Want to learn how to sing better? You may have heard that controlling your breathing and your body can make a big difference. Here, NY teacher Nadia B. shares three exercises to try…
While you probably already have a familiar and effective warm-up for singing, the following exercises are helpful to expand your warm-up to continue throughout practice. Some of them can be incorporated into your singing practice time to make it more effective, and others can be a good way to focus on breath support, sustaining long notes, release of tension, and opening the vocal mechanism. All of them will help you learn how to sing better, expanding your understanding of and abilities in the components of singing technique, breathing, expression, and physical awareness.
Exercise 1: Focus on Breathing
The first exercise can be incorporated right before singing a phrase in practice, as a way to free the ribs and ensure that you are using your air well. As you reach the exhale, let the air flow in without sucking or gasping it in. Then, on the next exhale, make an ‘s’ sound or ‘f’ sound. These both place a demand on your breathing through resistance, and you can use up the air available to you making these sounds. As you make the sound, check if you are tightening unnecessarily in any part of the body.
This exercise can show you how to sustain a long note without running out of air or losing breath support, both of which lead to deterioration of the sound. Practicing these sounds is also a way to ‘reset’ the breathing mechanism, letting go of any extra tension you might have been holding on to and allowing for an easy, coordinated breath. You can also pause in between phrases to do one of these sounds and then pick up at the next phrase.
Exercise 2: Try Humming
Humming is another excellent way to warm up the vocal mechanism and release excess tension. As you finish an exhale, let the inhale occur naturally with the ribs springing open and the diaphragm dropping to make room for the air. On the next exhale, start to hum at a comfortable volume and pitch. See if you can feel the vibration all the way through the body, and allow the sound and sensation of humming to travel to any areas that feel tight or constricted. Notice especially that the humming can inhabit your whole head, freeing the mask and the soft palette.
You can also experiment with turning the hum into a vowel sound mid-exhale, continuing to allow the sound to be alive and free. Humming can be used at any point in your practice time, but it’s especially helpful to awaken the body and senses at the beginning of the day or practice session.
Exercise 3: Count While You Sing
Counting is an exercise that takes you away from singing, but allows you to return to it with newfound information and ease. Much like instrumentalists work on their craft away from their instruments to remove the habitual stimulus of playing their instrument, using regular speech is a way to explore what habits you might be unconsciously using while singing.
An interesting theme to explore with counting is which direction you are going in, body-wise, as you count. Count in sequences of 10 (1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 1-2-3-etc.), repeating the sequence as many times within each breath as is possible. Don’t push the breath and sound to the point that you are squeezing or collapsing. As you count on the exhale, notice whether you are going up or down. Is your spine sinking as you count? What about your chest? Or are you puffing yourself up as you count in an attempt to not sink down? The ideal is to allow the counting, or use of your voice, to send you upwards, without you making an effort for it to happen. As you count, send a thought of release to your spine so it can be springy and buoyant as it is meant to be. You may even notice a positive change in the quality and resonance of your voice as you allow this to happen.
These three exercises are wonderful ways to learn how to sing better, with a strong and flexible breath support, a coordinated body system, and ease and poise. Try them everyday to see incremental and significant progress in your singing! You can also work on them with your voice teacher, as an informed observer can offer invaluable and accurate feedback.
Nadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!
Photo by Ramon Rosati