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Singing, much like music, film and art, is universal. It resonates with people around the globe on an emotional level. Whether we are travelling, working, celebrating or relaxing, we all love to sing and express themselves. However, for those of you who prefer to sing in front of an audience in addition to the shower, you know that a singer’s strength and vocal consistency depends on the power and development of their instrument. But where do you start? It can seem a little daunting and challenging, so we have gathered all the essentials you need to know about vocal exercises and 10 singing tips to build your confidence!
What Are Vocal Exercises?
The voice is an instrument you must understand at a physical level if you are to improve yours. Vocal exercises are the various methods designed to prepare your voice for speech and singing. These exercises can be anything from simple warm-ups to routine drills that challenge and improve your tone, pitch, volume, technique and overall confidence.When you sing, you are engaging your lungs and diaphragm (stomach muscles) to inhale oxygen and then controlling its audible release via your vocal cords, voice box, tongue, teeth and lips. A fundamental part of any successful singing lesson, rehearsal or performance is understanding the value of vocal exercises and how being under-prepared or nervous can negatively impact your voice.
Why Vocal Exercises Are Important
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Warming up and cooling down the muscles around your voice box (vocal cords) will ensure you safely exert yourself with less risk of injury. Vocal exercises gently prepare your voice for singing, help to maintain your existing skills and support improvements, and reduce the chance of vocal damage that can result from tight or strained muscles.
Other Benefits of Vocal Exercise
- Clear the mucus from your nasal passages and mouth that has build up during sleep
- Increase the stamina of your lungs
- Lubricate your throat before singing (Moisture makes singing clearer and smoother)
- Improves your projection
- Improves your pronunciation
- Singing releases endorphins, which can improve your general wellbeing
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The Dangers of Vocal Damage
If you overuse your voice, known as Vocal Fatigue, you may experience various temporary symptoms, including:
- Sore throat
- Breathy voice
- Noisy breathing
- Loss of vocal pitch
- Loss of volume
- Limited vocal range when singing (When muscles are too tight and restricted)
In more serious or prolonged situations, the damage can last longer, or, unfortunately, even be permanent. This can cause worse long-range symptoms, including:
- Vocal damage from overuse (If you lose your voice, that is an indicator of tissue damage on your vocal cords)
- Vocal cord polyps
- Vocal nodules (‘nodes’)
- Vocal cord paralysis
- Nerve damage
Many recognizable singers who have experienced vocal nodules have required surgery, and some can no longer sing. Some of the more famous such cases include Julie Andrews, Adele and Meatloaf.
10 Singing Tips to Improve Your Voice
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The risk of vocal damage can adversely affect your ability to talk and breathe in addition to hindering your long-term ability to sing, so it is important to ensure your voice is warmed up and cooled down properly.
Even a hint of self-consciousness can be enough to reduce your energy and focus when practicing, so to avoid the fear of being heard by someone else and sounding ‘bad’, choose a private space where you are alone, comfortable and have the freedom to be LOUD.
If you are just developing your singing voice, we strongly recommend rehearsing by yourself when you are not seeking lessons. The privacy will speed up your progress and improve your confidence.
Yes, Yes, No
The three fundamentals every singer should remember: warm-ups (yes), water (yes), smoking (no). There is debate about singers undergoing rigorous warm-ups, but from our research, we feel that your voice will be more prepared for singing if you incorporate 10 to 20 minutes of these warm-ups into your routine:
- Tongue stretches (Open your mouth wide and stretch your tongue out as far as it can got)
- Singing scales (Starting low, gradually ascend and then descend)
- Neck and body stretches (Loosen the tension from your whole body)
- Lip trills (Gently push corners of your mouth up toward your eyes and blow air out from between your lips)
During your warm-ups and throughout your singing rehearsals, make sure you drink plenty of water. A hydrated body means a relaxed mind and natural singing voice, so minimize your caffeine and alcohol intake prior to singing. If you smoke, consider quitting, as smoking irritates the vocal cords and can lead to throat cancer.
Singing is the balance between breath and sound. You want the most amount of sound from the least amount of air, so consider:
Inhaling and exhaling deep breaths until all the stale oxygen has been expelled from your lungs. This encourages more lung expansion and relaxation, which are ideal for singing.
Sing a single note at a high volume and monitor its power and duration. Notice if/when you ran out of air or your voice became weak.
Sing the same note again, but this turn time yourself and record how long you held it for.
Make a routine of this test and periodically try to improve on your previous result.
Pick the Singer, Not the Song
Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned professional, your style and sound should be inspired by the singers you admire. We all want to emulate our heroes, but no one wants to be a one-hit wonder; so listen to the singers that resonate with you and your sound: don’t just karaoke to your favourite songs. Pick the music from certain singers and sing their songs, exploring their techniques.
Open Jaw for Vowels
To reduce vocal strain and improve on your volume and resonance, try one of the oldest singing tips in the book to reprogram the muscle memory in your jaw:
Stand in front of your bedroom or bathroom mirror.
Using a wine cork, bottle cap or your index fingers, pull your jaw down 2 inches.
Say A-E-I-O-U and repeat several times.
Sing/say A-E-I-O-U on a single pitch, but keep your jaw open (You want to avoid closing on vowels).
Repeat until you become comfortable and then sing a bridge or chorus from a song you know.
Make sure your jaw remains dropped open in the same position for every vowel.
The more consistently you practice this, the more natural it will become as the muscles will form new memories. Now remain standing in front of the mirror, because the next tip targets your vibrato!
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A slight variation in pitch and speed can add expression to the words while you are singing. We commonly refer to this as ‘vibrato’. Everyone has a natural vibrato, but the best way to produce the sound is when your singing voice is in a relaxed state.
Stand in front of a mirror.
Press both of your hands on your chest, before raising your chest up to create a nice expansion with your lungs.
Inhale and exhale several times, without dropping your chest. (We recommend raising your chest up to counter the downward pressure of your hands)
Keeping your chest raised, sing a single “ahh” note and hold it for as long as you can.
Widen the back of your throat.
In the middle of your note, press on your chest, keep your jaw open and your chin directed slightly toward the ground.
It may help to envisage the air in your mouth spinning around to help control your vibrato.
Float Over the Notes
If you feel that you strain to hit a high note, or find your voice weakens and breaks on a certain note, it may be because of stress on your vocal cords not a limitation of your vocal range. When you feel nervous or pressured to do something, like hit a high note, your muscles can constrict in your neck and throat. This can affect your voice box and vocal cords, and cause the limitation to your vocal range, power and volume.
Consider de-stressing with these singing tips:
Direct your chin partially down and engage your stomach muscles and diaphragm.
Sing an “ah” scale up and down in one breath (1-2-3-4-3-2-1).
Proceed all the way up through your vocal range to your highest note, avoiding the urge to lift your chin.
Sing a bridge or chorus that contains a high note. In the lead up to the note, remain calm and imagine ‘floating’ over the note like a cloud, rather than straining to reach it.
A beautiful sound doesn’t have to be loud. During singing lessons and rehearsals, consider investing in a pair of HearFones. The headphones wrap you in your own sound by catching your voice in a clear half cylinder near your cheek and direct it back toward your ears. This unique design enables you to discover the rawness of your voice and explore the parameters of your volume so you can establish a good, medium vocal tone.
Remember: It’s a Performance
Much like an actor learning their lines, a singer needs to learn their lyrics. Memorizing the lyrics is an essential tip to reduce the risk of stress in a performance and give yourself the freedom to discover the emotional motivation and story of the song. Ideally, you want to sing naturally for the entire song with no need to check your music sheet.
One of the most paramount points in our list of singing tips. Practising singing is the same as going to the gym: the more often you work the muscles, the more they remember and the stronger you get. Practice makes perfect!
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We hope these tips help to strengthen your confidence and elevate the quality of your singing with each rehearsal and performance. You can never stop adding to your singing arsenal, so if you have any more questions about singing techniques, vocal warm-ups, or want to increase your repertoire of singing tips, reach out to your local singing coach!