What Good Are Vocal Exercises?

Many times in a lesson I ask a singer to describe something. In fact, generally, I ask a lot of questions in lessons. I want to know what the singer knows, what they understand, how they use what they have taken from singing and from lessons with other people.

Sometimes people come in an tell me they have taken lessons for 5, 10 or even 15 years. When they sing, they look and sound like they have never set foot in a voice studio. Some of them sing very poorly. They are all caught up with a certain kind of resonance, or a special way to “place the sound” or some idea they have about how to “vibrate the tone in the masque” or stay on pitch. I want to know what the singer is focused on while trying to create those things while singing.

Other people can come in and say, “I have never studied singing”, but can do a whole lot of things and be very comfortable. They have both freedom and control and they sound very good. They don’t fuss over making sound, but they can make it and comfortably so. Those people are highly skilled vocal technicians, even though they have never studied singing at all.

The folks who don’t do too well sometimes don’t really know what lessons are supposed to give you. They have not been taught what a trained voice is supposed to do or to be, and they don’t have reasons for why they do any exercise. They just do them because someone told them to. If you don’t understand what a vocal exercise is supposed to do for your voice (your sound, your throat, your artistry), and you do it anyway, it can still do you some good, even if you don’t know why, as long as you do it correctly. But when it comes to using it in a song, you may have little success.

The process of taking lessons is supposed to teach your voice to do things that it would never do it on its own. Those things have to be done correctly and for long enough for them to become automatic responses that you don’t have to think about. The exercises should add in things that are “missing” to balance vocal function, they should correct vocal flaws, they should enhance things like range, endurance, power, flexibility, accuracy and, while doing so, bring out the uniqueness of your voice, making it instantly recognizable. It is supposed to get underneath the expression you want to put into the sound so that your communication is given to the audience in a straightforward and powerful manner.

As with any situation in which you are learning new skills, you need to be able to ask questions. Why is always a good thing. Why am I doing this exercises and not that one? Why is this exercise so difficult? Why is this correct, what’s good about it? What is also good. What is the reason for this exercise? What is happening when I do this? Is that going to help me sing the way I want?

After you have studied with a good teacher regularly for about two years you should feel like you have much more control over your singing and much greater ease and satisfaction. You should begin to understand what skilled singers have in their toolbox in order to meet the needs of the music fully and in order to grow as artists. You will begin to glimpse what it means to sing in a healthy way, no matter what kind of music you sing, and you will start to know what deep satisfaction in singing is, even if it isn’t a lasting experience at first.

Mindless singing isn’t for professionals or professional amateurs. Knowing what you want your voice to do and then getting it to do that is a learned skill for most people. If you take lessons and don’t get what you need in a reasonably short period of time, stop. Go someplace else.


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