As I come back to Webster University this week after sabbatical, I am planning specific vocal exercises to start each lesson. These will help me hear how students have progressed over the last five months!
My student C. has a weak spot in her voice at E5. She knows it. I know it. We hear it. We feel it.
She’s now a senior, and we need to get this fixed before she leaves college.
So today I gave her a simple isolation exercise, moving over the E5 on five basic vowels. The idea here is to slowly connect over the E5, really feeling the move from one pitch to the next, and deal with this one little corner of the voice the same way an athlete would isolate a particular muscle.
After singing this five times in D-flat, move up a half-step to D for five more reps, then up to E-flat for five more reps.
The Classical Singer site is filled with helpful and informative and interesting articles.
Here’s an important one:
Thanks, Dr. Bastian, for this wonderful introduction to the anatomy of our voice!
I am increasingly convinced that one powerful way to develop a voice that sounds the same from top to bottom, and from bottom to top, is to really slide and feel connection between pitches. And I’m a huge fan of not singing thirds or steps all the time.
Try this exercise on an open vowel, starting the first pitch with an M or an N so that the sound is firmly in the mask. Move up by half-steps for three sets, then down one half-step and start up again, so that we avoid the inexorable tension of moving higher, and so that we cover some of the same pitches over and over again. Listen and feel diligently to be certain that no pitch bumps or crunches. The aim here is total uniformity and unification from top to bottom.
I made up this little exercise yesterday for Lucas, a sophomore acting major. We found this surprisingly difficult, especially to nail the 3rd accurately every time we came back to it. This exercise was intended for early in the lesson, since it calls for masky resonance and quick, loosen-it-up agility. Sing this on /ma/ on every syllable, at about 100 clicks per minute. Once you sing a set on the first measure, lengthen and extend by singing the second and third measures.
I have a couple of students whose /I/ vowels are a mess. Either the tongue is curling toward a consonant, or never makes it high enough to give the vowel any clarity.
This seems to be an endemic issue amongst people who grew up in Saint Louis.
So, to fix this issue, these students practice on these words, sustaining the tone and focusing on keeping the tongue still:
The vowel on each of these should be exactly the same!
We’ll call him Walt. Teenage male. Fifteen years old, and a sophomore in high school. Voice changed more than two years ago.
Well-developed falsetto, with easy access.
And when we tried to sing lightly in upper register, his muscles switched him to an octave high in falsetto.
So Walt and I tried to sing together a slow glide up from a3 to d4 on /u/, and at c4 his voice just jumped up a fifth to a4, and in falsetto.
Clearly the upper passiggio is a problem!
So what to do? The slow glide up should work, no?
We tried to shorten the length of glide, from a3 to c4. And that worked. We sang this on /u/, /e/, /a/, /ɔ/, and /ɛ/.
Then we moved up to a#3 to c#4, and then to b3 to d4, running the same series of vowels.
And bingo! He was able to sing through the passaggio. Now he repeats daily for several weeks to gain muscle response, strength, and flexibility.
Here are a couple of additional tongue-twisters from the final few days of the Bonnie & Clyde run. I really enjoyed coming up with these!
For the tongue-twisters here, simply take them up by half-steps, and get slightly faster each time. Notice that the ALW tongue-twister features the consonants D, L, and W.