Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Vocalizing Vocalises

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Vocalizing Vocalises

Article excerpt

MOST VOICE TEACHERS BEGIN THE SINGING portion of a lesson with vocalizing: scales, arpeggios, humming, sighs, sirens, lip trills, and the like. Indeed, we all have favorite vocalises, or vocal exercises, often those that we found most helpful or useful during our own training. This article will propose a methodic approach to vocalizing, with the purposes as follows:

1. The warm-up: what it means physically to "warm up" and what exercises help accomplish this task.

2. Voice building: the vocalises that every singer should know-for example, the typical types of figures and tasks one finds in standard repertoire.

3. Specialized training: vocalises for special repertoire or voice types. I will conclude with some tips to help students vocalize more efficiently, and offer a few sources of vocalises.


One can think about warming up from a sports point of view. The Oxford Dictionary of Sports Science and Medicine defines warm-up as follows:

A procedure, used prior to competition or hard training, by which an athlete attains the optimal body core temperature and specific muscle temperature for performance, and prepares physically and mentally for the activity.1

In singing, what muscles do we need to prepare by warming up?

Muscles of Posture and Breathing

In singing, we hold ourselves upright in a rather particular type of posture, and we use abdominal and thoracic muscles to control breathing in a particular way. Usually at the beginning of a lesson, I ask students if they have already had physical exercise for the day. If they have not, I urge them to exercise regularly and have them do a few movements such as the following:

* From a standing position, lean forward from the hips, allowing the upper body to fall. Leave the neck loose.

* From a standing position, raise the arms overhead (this expands the rib cage) and stretch them gently out to the side.

* From a standing position, rotate the upper body gently to the right and left to loosen the abdominal obliques.

* From a standing or sitting position, nod the head up and down and then allow each ear in turn to fall towards the shoulder on the same side. (This loosens the neck muscles.)

Muscles of the Vocal Mechanism and of Articulation

Gentle sirens or sighs are popular and generally beneficial; these exercises, in sliding from one note to another in the range, emphasize gradual movement. Like all vocalises, when performed at the beginning of a warm-up, they should not be taken to the extremes of range or dynamics for the first few minutes. Lip or tongue trills are favorites; these require the singer to use breath pressure more precisely than usually required for singing, because the lips or tongue cease to vibrate when breath pressure changes. Thus, they activate the muscles of breathing and coordination of breath with the tone, especially important for the underenergized or undeveloped singer. They also require a certain level of relaxation of the tongue and lips for those areas to move freely. At the beginning of a warm-up, these and all vocalises should be used in exercises consisting of short phrases. With younger singers, or those who have tension, sometimes only a single note lip trill is possible.

In addition to the exercises mentioned above, light five-note scales or triads on a variety of vowels are useful. Medium dynamics and range are most appropriate in the first few minutes of singing. Light staccatos in figures of small range (1-3-5-3-1) are also beneficial in bringing the muscles of support and those in the throat to work together precisely.

A good warm-up should take five to ten minutes. According to leading voice specialists, long warm-up time is a potential indicator of vocal problems.


Now that the body is physically warmed up, in the next exercises the purpose is to increase the singer's skill in some area such as tone quality, purity of vowel, length of phrase, agility, usable range, etc. …

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