A most enlightening discussion!
One of my private students was having trouble getting a vowel to consistently sound the same no matter the initial consonant, so we made a list of words that he can sing that will help him keep that vowel in exactly the same location. Sing these slowly and focus on how the vowel emerges from the initial consonant:
You may then run these on an /æ/ vowel, and on /a/.
Last week I was working with P., one of my new students. P. has a pretty fair amount of tension and ‘manufacturing’ going on. Breaths are noisy and somewhat constricted. The jaw extends quite a ways more than optimal. Shoulders pull in on high and loud notes.
So we did yoga.
I asked P. to sit on the floor, cross-legged, and to rest her hands, palms up, on her knees. I asked P. to close her eyes and breath through a relaxed mouth, without any noise or urgency.
And then we sang:
We wanted every note to be free — no pressing, no bumping, no tension. Vibrancy, smoothness, connectedness — these were the words of the day. “Let everything else go,” I kept telling her. We were certain to really slide between pitches, connecting and feeling the muscles just move in loveliness along the way. we kept rising by half steps.
And when she stood after a few repetitions on successively higher half steps, and we continued up and up and up with freedom and with unity in the voice — with no break and no fear and no overt exertion — and those tears came to her eyes when she said “I’ve never felt that free, or sung that high,” I knew we had a winner.
I’ve tried this exercise with every student for the past week. It works.
Be still. Breathe. And sing.