The #1 Vocal Exercise for Building Power and Agility
What’s my #1 vocal exercise for building vocal power and developing vocal agility? Actually it also improves a singer’s intonation, without AutoTune!
The major scale! Yes, old school. Some will complain that this creates strain, is too repetitive, or students fly through it without noticing incorrect tuning. All possible; all of these are definitely true when the scale is sung noodled over in too much detail, sung after heavy repertoire or during a time of vocal fatigue, or when students have problems with intonation in general.
But I must make my plug for the good ole major scale. You know how big dudes might not be very flexible, and agile athletes like Bruce Lee tend to be tiny and lean? Well, the scale is an exercise that trains both qualities – power and agility – at the same time. It’s not an easy exercise, to be sure. Even singers who don’t wrestle with intonation will splat the return on the seventh and sixth of the scale.
But, why? And why does the scale help with intonation problems also? Well, the scale requires a great amount of breath control to get through from bottom note and back again. The trickiest part is negotiating the first part of the descent since singers will tend to blast the top note and then lose support for the seventh and sixth coming down. By the time we arrive at the fifth we usually have it back together. The top part of the scale, especially the top part of the descent, requires a great deal of support or appogio. For me, to sing a scale forte I need inguinal ring and ribs pumping right through my transition from chest to head voice. I often place students’ hands on my ribs and tummy so they can feel the true amount of work involved in negotiating that part of the scale well. That’s a whole lot of power, and it takes exactly that to be agile. This is a great exercise for training the support or appogio. When students learn to sing the scale with support and on the breath, instead of crapping out into falsetto on the descent, that’s when they can feel what strong support actually does in the body. It’s a tremendous moment!
Now why is this a #1 vocal exercise for improving intonation? Well, it develops the muscle and aural memory to default onto notes that fit in the major scale. Often singers who struggle with intonation won’t be a semitone or a full tone off; they land somewhere in between, but can’t really hear what’s going on or how to fix it, even with accompaniment. They feel intuitively that something is wrong, but they don’t even often know that they are off-pitch or where. Naturally, this feeling of being “off” instantly shuts off the mind-body connection needed for good singing! No more good breathing, no support, no emotional commitment to the music and poetry, no grounding into the earth, only a busy brain thinking “I”m an idiot.” The result is that all the qualities of good vocal sound: resonance, volume, color, pitch–are in the toilet. Hence the usefulness of the scale; when a singer can default onto a note within into major scale, it is much easier to stay in tune and also to select and improvise good harmonies.
Thanks! Much love for your singing.
Kind regards, Rosanna D’Agnillo
Did you know I teach mindfulness to children within the Calgary school systems? Check out my website and blog at CalgaryMindfulness.ca for more information, and contact me to schedule a visit to your school?