Rodney Atkins on Improving your voice:
“I’ve never really focused on if I had good habits when I sang or if I had bad habits, or if I was breathing correctly. So, I started doing vocal exercises and would stretch out before I sang, stuff to help my breathing. It’s funny, you breathe your whole life then you find out you’re not doing it correctly.”
I do share the above sentiments to the hilt! Because only after starting my singing classes did I realize that I was breathing incorrectly till that point in time. And that was a shocking realization!
We all know how sound is produced. While the vocal cords play a significant role but the sound production does not start from here. It starts from something as simple but a vital process known as breathing. Observe carefully:
- The inhalation contracts the diaphragm downward and helps the lungs to expand
- Every exhalation relaxes the diaphragm and the lungs release air
- The breath, abdominal muscles, diaphragm, back muscles and the muscles between your ribs help in sound production
Essentially, they support the airflow in the above body parts which helps produce the vocals.
Once I understood the crucial role of breathing and vocal cords in my singing, I started planning an exercise regime. These were simple yet effective breathing exercises and vocal warm-ups.
The regime very soon became an integral part of my life. It helped me take care of my precious instrument while improving my singing ability. It still works! Let’s look at…
Breathing exercises that can help you enhance your vocals!
1. Relaxing the Diaphragm Muscles
Earlier I did not pay attention to breathing from my diaphragm and experienced tension in the muscles around it. My teacher suggested an exercise to help release the tension. She added that it would also help the diaphragm get back into shape effortlessly.
The exercise starts with your getting down onto your hands and knees. With the abdomen hanging you will be able to inhale from it while your shoulders are levelled.
Now, while exhaling you can feel the added strength needed to tense your abdominal muscles while pulling your belly up.
Remember to inhale slowly so that you can engage your abdominal muscles longer while your lungs fill up. Fuller lungs are a sure shot recipe for good vocals since they give you greater control over your voice.
2. Hissing Voice/Sound
This exercise helps you practice slow breathing. This comes handy when you have to lower your singing voice owing to some portion of the song demanding it.
This exercise can be performed while sitting, standing or lying on your back. However, by lying on our backs we tend to breathe slowly as compared to sitting or standing.
So, lie on your back with your knees raised. Then place your hands on your stomach and breathe in slowly from your nose and fill your lower lungs. While exhaling, press your teeth together tightly and use your tongue to release the trapped air. This will produce a hissing sound.
This exercise enables your diaphragm and abdominal muscles to conceal the tension from fully inflated lungs. This helps because while singing it will help you hold a note for as long as you want to.
3. Playful Hissing Sound:
Prior to this exercise, I struggled with my breathing when I tried to sing fast paced parts of a song. However, including this exercise in my daily routine helped me sing like a breeze.
So this exercise is an extension of the above one. However, you need not produce a constant hissing sound. Rather force intermittent bumps in-between by holding your throat muscles to block the airstream rushing up the trachea.
While doing so, you will experience heaviness in chest, tension in your abdominal muscles, and tiring of voice. By doing this exercise I was able to alternate between low and high pitched sounds. I was also able to practice the song peaks that tail off and linger for long.
4. Slower and Deeper Breaths:
Quick breaths use chest muscles and are known to tire the voice. This is the last thing any singer needs. However, slower breaths are deeper, natural, less tiring and allow the right amount of air to pass through the cords. This in turn produces the desired sounds.
For this exercise, stand straight with your legs slightly apart. But stay relaxed. Close your right nostril with your right pointer finger. Now, slowly inhale and exhale from the other, open nostril. After a few rounds do it the other way around. The diaphragm is active when one of our nostrils is stuffed or blocked.
Alternatively, press your lips together and try to breathe in and out using just your mouth. Try inhaling with force and this will produce a hollowed, windy sound. But slow down to a low sound as you exhale.
Remember, this exercise needs the power and elasticity that only the diaphragm and abdominal muscles can afford to offer.
5. Practicing Correct Voice/Singing Posture and Vocal Stability:
Finally, let’s look at this exercise that is physically challenging yet great for diaphragm and abdominal muscles.
Stand straight with feet slightly apart. Keep your body relaxed and extend your arms sideways forming a T. Now breathe slowly in this position. Ensure your arms are parallel to your shoulders. While breathing observe that it becomes tougher to lift your chest and arms as you breathe.
You can practice an advanced version by lifting two similar weights up to your shoulders from both hands. Initially you can go slow and later pace it up as long as your body can afford to do it. By doing this one, you can train to breathe with the neck, chest, and shoulder muscles a lot faster.
While the breathing exercises help strengthen the muscles, vocal warming stretches your vocal folds and helps clear your throat. Stretching out your body is also important as it helps relax your muscles before singing. Now, let’s look at…
Vocal exercises for singing to minimise chances of vocal injuries and maintaining your voice while singing in different styles/registers!
1. Body Stretches
Stretches, especially side ones are important for the rib cage and the lungs. You start with a deep breath while raising your arm upwards. Now, exhale and slightly bend to the left, stretching your side body. Hold this position for a few seconds, inhale to the center, and then repeat it on your right side.
Another one is to stand with your feet hip-width apart. Again inhale raising your arm upwards and now slowly bend at your waist while exhaling and taking your hands towards the ground. Again hold it for a few seconds and come back to your standing position while inhaling. The bending over gives you a nice, warm stretch.
2. Breathing exercises(for voice)
After the stretches, it is important to loosen the head muscles and activate the lungs.
Practice Anulom vilom, a specific type of controlled breathing. It involves holding one nostril closed while inhaling, then holding the other nostril closed while exhaling.
Next take long breaths by breathing in through your nose and lifting your arms out at your sides. While breathing out, make an “S” sound and bring your arms down again.
The Bhramari pranayama is known to provide a good resonating voice and remove throat ailments. Keeping your ears blocked, take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale through your nose. While you exhale, make a humming or buzzing sound.
Fricatives are consonants that produce a friction sound. Some of the most common consonants include Fs, Ths, and Vs.
The pronunciation of these words bring the mouth into a position that blocks the passage of the airstream. However, it is not completely blocked and the air moving through the mouth generating audible friction.
4. Humming and Lip Trills
Humming and lip trill is one of the best vocal exercises. It stretches the vocal cords, relaxes facial muscles, and improves breathing. It also develops vocal vibration and tonal quality. Since they provide back pressure on the vocal bands, they help in range extension too.
Lip trills or lip bubbles are fun and effective since it is similar to imitating the sound of a toy car or airplane. The mouth is more or less closed, lips buzzing together as you make noise and release air.
5. Nasal Consonants
The Nasal “Resonators” Tubes contain vibrations. These vibrations provide positive reinforcement to sound waves of certain pitches, which in turn give the voice clarity and power.
A favorite vocal warm up could be speaking any word that ends in a Z, like ‘buzz’ or ‘fuzz.’ By lingering on the Z you can feel the vibrations.
Unlu Suggestion: Read all about Hindustani Vocal Music
6. Tongue Twisters
Practice some tongue twister exercises to relax the jaw and activate the lip and tongue. It can be a fun activity too! Try these out:
How much wood could Chuck Woods’ woodchuck chuck, if Chuck Woods’ woodchuck could and would chuck wood? If Chuck Woods’ woodchuck could and would chuck wood, how much wood could and would Chuck Woods’ woodchuck chuck? Chuck Woods’ woodchuck would chuck, he would, as much as he could, and chuck as much wood as any woodchuck would, if a woodchuck could and would chuck wood.
OR a Hindi one:
Samajh Samjah Ke Samajh Ko Samjho. Samajh Samajhna Bhi Ek Samajh Hai. Samajh Samajhke Jo Na Samajhe. Meri Samajh Me Wo Na Samajh Hai!
Yawning helps you to relax your mouth and jaw, allowing you to sing better. It regulates oxygen and extends the soft palate. The increased oxygen flow to your brain makes you even more alert.
So, yawning starts with opening your mouth and sliding from the top of your voice to the lowest murmuring. However, avoid starting your vocal warm up with yawning. Keep it towards the fag end of your vocal warm up regime.
To summarize, breathing exercise and vocal warm-ups are important for vocal health. Whether an aspiring or a professional singer; both must mandatorily include the voice exercises in their vocal training.
Join Unlu Singing Fellowship and master your voice!
So, if you are aspiring to become the next musical sensation, we are here with our unique offering. Unlu class proudly presents its three-month long Unlu Singing Fellowship program. The program comprises of a 50+ hours of structured learning with experts/celebrities from the industry.
Apart from individual learning, you build deeper community connections while enjoying peer to peer learning and knowledge sharing. However, the end of the course may not be the end of your Unlu class journey! There’s more to this than meets the eye…
If you emerge as the best student; you get an opportunity to record a song along with a music video. What more, we will ensure your voice reaches the masses by launching you on various platforms.
So, if the above sounds exciting enough, enroll for the fellowship program! Happy Learning!