Why Vocal Exercises are Important
Vocal exercises are an important part of a singer's training. Singers benefit from daily vocal exercises in many ways. All voice lessons begin with vocal exercises for good reason.
Singing voices emanate from the lungs with the flow of air being controlled by the diaphragm. The air travels through the vocal cords into the mouth over the tongue and teeth and finally through the lips. All of these parts of our bodies are muscles with the exception of the teeth. To control the sound produced so it is on pitch, in rhythm, and enunciated clearly, singers must learn and practice controlling all of these muscles. Vocal cords must gain strength in order to be able to produce musical notes accurately for the required length of time. Additionally, singers must develop lung capacity to be able to complete long musical phrases, reach high notes with ease, and produce enough volume to be heard.
The first exercises are to warm up the voice. These can vary. A couple of examples include the syllables "ma, mae, me, mo, moo" on a single pitch and then working either up or down the scale repeating the process or humming a simple note pattern. You are more likely to be able to match and maintain a pitch properly when humming. Humming causes the throat to widen, the soft palate to lift, and the nasal passages to open. All of these are desirable for singing. The single pitch with alternate vowel sounds starting with an "m" sound is another exercise which places all the parts of your anatomy in their proper positions for singing.
Other exercises will work on different aspects of singing. Production of clear vowel sounds is extremely important when singing. In almost all cases, you will hold the vowel sounds. The consonants are brief sounds on either side of the vowel. Expect to spend the majority of your exercise time on varying progressions of vowel sounds. Lip and tongue placement can be especially important for clarifying the vowel sound and staying on pitch. For instance, the "ee" sound can easily become sharp in pitch if the mouth shape is too broad.
Some exercises are designed to work your diaphragm and make it stronger. An example is "Ding, ding, ding" worked as staccato notes in a descending scale. Put your hand on your abdomen just at the bottom of your ribcage. You should feel a bounce here as you control the flow of air with your diaphragm.
Another group of exercises work through your natural break point between your chest voice and your head voice. This group of exercises is designed to smooth the transition between the full, powerful chest voice and the lighter head voice. An example of this type of exercise is the octave slide either up or down through the scale. Once you've completed a full slide progression based on one note, move up a half step and repeat.
Being heard is the goal of singing so there are some exercises designed to help singers project their voices to the balcony seats without injuring their voices. To project a voice is not about volume control which will be addressed next. Voice projection is about sending a voice through space such that a listener can hear it clearly and distinctly. Singing "Yah, Yah, Yah, Oooo" in a descending scale or yodeling are examples of ways to practice voice projection.
Volume control while maintaining pitch is another feature that vocal exercises aim to develop. Holding a vowel sound on a pitch while gradually increasing and then gradually decreasing the volume is an example of this type of exercise.
Accurate jumps between pitch intervals is the goal of exercises which involve pitch changes of any interval size. In addition to the exercises which walk the voice up and down the scale, there are exercises which have the voice transition by other intervals; thirds, fifths, and octaves are common.
Another class of exercises works on agility of lip, tongue, and soft palate motion. Let's face it, some songs are fast and the words have to tumble out distinctly. The only way to do that is to be able to move mouth through the required shapes swiftly.
All of the exercises listed above help you develop pitch matching and train your ear to hear your voice and accompanying instrument(s). Your body will learn how it feels to produce the sound properly and when you perform, the muscle memory that you have built through the exercises will carry over. A quick note on performance, it is very common for singers to become sharp when they perform. This is because your whole body tightens up including your throat muscles and vocal cords. Tightening produces a sharper pitch. Practice stress reduction techniques and do these within the hour before the performance to reduce the anxiety level.
Finally, singing depends on lung capacity. You need tremendous amounts of air to produce the notes in a musical phrase. While daily singing practice will increase your lung capacity, serious singers should also incorporate regular aerobic exercise into their routines. Find an activity you enjoy that makes you breathe hard - running, brisk walking, swimming, aerobics, dance - any of these will have a positive impact on your singing ability.