I have a quick tip for all you singers out there (especially the ones at noisy bars). Put an earplug in one of your ears. It helps you monitor how healthily you’re singing. I’ve been doing it for years now, and I gotta say it’s a godsend. I can feel where the threshold of “destructive pushing” is, and I simply don’t cross it.
[Bonus fact] Most people have one ear that is far better at determining intonation. It shouldn’t take much experimentation to determine which ear to plug and which to leave open.
Here is a great breathing exercise I learned back in my drum corps days that really helps increase your lung capacity. Just remember to not lock your knees – we don’t want anyone passing out! (seriously) Also, I’m not a doctor. If something hurts while doing this exercise, stop doing it. That goes for everything else on this website, too.
That out of the way, here we go!
Set a metronome for 60 beats per minute (or just think of everything in seconds).
Lock your fingers behind your head and pull your elbows back, opening your chest cavity.
Breathe in for 4 counts – feel your lungs expand downward, to your sides, and in your back.
Hold for 4 counts
Sip more air in for 4 counts – one sip per count – really force more air in there
Hold for 4 more counts
Release for 8 counts – when you release, create some resistance for the air by hissing through your teeth, controlling the rate of air movement with your diaphragm. Release ALL of your air in the allotted time.
Next time through, release for 12 counts. Then 16. Then 20. Then 24…
Pro level – the last 4 counts of release, really force it out hard to the very end – don’t quit early!
Keep it up, and you’ll soon find your lung capacity growing and your vocal power increasing. Let me know how it goes in the comments.
A wonderful tool for developing your voice is the messa di voce. Italian for “placing the voice,” this technique involves sustaining a pitch with a gradual crescendo (getting louder) and decrescendo (getting softer). This is a great exercise for warming up, increasing your range, increasing your dynamic power, and increasing your control. The thing to remember is that you want to make the crescendo and decrescendo as smooth as possible.
Many times, I’ll use the technique if there is a particular note in a phrase that I’m having trouble with. This is often because of a challenging vowel sound on the pitch. Try it yourself. First, sing through the phrase using a lip trill (check out my post on the lip trill). Then do it again, except this time pause on the trouble spot and add the messa di voce. Feel the amount of support you’ll need to pull it off. Now sing it through with the words this time, pausing at the trouble spot and holding the respective vowel. Try to keep the vowel consistent as you crescendo and decrescendo. It can take a couple times through before you find the right feel (a lot of times we call this feeling the placement – it can feel like the sound is physically coming from different locations in your vocal apparatus).
When I use the messa di voce in my warm-up regimen, I add it to the top of scales as I sing through them. This can greatly increase your comfort in your upper register. I will also use it at the breaks in my voice (a break is what we call the spot where the voice transitions from one register to the next – e.g. the spot between your regular voice and falsetto or between your chest voice and head voice). The messa di voce can help smooth out those breaks more quickly.
Practicing this technique, you will notice not only an increase in your dynamic range, but an increase of control at the extremes – the very louds and the very softs. Control is what we want to cultivate as we develop the voice, and the messa di voce is possibly the best exercise for working on it.
Just as versatile as the lip trill, the messa di voce is an essential part of any vocalist’s toolkit. Use it often.
If you are a vocal performer, your voice is your greatest asset. It can be a fragile instrument. You have to take care of it. One important aspect of this is a solid vocal warm-up regimen. A good warm-up starts well in advance of your performance. A good place to start is in your morning shower. You probably already sing in there, so why not throw in some focused exercises?
Before we get into specific exercises, let’s start with a great vocal health technique – the lip trill.
With the lip trill technique, you’ll be exhaling air through your lips, causing them to flap against each other. This can be difficult for some folks to master. Just make sure your cheeks aren’t flapping too – only your lips.
purse your lips like you are stretching them outward to kiss someone.
Slowly start relaxing them until the point where you can flap them with your finger.
Now try getting them to continue flapping by exhaling air through them – it takes a good bit of air (that’s the point).
Once you’ve got them going, start humming – that’s it! That’s a lip trill.
Now that you have the feel for it, try skipping straight to the humming part.
[edit – I’ve recorded a video showing how to do a lip trill]
The thinking behind doing vocal exercises with a lip trill is that, in order to keep the lip trill going, you will be moving enough air to be singing with proper support. We don’t want these exercises to be hurting your voice. The lip trill is a safeguard.
Pretty much anything you try humming with a lip trill will be beneficial. When I have a challenging part in a song, whether it’s very high or very complicated, humming with a lip trill first ALWAYS makes it easier to sing the next time through.
Good luck and keep singing!
Having success with the lip trill technique? Questions about it? Drop a comment below.
I know many of you reading this are musicians. Having been a professional singer myself for fifteen years, I thought this would be a good forum for sharing some tips and tricks for healthy singing. I will be putting all of these posts in a new category called “Vocal Techniques,” and they can all be accessed by clicking on that label.
The first few posts in this category will be about various warm-up and cool-down exercises that I have found to be beneficial. The first one will be going up later this week.
A quick note – you don’t have to be a professional musician to benefit from the techniques I’ll be sharing with you. Public speakers will find many of these exercises quite helpful, as well. Plus, it is all about getting to know your own body a little better.