Recently one of the worship leaders here at Substance has experienced some problems with his voice, and he feels like it may be tied to his lack of vocal training.
This made me think – (I know… me thinking is dangerous) – There are probably a lot of vocalists that probably don’t understand even basic vocal technique.
Sure… they may have AMAZING VOICES (as my fellow worship leader does), and they can belt it, and they hit all the notes, and their tone is perfect… but they can’t sing for long periods of time… and their range seems limited… and sometimes their voices hurt when they’re done singing.
So… what’s a singer to do?
It’s simple. You’ve heard it said a million times. Your vocal chords are a muscle in your body… just like your biceps, your abs, your heart, and your gluteus maximus. To keep your voice healthy and strong, you need to exercise it.
Here are 6 simple exercises to help you keep a strong, healthy singing voice:
1. Long Breath
The most important aspect of singing is breath support. If you do not have strong & healthy breathing habits, you will not have a strong & healthy voice. One of the best exercises anyone can use to strengthen their voice is this exercise.
Lay on your back. Put one hand on your chest. Breathe in completely without letting your chest raise your hand. When you have taken in a full breath, let it out slowly; as slowly as you can. Making a hissing noise is an effective way to breathe slowly.
If you catch yourself suddenly gasping for air, that’s okay… all the more reason to train your voice.
2. Loosen Those Lips!
This next one is easy… and rather silly. take a deep breath in. Now breathe out. As you breathe out, allow your lips to vibrate as if you’re saying “Brrrr” but don’t actually make any noise… just move your lips.
This simple exercise helps loosen up your lips. Just as a runner jumps up and down before a run, this exercise helps you prepare your mouth muscles for singing.
3. Tonal Tenacity
My opinion is that vocal tone is half-gift and half-skill. The gift a person has with vocal tone in and of itself is not enough to reach true tonal ecstasy. A truly amazing singer will learn to take their God-given tone and achieve greater tone through proper exercise and skill.
One of the basics of proper tone has to do with the difference between your head voice, your throat voice, and your stomach voice. Most untrained vocalists sing with their throat, which is severely abusive to your vocal chords. Loud, obnoxious singers tend to sing with their stomach, which isn’t always pleasant. And a truly amazing vocalist knows when to sing with your head, when to sing with your stomach, and NEVER to sing with your throat (unless your name is Louis Armstrong).
Singing with your head voice is a hard technique to explain, and master. Here is an expert video giving a really good example of how to learn the technique: Head Voice Technique
4, 5, 6. Vocal Warmups
Aah… the “do re mi fa so” that we all love and hate at the same time. But, we do love them because they do work. These are the exercises that actually help to strengthen the muscles that we sing with. There are various exercises that help with various aspects of singing: range, power, tone, dynamics, etc. Here are three of my favorite vocal warm-up exercises:
- ‘Woooohh’ – This one is simple. Start at the lowest point in your range, singing ‘wooh.’ Then work your way up until you reach the highest point in your range. When you get there, go back down. Repeat. This is a great exercise that really helps “extend” your vocal range, making those high and low notes a little more comfortable to sing.
- ‘hahaha’ – Again, simple. Use a 1-3-5-3-1 pattern. Start at a lower note in your range. Sing the word ‘ha’ on each note up and down, but really emphasize the ‘h’ at the beginning. You should feel your stomach move during each note, ensuring you are actually using your diaphragm. Work your way up in your range at either half-step or whole-step intervals (I recommend half-steps unless you’re in a pinch for time). If you really want to get a good workout, go all the way up through your range, and then work your way back down to the original note. This exercise is all about power. The more you learn to use your diaphragm to give you the power to sing, the easier it will be to hit those higher notes, for longer periods of time, with less strain.
- ‘me may mah moe mooh’ – This one is one of my favorites. It’s a little trickier to explain with words, but I’ll do my best.
- Use Latin vowels: Mi Me Ma Mo Mu (It doesn’t matter as much when you’re singing contemporary music, but this exercise really helps you reconnect your voice to your memory of these vowels).
- The patter goes 5-3-4-2-3-1-2-7-1, with the seven being the note below the 1. This pattern goes down two notes, up one, down two, up one, down two, up one, down two, up one.
- Start at a note in the middle of your range. After each arpeggio, work your way up your range at half-note increments.
- Once you reach the top of your range (comfortably), start to work your way down.
- Instead of ending where you started (in the middle), go all the way down to the lowest point in your range.
- This exercise, along with standard arpeggiated vocal exercises are the multi-tasking exercises. They help extend your range, loosen up your vocal muscles, increase the power of your voice, and keep an overall healthy voice.
There are so many ways to sing, so many vocal exercises, so many methods of vocal technique. I hope that these few tips will help you start your journey to vocal health. If you’d like further help with your voice, do not hesitate to give me a buzz.