So, you’ve decided to make the commitment to sing. Congratulations! I hope you understand the challenge that you are about to take on, and the amount of discipline it will require. After you stick with it for a while, you will have such a feeling of personal accomplishment, as well as the pride of successfully singing music you love!
In the meantime, how do you accomplish smart vocal practice?
Chances are, you have a life outside of singing, and you probably support yourself by some other means. The good news about being a singer, is that unlike instrumentalists, we don’t need to practice 5, 8 or 10 hours a day. A beginner or intermediate vocalist can make significant progress by practicing 30 minutes or 1 hour a day. If you are more advanced and are learning roles or preparing recitals, you will need to practice more, but a lot of work can be done by working silently with the music and by “marking” with your voice (singing quietly, or bringing high parts down an octave).
If you are just beginning your vocal studies, or restarting them after a hiatus, I recommend you spend at least 10-15 minutes every day on vocalises, and 10-15 minutes on building exercises. Healthy, basic vocalises to warm up with include:
•One of the five Italian vowels on a five note scale. You can either start in one register – high or low- and stay there for about 5 or 6 different scales, up and back. For example, you can start in the higher register (G above Middle C if you are a woman, an octave lower if you are a man) and warm up your head voice. Then switch to a more prominent chest voice register (B flat below Middle C if you are a woman, an octave lower if a man) and do the same thing up to about an F.
•Arpeggios, starting on the “ee” vowel and switching to “ah” on the top note, following it down still on “ah.” Any range is fine, and try to blend your registers.
•The five note scale, but in thirds, with all five of the Italian vowels. The scale would be played: 1-3, 2-4, 3-5, 4-2, 1. The vowels are: ah (1-3) – eh (2-4)- ee (3-5) – oh (4-2) – oo (1). Keep your vowels as pure and Italian as possible, and keep your face neutral and jaw loose and disengaged. The back of the tongue will do the majority of the work changing from vowel to vowel.
Here are some of my favorite building, or strengthening, exercises for the voice:
•Messa di voce: I cannot stress enough the importance of this exercise. It teaches breath control and dynamics while strengthening your core muscles. It’s easy (but at the same time, it’s not!). All you do is this: choose one pitch – I recommend you start on a pitch that is comfortable for you. Sing all five Italian vowels on this one pitch, without stopping. For each vowel, start very softly, then crescendo, then bring it back to a mezzo piano. Then move to the next vowel. It doesn’t matter your vowel order, but I suggest: A, E, I, O, U.
•Gee – Gah. With a hard letter “g” as in “good,” vocalise Gee, Gee, Gee, Gee, Gah, Gah, Gah, Gah, Gah, on the following scale: 1-3-5-3-1-3-5-3-1. You can break between each note. Make sure those “g’s” are very pronounced; you can use them to your advantage to stop the air. Then, the vowel should explode out and vibrate strongly. Do not wimp out on this one!
These are just a few suggestions to get you started. Whatever you do, take your time. Listen to yourself, record yourself, remember how things feel as you are singing them. Do you like your sound? Do you not like your sound? Does it feel good? Does it hurt? Take note. Be your own practice guide, and then go back to your teacher and discuss these things with her. Most importantly: try to do your exercises before singing anything challenging. Then, when you are finished singing, especially if you are doing a lot of belting, cool down with hums and slides. Have fun!
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