EVERYBODY CAN SING voice lessons

The studio of Elissa Weiss


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Exercises You can Do at Home

The pillars of good singing are proper breathing, relaxation, good diction and expressiveness.  If you think I've left something important out of this list, please let me know by email!  

Proper breathing is done with an open throat.  When you inhale, keep the shoulders down and let the abdomen expand. Relaxation is important in the whole body, but especially in the neck, throat, jaw and tongue.  Diction can be improved by awareness of how vowels and consonants are formed.  Expressiveness comes from keeping the breath going, and from singing the words with meaning, as if you were talking to someone.

Here are some exercises that I give my students, which you can try at home.  If you have any questions, please feel free to email me.

For proper breathing:

Sit on a straight chair with your feet flat on the floor. Lean forward until your elbows are resting comfortably on your knees.  Your abdomen may be in contact with your legs in this posture.  Now breath, and observe your breathing.  Your abdomen should be expanding with each inhalation, and contracting with each exhalation.  This is the best type of breath for singing, as it allows for maximum expansion of the lungs, and maximum relaxation of the breathing mechanism.  When you are clear about how this feels, stand up, and observe your breathing.  Is your abdomen still moving with each breath?  I like to use this exercise right before a concert, because it also relaxes my mind.

For an open throat:

Yawn.  Do you feel a stretch in the back of your throat?  Now yawn again, inhaling at the same time, and then say or sing "ah".  Keep your throat in the open stretched yawn position as you say or sing the "ah".  Try this on high notes and low notes, and see how it feels throughout your range. You may find that some notes sound very good this way, and others don't sound right.  Try doing it with only the first half of a yawn.  Experiment, and see what feels good to you.

Learning a song:

When I learn a song, I go through many steps.

First, I read over the words carefully, to be sure that I know what I'm singing about.  Then I say them out loud, to get used to the feel of them in my mouth, and to see whether I can say them in a way that makes sense.  

First, I sing the melody by itself, either on lip buzzes (humming while making a ppbt sound with the lips), or a rolled r (say "pot a tea" really fast, and the movement that the tongue makes on the two quick t's will approximate a rolled r), or by humming.  This helps me find out how much breath I need for each line.  Then I sing on "ah", connecting each note, so that each line is one unbroken "ah" (rather than "ah ah ah ah...").  Then I sing the melody on "oo" or "ee".  Then I sing the melody, alternating between "ah" and "oo" or "ee", keeping the line unbroken, going smoothly from one note to the next, from one vowel to the next.  Then the hardest part:  I sing the vowels of the words of the song, leaving out the consonants.  After all these repetitions, I sing the words on just one note, usually a medium-to-low note, like F on the first space of the staff.  Finally, I put the words and music together.  If it feels rough or awkward, I may take one line at a time, first singing on "ah," then singing the words, remembering the free open easy feeling of the "ah."

If the song is in a foreign language, I may write a rough singing translation.  It's important that I write it myself, because the purpose of the translation is to help me give meaning to the song.  My aim for this exercise is to associate the words and ideas with the notes, so that when I go back to the foreign language, even if I don't know the language very well, the notes will reinforce the meaning of the words.

I hope that you find these exercises useful!  

Elissa Weiss