Restarting Your Voice

Many of us have taken a lot of time off in this past year. Without our regular rehearsals, it has been hard to dedicate time to continuing to keep our voices strong, to be motivated to get our repertoire out, and to have the heart to sing nearly as much as we had been. This year brings hope that we will see our brothers and sisters in harmony in person!

With hope by the end of this year, in-person rehearsals and meetings will be the norm once again. How will that first rehearsal go? What will you, individually, do to make the sound? Will we sound the same as we did last March? Do we want to? You have much more control over these outcomes than you might think. You can help your chorus’ sound right now by getting back to singing every day.

Keep in mind, our voice is a muscle, one that we’ve been neglecting. Think of it this way, if we are bodybuilders and we’ve spent much of our lives building muscle and fine-tuning our movements. We are in great shape, then we get injured and are unable to lift anything for a year. A year is a long time! When we go back into training, it would be dangerous if we tried to go right back to lifting the exact same weight. We would need to start small and build up again. Believe it or not, this is what a lot of us will be faced with as we go back to singing.

The purpose of this article is to help us get our voices back in shape. Each week we will step up our vocal “weight” and hopefully, as we start back in our repertoire, or even meet in person, our voices will be able to lift as they did before, or even better!

These activities are designed to be done 5-7 times a week, and should only take you 10 minutes or so at the beginning, more as we progress. Some activities you can do in the shower, while others you might need a device or keyboard. I would recommend starting at week one, even if you’ve been singing because reminding ourselves of the basics is always good. You are encouraged to go back to activities from previous weeks to help you build. As this document is set up by weeks, please note that you can continue any week’s activity for as long as it takes to be comfortable with it. If the next week feels too hard, stay with the week you’re on for as long as you need to. On the flip side, if you have been singing through this time, you may find it helpful to start in week 3, but use activities in weeks 1 and 2 to assist in your warm-up. This is your voice, do what feels right and strengthening. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or your chorus director. My biggest advice is to make sure you start singing DAILY, STARTING NOW!

Week One

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  • You’ve all heard about breathing. Yes, we do it daily, but let’s get it right for singing.
  • Try taking a few quick breaths that make your chest rise (clavicular breathing).
  • Then take a few quick breaths that make your stomach and lower ribs expand.
  • Now slow down the intake of the breath, concentrating on the expansion of your rib case. (Note: make sure expansion is happening because of your breath, not because of your abdominal muscles.)
  • Next, think about the exhale. After you get good breaths in that expand the rib cage, breathe out, on an “s” sound, without pausing between the inhale and exhale.
  • You get bonus points if you keep your ribs expanded while breathing out until you just can’t keep them expanded anymore. The time you are able keep your rib cage expanded while singing should increase while you practice this breathing.
  • Using your excellent breathing, take a breath in and without a pause, use control as you let it out.
  • As you let the breath out, start making sound. The sound will be quiet and might be bumpy. Try to smooth the sound out gently, while keeping the sound quiet.
  • Try this using what sounds like a sigh in the middle of your range. Your next difficulty level is starting the sigh a little higher. The third tier is to hold one pitch, but keep it quiet, then move on to different pitches in your range.

Week Two

  • Remember your awesome breathing and start with gentle glides up and down starting at the middle, most comfortable part of your range. (Many call this “sirens”, but keep in mind to keep it light and free, not loud and pushed.)
  • Bubbling is the most relaxing and easy for your voice.
  • If you can’t bubble, hum or use a tongue trill.
  • Here is a fantastic video describing different reasons we use sirens. Please pay special attention to the last reason, rehabilitation. We might not be to that extent, but we must remember our voices aren’t ready for as many acrobatics as it used to be. Click here to view video.
  • After you’ve done some comfortable sirens, start stretching higher and lower.
  • Act like you’re playing tennis and have your voice copy what the ball is doing.
    • Move your body as if you have a racket and follow your eyes with where the ball is going.
    • Think of different directions the ball could go.
    • This should help your voice with some of the upper register. We spend a lot of time in our lower registers in our daily lives.
    • Don’t be afraid to use your falsetto here!
    • Here is a video of Shane Scott doing something similar, so you can get the idea. The activity starts at minute 2:00. Click here to view video.

Weeks Three & Four

Hum as quietly as you can on a single pitch for 10 seconds. Use different pitches throughout your comfortable mid-range. Over time, build up to humming for 20 seconds. (Remember, humming is like an “ah” vowel with your lips closed.) This video helps you understand why this is important and gives you examples.

Think of warm-ups that are descending. Start at the top of your comfortable part of your range and move downwards. Something as simple as moving down the scale from 5 to 1 on a comfortable “aw,” “oo” or “oh” vowel, or even a hum. Do this on the same pitch a few times to get comfortable, then move the starting pitch up each time you do the activity. You don’t need to move in half steps, but you can if you’d like.

Glide from a pitch lower in your comfortable range up to the octave above, then go down 5 notes. You’ll be going from 5 below 1 to 5 above 1, then stepping down, 54321. Do this on the same starting pitch a few times to get comfortable, then start moving the starting pitch up each time. Make sure to still glide from that first note to the second! This is how you’ll keep the relaxation.

Weeks Five & Beyond

For the next couple of weeks, pick exercises here that seem easier for your voice and are soothing. After that, start choosing a variety, picking some that are easier and some that challenge your voice. Make sure to always go back to basics, like breathing, posture, and tension release.

Go back to the first couple weeks and remember your great breathing and connecting your voice to your breath. We all forget sometimes.

  • All vocal exercises should be an exercise in releasing tension. The most harmful thing for your voice is having tension. So always be thinking about relaxing everything from the tip of your nose to the top of your cheek.
  • Think about how your tongue moves in this one. Your tongue should feel relaxed, and your jaw movement should be minimal.
  • Yaw Yaw Yaw Yaw Yaw Yaw Yaw
    5 4 3 2 1 3 1
  • On an easy vowel and pitch for your voice, start quietly then gradually get louder without straining your voice. Go as slowly as possible without changing pitch. Then reverse the activity, starting louder and gradually getting quieter. To also work on breath management, try both directions, very slowly, on one pitch. You can try the exercise on different pitches. Keep in mind, for a solid quiet sound, you will use at least as much energy as when making loud sounds.

The following exercises are to help your voice sound like one singular sound from top to bottom. If the numbers don’t mean anything to you, call someone to sing it to you a few times. Use the same starting pitch until you have the pattern. Once you have it, then start on a note that is in your higher register and from then on have the starting pitch lower than your first. You should be concentrating on a forward sound that stays light.

    Wee-oh Wee-oh Wee-oh Wee-oh Wee
    5 – 3 4 – 2 3 – 1 2 – 7 1
  • Hold the ng sound of the word “Hung” on 5, move to an “aw” vowel, then move down the scale to 1.
  • 5——- 5 4 3 2 1
    Hung—- Aw
    Yoo ya yoo ya yoo yaa yoo yaa
    8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • With this one, we’ll also work on diction. This should be a level up from the beginning because it’s best done faster. The goal for us will be to do it quickly while maintaining vocal and physical consistency. Keep it light, keep your face movement minimal, and keep relaxed! Check that you stay up on pitch without falling flat.
  • Pa-pa pa-pa picked a pot of peas.
    5 – 5 5 – 5 5 4 3 2 1—

Only do these after you have done some vocalizing.

  • Continuing to use patterns that are ascending. This can be as simple as just singing 12345— 54321, holding 5 and focusing on the best sound you can produce while free and relaxed. Then moving the starting pitch up, again, focusing on keeping the top note as beautiful as possible.
  • You can add some vowel work to this activity. When you start this activity, make sure to hold each vowel sound for a little while to make sure the sound is as beautiful as possible, then move on. You should be able to make the adjustments quicker each time you go back to it. Be sure to change consonants after each repetition.
  • Mee may mah moh moo moh mah may mee—
    1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1—
  • Keeping an eye on each pitch will make this exercise worth it, and it’s good for your voice and your ear! Also, make sure your ascending intervals are tall and crisp, and your descending intervals are small and clean.
  • Loo ee loo eeee loo ee
    1 3 5 8-5 3 1

Only do these after you have done some vocalizing.

These activities get your voice to move around to different notes as quickly as you’d like. Just like exercising your body, lifting weights will get you strong, but agility exercises will help you move quickly. These exercises should be done after others, not at the beginning of your singing.

    Doo bee doo bee doo bee doo bee doo bee doo bee doo bee doo
    1 3 2 4 3 5 4 6 5 7 5 7 5 7 5
    Doo bee doo bee doo bee doo bee doo bee doo bee doo bee doo
    8 6 7 5 6 4 5 3 4 2 3 1 2 7 1
  • You can also use “ee eh” and “ee ah” on the next exercise.
  • eee ooo eee ooo eee ooo ee
    1-3 2-4 3-5 4-2 3-1 2-7 1
  • On the next exercise, keep your voice consistent and clear. Lift up when you get to the 5 to keep it light.
  • Noo————————
    1 – 7 – 1 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 1
  • Make sure you are aware of pitch before starting this one. If you know some piano to keep you on target, it might be useful to use it. You will want to hit the notes spot on in the middle of the pitch without sliding to each note. Sing on an “aw” vowel.
  • 1 2 1– 1 3 1– 1 4 1– 1 5 1– 1 6 1– 1 7 1– 1 8 1–