Vocal Exercises for Singers – Are They Really That Important?
When I first started learning how to sing, I often caught myself wondering things like “Did Rob Halford REALLY do these exercises to get so good at singing?” and “Does Chris Cornell REALLY walk around his house practicing lip trills?” and “Did Aretha Franklin REALLY have to warm up her voice for an hour before going on stage?” – and that’s what I’m going to answer for you today.
Are Vocal Exercises For Singers REALLY that important?
I’ll give you the disclaimed that yes, I really did walk around my house practicing lip trills and practicing sirens in the car on the way to work for many years to develop the voice I know enjoy, but after many years of professional coaching experience under my belt now too – I know that there’s actually an easier and more efficient way to learn how to sing.
Learning how to sing isn’t like building a muscle – although you’ll often see those YouTube gurus telling you such things; it’s not really a matter of “do exercise = become Freddie Mercury”. In fact, many of my favourite singers were actually ‘naturals’ who did very little training themselves – and do you want to know exactly how and why guys like Chris Cornell, Paul Rodgers and Freddie Mercury were just so naturally great at singing, while the rest of us have to toil away for months or even years doing rudimentary exercises before seeing even the slightest improvement?
They’re in tune with their instrument.
I’m not talking about singing in tune, I’m talking about being “attuned” to their own instrument in a way that let them sing in the most efficient and impressive manner – ultimately, they’re just singing “correctly” to begin with, while many others like you and me have to practice exercises over and over to learn how to use the voice correctly – and herein lies the secret to learning how to sing BETTER and FASTER;
What Are You Actually Trying To Do When You Practice Vocal Exercises?
That’s right – you know that lip trills are “good for your voice” right? But do you know HOW and WHY they’re intended to help you sing better?
Did I just blow your mind?
This is really the difference between someone who struggles for years, or goes between method to method looking for “the secret” to great singing (which obviously never comes) – and someone who sees outstanding progress and improvement almost instantly just like a natural singer.
Let me share with you another secret;
I Wasn’t A Natural Singer At All
I get the occasional comments on YouTube or here in these tutorials that say something like “but you were just BORN with that range” or “you’re a Tenor – that’s why you’re good at singing”. But the truth is, I was actually a terrible singer, in fact, I didn’t even WANT to be a singer to begin with – it was all guitar, guitar and more guitar for me – and you’ll actually notice in this recent Mark Lanegan cover I released that I’m more than comfortable and accomplished at singing down to B1 with ease; making me a natural bass and not a Tenor in any way shape or form – I’ve simply developed my technique to a point where I can now sing freely in any male range with ease and consistency.
Learning how to sing is a skill just like any other skill – Math, Riding a Bike, Driving a Car, Language etc.
So with this in mind, let’s finally answer the pesky question at hand and get down to business improving your singing voice – are vocal exercises for singers REALLY that important?
YES. It’s a hands down YES that vocal exercises for singers are truly an important part of the puzzle to becoming a better singer – BUT, they’re actually not the be-all-and-end-all of great singing; and you guys out there who’ve purchased singing courses before and practiced the exercises diligently week after week, month after month while seeing little progress will attest to this; simply practicing an exercise repeatedly doesn’t mean you’re improving your singing voice in any way.
I say this, because there’s really FOUR things you should be getting from a vocal exercise;
- Physical – the exercise works your vocal mechanism
- Psychological – the exercise trains/teaches you the psychological aspects of singing
- Emotional – you must connect with the exercise and invest in it like you really FEEL it
- Spiritual – a little esoteric, I know; but there’s an “X Factor” to great singing beyond the physical
You can boil these four points down into one simple question:
What am I getting out of this exercise?
What exactly does a “hoot” exercise do for you in each of these aspects of vocal skill?
Physical – The “hoot” exercise on an OO or EE vowel physically helps you raise the soft palate while neutralising lift in the larynx/lowering the larynx. This in turn helps you blend resonance between chest and head voice and ultimately allows you to build one fluid and long note from your lowest to your highest pitch without a vocal break.
Psychological – You’ve likely never created a sound with the soft palate raised – in fact, depending on your accent, it’s probably a totally foreign thing to both raise the soft palate and lower the larynx, not to mention using airflow to create sustained vibration of the folds rather than a staccato burst like many speaking accents. The “hoot” exercise trains you psychologically beyond the physical to “sing back and high” rather than out of the mouth – this will then translate to every other sound you practice.
Emotional – The “hoot” exercise allows you to move beyond any perceived physical limitations in your voice, like strain, tension or a hard vocal break by using the mechanism in a more intuitive and natural way instead of trying to use your speaking voice. The emotion of “I can’t do it” or “my voice doesn’t go that high” results in a multitude of physical changes in the voice that actually causes and exacerbates these concerns – the “hoot” exercise helps you break free of your emotional limitations, which ultimately then relates to the psychological process of singing, and then the physical workings of the voice.
Spiritual – Again, esoteric, I know. One of the most frustrating things I’ve found about the rise of online vocal coaching (I learned “the old way” with a classical teacher many moons ago) is the idea that you can just go on wikipedia, quote the names of a few tendons and the thyroid cartiledge and all of a sudden you’re an incredible singer. Excess information is actually kryptonite to a budding singer because they start to focus solely on “the physical” instead of the bigger picture, which here I’m calling “spiritual”, but is ultimately that little extra special sauce that a great singer has, and a singer who spends all day practicing exercises does not have. Singing well really can be a spiritual experience that is so far beyond just the physical process of “flex this muscle, pull this cartilage, engage this, blow this much air”, that it can actually hold you back to practice too many exercises and avoid the actual act of singing songs.
Ergo, you can practice lip trills day in and day out; but if you’re not applying the concepts and technique that you’ve learned and developed while singing the trills, and you just go right back to yelling with the soft palate slammed shut – you’ve wasted your time.
The most important thing you’ll ever learn as a singer is WHY you’re practicing a vocal exercise.
Being a great singer is SO much more than just practicing exercises and drilling the voice to build ‘the physical’, and in fact, the physical aspects of singing are SO easy that I’m going to show you the absolute EASIEST way to learn how to sing in this simple but effective tutorial on The Four Vocal Fundamentals;
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.