4 Awesome Baritone Singing Exercises
I’m not going to sugar coat it for you, learning how to sing is difficult, and learning how to sing when you are a baritone is extra difficult – mainly because there’s very few resources out there actually designed for us low voiced singers who don’t magically have a high range at birth and access to power, freedom and a cool tone.
I personally took singing lessons for around 8 years with various teachers and unfortunately saw very little progress, gaining a note here if I practised a little bit nasal, a little bit better breath control, maybe a touch more stamina; but nothing really translated into my actual singing and many songs (even easy songs) were well out of my reach. That is, until I met my final voice coach who immediately said to me “those exercises are total crap for your voice”.
Say what now? I’d been practising those same exercises for YEARS – you mean I had wasted all that time, hard work and more tellingly, all that money?
I can laugh about it now – but the truth is, I wasn’t really given instructions to use “my voice”. Instead, I was given instructions by Tenor singers and females for how THEY used their voices, exercises that strengthened THEIR voices and scales that started in THEIR range – and very little care was given to the fact an E2 was my natural starting point, and my first break seemed to come in at around a B3.
Once I finally found a coach that gave credence to the fact that my voice really was different to a lot of the coaches I had seen previously – the progress I saw was absolutely outstanding, and has continued through the years as I’ve learned to use my voice for the instrument that it really is – a baritone singing voice.
Here’s four exercises and concepts that absolutely changed my life when I started using them in the right way for my voice.
#1 – Connecting Chest And Head Voice
This one isn’t an exercise per se, but more of a goal and something to work towards. Bridging a connection between chest and head voice is the FIRST thing that I do each day and one of the first skills that I teach my own vocal students. A simple semi-occluded sound like a lip trill, an N or even a closed vowel like EE or OO will allow you to make a connection between chest and head resonance when you attempt it very light and gently. Over time as you develop more coordination you will be able to retain a fuller resonance and achieve a blend of the two. For now, focus on eradicating your vocal breaks by releasing your registers – sing soft, gentle, slowly and quietly.
Lip trills are one of the most powerful and useful exercises that a baritone can use to build their voice as they take away any misconception about tone and allow you to focus solely on resonance and connection instead of vowel sounds or any tonal character you may inadvertently place on bigger sounds. Remember, an exercise is only as useful as the intention behind it – make sure you’re focusing purely on releasing your registers so you can travel between the two. Lip trills aren’t intended to be a ‘usable’ sound in any manner, so do away with volume, tone and power for now and simply focus and making a bridge between your chest and head voice.
Developing one fluid range that extends from your lowest note to your highest is a tricky order for many baritones, so releasing the registers in this manner really is one of the best baritone singing exercises you can practice.
#2 – Small Vowels
The misconception that your voice is “big” because it sits in a naturally lower range when you speak, or when you are first starting to develop your singing voice, causes many issues in the progress of baritone singers. After all, pitch is simply a frequency, both aural and physical – the physical speed with which your vocal folds vibrate creates the aural frequency of the pitch you are singing. The heavier you sing, and the more weight you cause by contracting your Vocalis muscle, the harder it will be to vibrate at higher aka ‘faster’ frequencies like other voice types achieve with ease. By practising small vowels like EE and OO, especially when you pair it will a ‘hooty’ high end like a ghost or owl-like tone, you will learn to release any excess weight from the vocal mechanism so you no longer experience strain or voice cracks through your middle range, and your voice will develop a full and powerful resonance without the need for excess weight or pushing.
One of my personal favourite exercises for limiting weight through the middle register while also bridging a full connection between chest and head voice is to open from a closed vowel like OO to an open vowel like AH or OH, so something along the lines of “OOOO-WAAAAH” up an octave from a comfortable low note into your middle or high range while opening your mouth straight down so that the aperture is a vertical oval. This allows you to form appropriate resonant space in the high range, release tension and of course start out the exercise without excess weight. On the flip-side, if you tried this same exercise starting with a wide open OH or AH sound and sang up an octave, in the beginning stages of developing your singing voice it’s likely your voice will break and you will struggle with unnecessary vocal fold weight. Try it light, slow and gentle at first until you can sing a pure AH vowel from bottom to top and back without dragging weight from your lower range up into the middle voice.
#3 – Placement
Placement is especially key for baritone singers. In fact, when I first started learning how to sing and was being taught by a female voice coach with a very high natural range, I was told that “Placement isn’t a real thing” and told not to place my voice. The truth is, many baritone singers struggle to effectively resonate within the vocal tract when they practice, rendering their vocal routine basically useless – placement is absolutely key to building a healthy voice when you are a baritone.
My approach to placement is a little different to others, and is really designed from the perspective of someone who has a low voice. Instead of “making your voice resonate” in a specific placement, like between the eyes for “masque” placement, or in the nose for a nasal placement – instead, you should limit any excess frequencies which aren’t resonating efficiently. That’s right, make sure your voice isn’t resonating below your top teeth to achieve the same effect that a Tenor would likely achieve if they “tried” to make their voice resonate in masque. The difference in this approach for a baritone is night and day – and personally changed my whole approach as a singer.
This ‘reverse’ approach to placement will save you from having the same nasally mid and high range that many Baritones who place their voice “in the masque” like a classical singer (think Axl Rose). Treating your voice like the unique instrument that it truly is is really the only effective way to train your voice – there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” approach to singing that spans the highest voice types right down to the lowest bass; certain techniques like placement, middle voice and even resonant space require a more unique touch and finesse for some voice types than others. Remember, don’t “place” your voice, take away everything that isn’t well placed instead.
Once you achieve the first stage of placement, you can then start taking your sound more and more forward while achieving the same bright and powerful placement that a Tenor singer naturally possesses, and from there it’s just gravy, man, just gravy.
#4 – Consistent Airflow
Compression is a game changer for many baritones, myself included – but it’s also something that can stand in the way of your vocal progress if you’re compressing excessively.
Basically, compression results in very little air being expelled when you sing – allowing your folds to vibrate with just the perfect amount of pressure and flow while also giving you leeway to add varying forms of colour and power to your tone. If you’ve ever tried to sing with distortion, compression is actually the key.
The problem with compression for many singers is developing the ability to separate vocal onset, twang and constriction of the actual throat itself from compression in the supraglottis, and from plain old pushing and correctly managed air pressure at the diaphragm – compression is an advanced technique that really requires you to nail every other aspect of the voice properly first. If you’re not forming your vowels properly or supporting via use of the diaphragm, then compression will actually be a detriment to the health of your voice along with your vocal tone. Treat compression as a final step in your vocal technique and take your time – Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a powerful, healthy voice!
Balance is key
A great singing voice isn’t necessarily a ‘strong’ voice, it’s a balanced voice. Every single aspect of the voice can be traced back to balance, from balancing your onsets through to balancing and blending resonance right through to moderating airflow and air pressure. On the flip-side, every issue that you experience in singing is also the result of balance, or more importantly, a lack of balance. An aspirate onset is due to an imbalance between airflow and vocal fold closure, your vocal break and voice cracks are a result in poorly blended resonance or even a lack of balance in the mechanism itself between vocal fold weight and vocal fold tension – balance truly is key to a great singing voice, and this is never more true than for a baritone voice. Many baritone singers experience tonal and range issues in their voices due to excess weight in the Vocalis muscle – remember, chest voice isn’t a muscle, it’s actually a form of resonance. As you ascend, the sensation that you are in chest voice actually dissipates even as the chest resonance stays rich and powerful – by holding on to the feeling of chest voice, you are actually retaining vocal fold weight by contracting the Vocalis fully instead of partial and fluid engagement that eventually gives way to engagement of the CT muscles which stretch your vocal folds tighter as you ascend into the top of your range. Higher voices singers like Tenors and most female singers actually have the opposite issue and either struggle to keep a rich chest resonance or access their lower range – learning to release vocal fold weight as you ascend is absolutely paramount to any baritone singing exercises.
Remember, singing is a process of balance – are you singing like a tightrope walker with finesse and balance, or brute strength and force like a strongman?
The best place to start with baritone singing exercises is the Foundation 101 singing course which was actually designed by a baritone FOR baritones – the course also suits other voices type too, but my perspective is obviously that of someone who initially struggled against a naturally low voice and likely exactly what you’re looking for as a baritone.
One of the key concepts in the Foundation 101 singing course is mixed voice; blending resonance between chest and head voice to allow you to sing with the rich depth of chest voice while enjoying the extensive range afforded by your head register. You can get started with mixed voice in this exclusive
If you want to see what all the fuss is about with the Foundation singing approach, here’s just a few examples of what I’m singing now that I’m free from strain and tension using the Foundation 101 course – just imagine how great you’re going to sound when you’re finally free of the Baritone curse!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.