Are singing exercises really mandatory? No, they are not. They are only mandatory if you want to become a successful singer with a long and important career. Sure, some singers may never have done a scale in their lives. But then again, some people win the Lottery with the first ticket they buy. Willie Nelson probably never warbled a mee-mee-mee in his whole life. (Only guessing here; I've never asked) But few people have the charisma and sincerity that we see in Willie. He is a poet who puts tunes to his poems when he reads them.
For the rest of us, the answer to that question is a resounding "YES." Singing is an athletic endeavor. And just like any other athletic activity, in order to be most effective, a subtle combination of brain, body and voice needs to be coordinated. These elements should be awakened by singing exercises so they can work freely together.
A singer needs to sing scales and exercises in order to practice the elements of the techniques they are learning in a "pure" form. By that, I mean, without being distracted by issues like words, rhythm and interpretation. This is the time a singer gets to totally concentrate on the body, brain and voice synergy.
Singing exercises build a kind of muscle memory intended to allow the singer to forget about issues like breathing and support so they can concentrate on performance aspects when they are singing onstage or in the studio. It's too late to concentrate on breathing and support when you're standing onstage. That's when a singer must forget about the basics and perform. You have to rely on muscle memory. And the way to build that muscle memory is to do what every vocal coach hopes you will do, and that is to practice your exercises.
Exercises. That sounds like a lot of work and not much fun, doesn't it? Well, you could be right, but think of them like you would physical training. Crunches aren't much fun either, but when you don't do them, it shows in your performance and in your body.
Fabled violinist Jascha Heifetz made a good point when he said, "If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it."
For singers, I recommend warm-ups that work like building blocks, starting with the number one, all-time fundamental building block, which is effortless breathing. If you get the breathing part right, you stand a good chance of doing well with the rest of it. If you fail to establish your breathing correctly you will always be off-kilter.
The next step is to incorporate your method of support. Then focus on your resonating system and add it to the mix. I also recommend that as you go through your singing exercises, you begin with scales that are short and in a comfortable voice range for you. Build slowly by gradually lengthening the spread of the notes you sing and begin exploring the boundaries of both upper and lower registers.
There is a temptation to view singing exercises as a mindless activity. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They are only worth doing if you concentrate on building a smooth working machine that incorporates body, brain, and voice. Record yourself and monitor your progress. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. To quote football coach Vincent Lombardi, "Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect!"
Nashville vocal coach Renee Grant-Williams reveals the trade secrets that have already helped hundreds of aspiring singers become celebrities: Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Dixie Chicks, Miley Cyrus, Huey Lewis, Kenny Chesney, Faith Hill, Jason Aldean, Christina Aguilera...
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