thyroidectomy is radical surgery for a singer. Commonly, voices are severely damaged, or at least compromised. I sang scales and vocalises only for the better part of two years, and my voice returned. I believe it was largely due to my diligent practising of this type of exercise.
Exercises before Singing and Practise.
Now that I have re-established my voice, I still continue with the exercises. After some physical relaxation work, I will always sing through the scales and at least one or two Vocalises before I practise my pieces. I keep a cup of warm water at hand at all times. This particular brew is a favourite of mine.. warm water, a good teaspoon of honey, fragranced with cinnamon and a touch of Turmeric. The voice must be kept hydrated at all times, and despite a lack of medical evidence, components of this combination has been used for centuries to heal and soothe ailments. It is well known in traditional Chinese and middle Eastern medicines. Numerous studies have proven that honey possesses anti-bacterial properties while Cinnamon and Turmeric possesses anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Rich in vitamins and minerals, this is a particular favourite for boosting energy levels. Please note that I do not profess to have medical knowledge, and am merely stating this from my own personal experience over the years.
“1% Talent, 99% Perspiration.”
Someone once said this to me, and there is a great deal of truth in it – for what good is talent without work to achieve the level of performance that is desirable?
He said “If a singer comes to me with only 1% of natural talent, a burning desire to succeed, and the will to put in the work, I will create, in him or her, a virtuoso.” Is talent over-rated? Personally, I don’t think so. Having taught music and singing for many years, and worked with instrumentalists of all levels of experience, clearly some people have more natural talent than others. However, every musician, talented or not, must put in the hard yards, the work. It is not whether or not they must practise and study, but the degree necessary. A singer with abundant natural talent who doesn’t practise, and who never rigorously self-evaluates without laying blame, may easily be surpassed by a singer with far less natural talent who practises daily, and reaches for a level beyond their expectation. Practise should be “proper practise”. This does not include singing in the shower, singing while playing a computer game, or singing while chatting on social media. A mental and physical preparation and warm up, daily practise of Scales and Vocalises, and dedicated application to the music itself, will provide the platform for an accomplished performance of challenging repertoire on the world stage.
Here is the link for exercises available for easy download from this site. There are also recordings of lyrics in languages other than English. Most of these recordings of lyrics are those of set AMEB examination pieces.
© Helen Coleman