Exercises that "should" work

I’m copying an entry I made on nfcs.net in a discussion where someone was arguing that so many exercises “beat around the bush” rather than getting to the point of a vocal issue. Singers get used to how they do things and mistakenly think that their ways are transferable to other people. This is one of the big problems in modern voice teaching. Exercises must always be done with an intention of improving some aspect of vocal function. One problem may respond to several different exercises, and differently for different people. Sometimes you discover that that issue is immovable until another issue has been addressed. Then you can come back and make more progress on the original issue. The teacher, and eventually the singer, have to remain mindful of the interconnectedness of the parts in the whole that is “voice”.

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HAO, I agree with you about the idea of going from ng to ee. If you are really making an ee and not ih (as in big), then it is almost impossible to depress the tongue (and larynx). Personally, I also agree that the occlusive exercises are generally not helpful to me. However, for many of my students the occlusive exercises ARE helpful. It is humbling when you start teaching to realize how different we all are in physical, mental, and emotional makeup, which ALL affect how we perceive and execute exercises and “real” singing.

One example, regarding the beloved lip trill – I can do it, and I often demonstrate it, but the way I am constructed I can only keep the lips going if my teeth are almost touching, and lip trilling on a C5 has precious little in common with singing it on an Ah vowel. I’ve done them for years with teachers and demonstrating to students, and I still don’t like them! But for many students, the back pressure that the lip trill (or the straw, or V, RRR, etc.) provides allows relatively uncoordinated voices to reach pitches that are not possible otherwise. It is a tremendous psychological boost to a rock tenor or a belting female or a fledgling soprano to realize that another octave of phonation is possible. It can keep them going through the hard work of training the “regular singing” to make range extension possible.

TS, Titze, and others have eloquently described how the occlusive sounds can be used in training. Some are more occlusive than others, and graduating from the most occlusive to the less occlusive, to syllables that are occlusive at onset and then open, to all open vowels, can be a helpful strategy for singers learning new coordinations.

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2 Replies to “Exercises that "should" work”

  1. It's interesting you say you don't like the lip trill. My teacher doesn't either. My first acquaintance with it came from watching high sopranos do it if they didn't have time for a real warm up. I tried doing it but it was very percussive and my teacher said it probably did more harm than good. Here's something I'm curious about (although at this point I'm not "teacher shopping"). An area in which I seem to be deficient is one in which high sopranos excel (I'm a large voiced dramatic mezzo whose vocal comfort zone has ended at high A natural for 40 years and who has never phonated above high C): hip trills, flute register, singing high staccati, etc. I have found that the way to have solid high notes (for me A, B flat and – in private – B natural) is to drop my larynx and sing full out. Trying for that high light position just squeezes my throat and fosters tension. My teacher says many larger voiced mezzos sing with a technique more like tenors than sopranos. He also said that since my singing has improved enormously in the past six years since I've been singing seriously, but my range has not increased, this could have to do with the length and thickness of my vocal chords. In any event, it's interesting to find someone else who doesn't like lip trills.

  2. I have found that lip trills are usually less helpful for men than for women. And yes, my lighter sopranos like them best of all. I think it simply has to do with frequency and the construction of one's face and vocal folds. But I have everyone try them. Your approach to your high end is one strategy that works for some big voiced people, and for the top of my tenor range, that is what needs to happen. It is possible that you could phonate higher with a different approach, but if you are increasing your overall vocal capabilities as time goes on, then you are probably on a good track. You have a cute typo – "hip trills". I'd like to see someone do that!

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