A Dozen Voice Training Exercises

And some other bits of advice

Your vocal cords are muscles, and like any muscles they can become tired and damaged. The following exercises have been devised and compiled by my friend and singing teacher, Andrea, and typed up by me with various enhancements and addition of theory.

The first two exercises are to loosen off the muscles in the next, around the vocal cords.

1. Starting with your tongue on the RHS of your mouth, make a figure of 8, so that your tongue goes across your top teeth, to the middle, then crosses to the bottom teeth, along to the LHS of your mouth, then, up, and across the top. Keep your mouth closed for this.

2. Put the tip of your tongue behind your bottom set of front teeth. Let your jaw drop and gently push out your tongue. Repeat a few times.

The following exercises are mainly for exploring your natural range, and should be tried at different pitches, preferable gently undulating pitches:

3. Ga-ga! - Make baby noises up and down randomly within your natural voice range. Try with all the vowel sounds, e.g. ga-ga, ge-ge, gi-gi, go-go, goo-goo

4. Bzzzzzz! - Make buzzing noises like a bee. The idea here is to find resonances in your mouth and sinuses. Try changing the shape of your mouth.

5. Innnnnnnng-uh!. This is mainly to find natural resonances in your sinuses. Try words like: Ding, Ping, Zing, Ting. Hold the 'i' sound so that it makes your sinuses tickle.

6. Mmmmmm! - Close your lips, but pull your lips back into your mouth over your teeth. Make a humming noise, and allow your lips to relax, so they are just closed. Change the pitch of your voice until your lips start to tickle. Hold this note for a while and then find other notes / frequencies where this happens.

7. Hah! - Imagine you are digging a hole (you have to do the actions too!): as you dig into the ground, exhale with a "HUH!" sound. Lift the soil, and as you chuck it over your shoulder, make a "HAH!" noise. Repeat until it gets too silly. You can also practise this by pretending to do Kung-Fu moves - punches and kicks and the likes.

8. Oooooh! - Slidey continuous journey up and down your natural range - Okay, you have to move your arms for this one: high notes - arms up in the air, low notes, bend your knees and hang your arms like a monkey.

9. Me - me - me... etc., up and down your natural range, for ages, for fun..., then all of the following: mah, mi, may, my, moo, mu. You can mix them up too.

10. Yah! or Yar! - for this one, just let your jaw drop loosely to a loose hanging - don't force it open, do it for a while - 20 times or so.

11. Wow! - Start as low as you like, and go up to as high as you like within your natural range, then back down again. Wwwww-aaaaaaaa-oooooo-wwwww. You gotta open your mouth as wide as it needs.

12. La-la-la - this is the classic, and most heard of the exercises. Try using different scales, ascending through natural major / minor scales, and also chromatic and triadic (chord) scales, or just mess around with arbitrary notes or pitches. Try this with ah-ah-ah-ah..., and then all the other vowel sounds, instead. It's more difficult, apparently (thanks Claire).

Natural range - this is from the bottom note of your vocal range to the highest note you can reach before your voice breaks and goes into "falsetto". You can practise most of these in a falsetto too, but be warned it can sound silly. It's best to learn just not to care about how silly it sounds.

Other things to do...

General Advice

Media Students

Read sections of books, newspapers and magazines out loud. Try recording it with a tape recorder (remember those?), a mini-disk, mp3 stick recorder, on your computer. Don't worry if it only has a cheap microphone.

Analyse what you have recorded - be careful not to go "this is rubbish, I have a rubbish voice, I hate it... etc.." The important thing to think is "How can I improve my voice?" (or reading, or singing, or whatever...)

Listen to other voice artists. Ask the question: What makes them good?

Also ask this of yourself: Could you improve the definition of the words? Could you improve your breathing technique? Would it help if you moved your mouth or lips more? Would it sound better if you were more relaxed?

Try getting involved in a local, college or hospital radio station. It'll be voluntary, but the experience will be invaluable.

Vocalists / Singers

Relax. Try exercises 1 and 2 if you feel your voices is tense. You can also try other relaxation or yogic exercises to relax you before singing. What about having a bath?

Sing along with anything. It's probably best to start with stuff you like. As with, spoken word, try recording it with a tape recorder, a mini-disk, mp3 stick recorder, onto your computer, etc. You can get karaoke backing disks, or download midi or mp3 karaoke files off the internet. Sing everywhere, as quiet, or as loud as you like. To hell with whoever my be listening.

Analyse what you have recorded - be careful not to go "this is rubbish, I have a rubbish voice, I hate it... etc.." The important thing to think is "How can I improve my voice?". Watch for lead-ins to notes, try to keep the notes you want to deliver as precise as you can - don't forget the gaps are as important as the notes.

Try singing through a PA / amplified system, and get used to your own voice. Remember: the microphone is your best friend, learn to use and love it. You can use it to amplify even the quietest, most subtle sounds that you would just not hear in most performance situations without a mic.

Listen to other voice artists. Ask the questions: What makes them good? What do I like about their voice / style? Do they talk like that in normal day to day life?

Also ask this of yourself: Could you improve the definition of the words? Could you improve your breathing technique? Would it help if you moved your mouth or lips more? Would it sound better if you were more relaxed?

When recording, try using as many voices, characters, pitches, octaves, harmonies, or whatever. If you are using computer based recording, go nuts, record everything. What is there to lose other than time? Use as many voice resonances as you like and try mixing / blending them together.

You can make your voice sound sweet, rough, distorted, angry, childish, silly or whatever. Try getting as many emotions or imitations into your practise, but be careful not to push your voice too hard - you may damage your vocal chords. Try exercises 1&2 above if your voice gets tired, and stop if it begins to hurt. Drink plenty of water.

Try editing out parts of your recording - remember what I said about gaps (or rests). Edit out waste noises, use fades to clean up the recording, and apply this to your singing style. It saves time in a studio in the long run if your vocals are right from the off, so learn what sounds good in the recording.

Learning to sing well can be a long process. Take your time to learn your own voice and what you can do with it. Over time your voice will develop to be more adaptable. Choose songs that are easy for you to sing at first, then gradually bring in more challenging songs as you get better.

Remember: Bob Dylan is a world famous singer. As is Dave Vanian from the Damned, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Rotten, and Nick Cave.

And Jennifer Lopez (Oh no she dit'n!). In fact, most manufactured bands... especially the ones by soap stars are not reknowned for their amazing nutural vocal talent. You have nothing to worry about.

A lot of it is about having something to sing about, and having the guts to go out and do it. Many may mock, but are they prepared to go out and do the same?

Most of all - enjoy it. Love what you are doing because you want to be doing it. Have fun, or what's it all for?