The key to improving your vocal ability is consistency. Vocal exercises are an effective way to practice fundamentals, develop your voice technically, and to make sure the necessary measures are taken to protect it.
In this article, I’m going to provide you with some tried and trusted vocal exercises that will enhance your ability as a vocalist. Repetition of these methods over a prolonged period will bring you noticeable improvements.
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Why Are Vocal Exercises Important?
To commit fully to the consistent practice of vocal exercises, it’s important to establish some strong motives. When we first embark on a journey of vocal improvement, willpower is enough to keep us on track, but this is a limited resource.
It’s therefore imperative that we get it clear in our minds why we are performing these exercises. You might find that the enjoyment of performing them is enough to motivate you, but if you need some clear incentives; here are the main benefits that you will receive if you stick at the exercises.
Protecting & Preserving your Voice
When I first started singing in a band over a decade ago, I used to scoff at the advice of experienced signers telling me that I needed to take care of my voice. When you’re young, it’s easy to think that your vocal ability will remain the same with no maintenance needed.
It was only when a fellow frontman explained to me that the voice is like any other part of the body, and just as an athlete wouldn’t expect their muscles to perform and recover to the best of their ability without warming up, proper technique, and recovery, my vocal ability would suffer if I didn’t take the same approach.
The great thing about vocal exercises for singers is that you can tailor them to suit your strengths, weaknesses, and natural ability. Learning the correct techniques and measures will keep your voice at a high level for many years to come.
If you neglect warm-ups, proper technique, and fundamentals, sure, you might be lucky and never have any issues. But in my case, I figured I didn’t want to take any chances. Your voice is not like a guitar that can be replaced with a new model – it’s with you for life, so looking after it is a no-brainer if you ask me.
Increasing Vocal Range
One of the most common questions I get asked by aspiring vocalists is “how do I increase my vocal range?” There’s no single answer to this question, but the most important thing is to consistently practice using vocal exercises.
By simply singing along to your favorite songs, you will likely notice some minor improvements in your vocal range over time. The problem is, without analyzing your ability and constantly pushing yourself, there’s a ceiling to the progress that can be made.
Vocal exercises teach you to be mindful of the way you are singing. Sometimes, shifting your perspective through self-analysis can improve your range more than the physical act of singing can in months.
The exercises I’ll list in this article will teach you to strengthen your vocal cords dramatically, which in turn will maximize your vocal range. And most importantly, you’ll learn to do them without putting unnecessary strain on your voice.
The final reason that vocal exercises are so important, is improving your tone. The tone is a word that gets thrown around a lot and can be confusing. By tone, I’m referring to the characteristics of the sounds you produce when singing.
Two people could be singing the same melody, perfectly in tune, but one sounds much more pleasing to the ear than the other. What’s the deciding factor? Tone.
By performing the following vocal exercises regularly, you will learn to improve your breath control and delivery, giving you more control over the tone of your singing voice.
Exercise 1: Controlling Your Breath
Breathing is, without a doubt, one of the most important aspects of singing. Many vocalists underestimate how much proper breath control could improve their overall ability. In reality, it can unlock a whole new plethora of potential.
For this exercise, it’s important to be relaxed. Stand up in a location that has plenty of space around you, with your spine erect. Shrug your shoulders a few times and let them fall into a relaxed, natural position.
Now, get into the rhythm of breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Make sure to pay attention to the position of your shoulders as you breathe. They should stay stationary, not rising and falling with your breaths.
Once you’ve got into the natural rhythm of your breath, it’s time to focus more on how you are breathing. The perfect form for a singer is to start the inhale from low down in your stomach. The stomach should push out when you inhale and go in when you exhale.
The key here is to engage the diaphragm. This part of the stomach is where most of your vocal power comes from. As you breathe, visualize your lower stomach filling up with each inhale, and deflating with each exhale.
As you get into the rhythm of diaphragm breathing, it should start to feel like a circular motion. The air comes in through the nose, into the lower stomach, inflating your chest, and exiting through your mouth.
Don’t worry about breathing too fast or slow, just find your natural, relaxed rhythm. Try to engage the muscles around the diaphragm and pay attention to the subtle sensation that each inhales and exhale brings.
Perform this conscious breathing exercise until you feel completely relaxed. 2-3 minutes is enough time. The beauty of correct breath training is that you can perform this exercise any time, in any location, and you’ll master diaphragm breathing in no time.
Exercise 2: Lip Rolls
Admittedly, it can be hard to perform this next exercise while keeping a straight face! It may seem silly at first, but lip rolls are an integral part of any vocal exercise routine.
I promise, there’s a method to the madness. Lip rolls are commonly used by vocalists because they allow you to work on your voice without putting unnecessary strain on your vocal cords. The shape of your mouth and tongue relieves the tension, and that’s why they’re a great way to warm up your singing voice.
You may find that you need to persevere to learn how to lip roll, or it may come naturally as it did in my case. Imagine that you’re trying to create the sound of an engine revving with your lips.
Keep your mouth closed, and blow your lips together so that they roll alternatively, creating a “Brum” sound. Once you’ve mastered the technique and your lips can roll effortlessly, you’re ready for the exercise.
It helps if you have access to an instrument and have some basic knowledge of keys, but this isn’t essential. If you can perform this exercise at a piano or with a guitar, great, but if not, there are plenty of YouTube videos that will give you the root notes of every major key.
Start with a note that’s comfortably in your range, let’s take concert A for example. When the A note plays, use the lip roll technique to mimic the note. If you don’t feel comfortable singing full scales yet, just repeat the note a handful of times.
If you can, sing the major scale in your chosen key. Be sure to keep using the lip roll technique, and don’t strain your voice too much. When you’ve completed the scale, it’s time to move up by a semitone and repeat the exercise.
When you ascend to a scale that is too high for your comfortable singing range, it’s time to go back down until you reach your starting key, which in this example is concert A major.
Don’t worry if you can’t play the full scale, or don’t have the theoretical knowledge to do so yet. You can simply sing the root notes using the lip-roll technique, and move up gradually, focusing on reproducing the notes.
Exercise 3: Humming
After performing the lip roll exercise, your voice should be nicely warmed up. Now we can start to add a little more stress to the exercises through humming. This is a simple exercise but don’t underestimate the impact it can have on your singing ability.
Start by making a simple “mm” noise, as you’ve just tucked into some delicious food. Pay attention to the sensation you feel on your lips. There should be a slight vibration felt in the back of your throat and on the tips of your lips.
It’s important to resist the temptation to start humming with an “H” sound, as this makes you waste some of your breath. Your tongue should be positioned at the bottom of your mouth and not on the roof.
Now re-perform the lip-roll exercise whilst humming. You might find that because your voice has warmed up from the previous breathing and rolling exercises, you can extend your range a little. Start on a comfortable note, and move up the scales until you’re near the peak of your chest voice range.
Humming activates more of your vocal cords than lip rolling. It helps to open your throat and engages the lower portion of your stomach. Be sure to keep breathing in through your nose when you feel the need, and be careful not to force it.
Exercise 4: Tongue Placement
Our fourth exercise requires you to make another sound. Start by saying the word “singing”. When you get to the “ing” part of the word, hold it. Sustaining the “ing” will feel like you’re singing nasally, but this is ok, as it is using another portion of your vocal muscles.
Tongue placement is what we are focusing on here. Your tongue should naturally press against the front of the roof of your mouth when making the “ing” sound. It should feel like your voice is being pushed through the palate of your mouth.
Move up and down the scales again, keeping the force and delivery of the “ing” sound consistent. Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed, and not to over-tense your neck and face muscles.
Once you’ve ascended and descended through the scales a few times, pick a song that you know is well within your vocal range. Sing along with the melody whilst keeping the “ing” sound. Focus on hitting the notes without any tension arising in your voice.
Exercise 5: Vowel Pronunciation
Now that all of the necessary muscles have been engaged and your voice has warmed up, it’s time to practice some pronunciation. Vowels are often overlooked by singers, but the way you pronounce them is hugely impactful.
Vowels are sustained when you sing, and often form the most important parts of a song. Because you tend to hold vowels for long periods, it’s important to work on the technique of singing them.
To improve your vowel pronunciation, simply sing each vowel ten times alphabetically. Pick a single note that is somewhere in the middle of your vocal range. Hold the sound for around ten seconds. Start with “A-A-A-A” then move to “E-E-E-E” and so on.
As you sing the vowels, pay extra attention to the consistency when holding the note. “E” is probably the most tricky vowel to sing, because of the shape of your mouth and the way it makes your vocal cords work.
If you practice this exercise regularly, you’ll find that it becomes second nature to pronounce your vowels correctly, and when it comes to holding a note in a song, you will be much more consistent in your performance.
Where Your Attention Goes, Your Voice Follows
These simple vocal exercises will provide you with noticeable improvements in a short time of consistent practice. The best piece of advice I can give you is to be mindful while performing them.
Half an hour of focused practice is more effective than a full day of casual practice. Keep your attention firmly on the way you are using your voice. Make notes of the exercises you find difficult, and the limitations on your range.
Use these practice exercises as a kind of meditation, analyzing your singing whilst you perform them. You’ll find that immersing yourself in your practice exercise routine will improve your singing ability dramatically.