By Deanne Ledebuhr
The first vocal exercises I did were The Siren. My instructor told me to let them hear me “three blocks away”. I felt silly and awkward, but I did it. It turned out to be the first time I had ever heard my voice projected at it's loudest, and found new breath control.
Vocal exercises are an important part of any singer’s routine, from beginner to advanced. It’s good to exercise the voice daily like it's important to move and stretch the body. Vocal exercises include warm-ups done before singing. It’s especially important to warm up before a performance to get the most out of your voice and avoid injury. Exercises might take 10 to 20 minutes a day, or even less. A professional singer doing a 3-hour performance might warm up the voice for 40 minutes.
Vocal exercises can help with many aspects of singing. You may even be able to extend your range. They help ease the transition between the diaphragm voice and falsetto, or “head voice". They also help with vocal agility and diction.
Singers across genres should incorporate vocal exercises into daily practice. They are are a crucial part of musical theater where clear diction for understandable dialogue is important. Trained opera singers warm their voices up religiously. Choir members, singer-songwriters, and folk singers should do it too even if they are not formally trained.
You may want to record yourself doing the exercises, especially when you are a beginner. You’ll be able to review how it sounds more objectively and it will help you adjust your technique. Even if you are concerned about what the neighbors think, sounding silly or bothering people, do it anyway! It’s your voice and you should take care of it.
The following are some types of vocal exercises and a little bit about how they can benefit your voice. You can incorporate them into your practice, even as little as 5 minutes a day:
The first exercise I learned and one that I practice, The Siren is one of the first taught to students. It combines scale, pitch, breath, projection, control, vowels, and diction. You’re want to do it loudly, so you might want to close the doors and windows first. It might even scare your pets.
To perform The Siren, you sort of howl each of the vowel sounds, just like a fire engine! (Ayyyy, then Ahhh...etc.) Go up and down your range, gliding along the top and bottom of an octave.
Solfege, Arpeggios, Scales, Intervals
At least to start, you may want to practice these with an instrument. Solfege exercises (Do, Re, Mi) will help with pitch and vocal agility. Practice arpeggios, scales, and intervals to prepare for challenging performances, including auditions.
Pitch and Resonance
An exercise to help singers struggling with pitch is intoning with an instrument that is in tune. Play a note on the keyboard, for example, and match the note with your voice. Pay special attention to the half step notes.
Slide into the note, easing into the pitch, just like tuning a guitar. This can do wonders to help train the ear, and pay attention to when you are sharp or flat. A tape recorder is helpful to know how close you are singing the note.
Humming is a quick, and quiet way to warm up the voice. It's subtle enough to do before a performance when you haven't got time for proper exercises. It is a good exercise to rehabilitate a strained voice. Hum up and down the scale in intervals, with or without an instrument. This will also help exercise the breath.
Good posture and breath support are important for singers. This will help develop strong diaphragmatic voice control. Some say that the most important thing about singing is the breath. A simple breathing exercise is a controlled belly expansion on inhale, and contraction on exhale. You may also include a practice of short blowing as if you are blowing out birthday candles.
A simple vowel exercise is to sing up and down the the scale or in intervals, replacing the notes with each of the vowels, one at a time. It’s another exercise that is helpful for pitch and diction.
Lip Rolls and Tongue Trills
Lip rolls are a brrr sound, like an “underwater noise”. Placing fingers on either side of the cheeks will help you sustain the sound. Tongue trills are more of a cat purr sound. Perform the rolls and trills while singing scales to help develop technique.
Even if you’d prefer to jump into singing right away, the time doing vocal exercises will strengthen your voice for the long-term. Remember to stay hydrated while you sing, with water and herbal teas. Keep practicing and have fun!