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Vocalizing: The Key to Successfully Building Your Voice

Vocalizing is basically going through singing or vocal drills. We generally vocalize for one of two main reasons - to build our instrument or we vocalize to warm up for a performance.

When we are vocalizing to build our voice, we work on intrinsic musculature, improve our vocal mobility and improve our fine motor control (form and conditioning). We are also building our cognitive skills and ability (understanding and muscle memory). When we are vocalizing to warm up for a performance, we are doing so to stretch and limber up our voice.

Vocalizing for a performance should take no more than five minutes. However, this fast warmup does not take the place of you going a thorough vocalization earlier in the day. In order to improve our voices, we need to vocalize on a daily basis (NO DAYS OFF). Your daily vocalizing should take no less than twenty to thirty minutes. These are general guidelines and should be fine-tuned for your personal benefit. When we are diligent and practice (vocalize) every day, we are tempering or sharpening our technique. This is to say, we know what to do and how to do it (cognitive skill and ability). And because we have been vocalizing daily, our singing voice (form and conditioning) responds accordingly.

When we are first starting lessons and learning how to vocalize, we want to set parameters for our vocalizing. Beginning students should not overextend themselves vocally so they can focus more on basic concepts of singing. We should establish a range that we somewhat want to limit ourselves to in the beginning stages of vocalizing. What is the lowest note? What is the highest note? Knowing how far we should encroach or push the envelope in the top and bottom of our range. By doing this we are reducing the possibility of injuring ourselves vocally while using self-discovery. When beginning to learn how to vocalize, keep it simple. I use four main vocal exercises for singers in order to keep it simple. If you are working with a coach or vocal instructor, you will generally use the vocalizes which are administered to you in lessons. A competent instructor will assist you in pushing the range envelope and not allowing you to injure yourself vocally. However, that is only a blueprint for the work to be done. The real work starts when you are going through the vocalizes on your own. This part of vocalizing is what I term self-discovery. When you are doing the exercises without your instructor, it is a self-discovery process and you are teaching yourself. It is hit-or-miss, so to speak. So, you must work thoroughly through the exercises guiding yourself until the movement becomes natural and you begin to build a sensation you can identify as doing them correctly. I am using “sensation” to describe how the singer determines if what they are doing is correctly or not. Singers do not hear themselves the way other people hear them.

In my experience as a voice instructor, I have found that most singers can identify the sound they are making as good or not by the sensation they have when singing. When singers sing a difficult phrase they relate to as good, they tell me “it felt easy”. They never say it sounded good to them. It will take time for the student to establish ear training and to get to the point where they can more easily recognize whether or not the sound they are making is good by way of sensation. I find, generally speaking, that it takes eight or nine months for a student to build their technique so they can more easily be helped to develop artistically. This is the point in their development where we also begin to feel free to focus more on fine-motor control and artistic detail.

When I am teaching and the singer sings notes that don’t sound like the other notes in a phrase, we will discuss the “off-sounding” notes. If the singer is a beginning student, they generally cannot tell the difference between the “off-sounding” notes and any other notes in a phrase. So, there is no correlation between hearing the difference or feeling the difference between better or worse-sounding notes. As the student develops technically, they can then begin to develop more artistic control and do more than just sing songs.

Singing through songs is not the same as building your voice. Do not construe singing through songs as building your voice or understanding how to build your voice. When you are singing through songs you are applying the technique you have built by doing your daily vocal exercises. You should never start singing without having done your vocal exercises on any given day. Singing through repertoire does not take the place of vocalizing.

PRO TIP: Always vocalize before going to a lesson. If you don’t vocalize before a lesson your instructor cannot determine how well your self-discovery process is going


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