The Use of Scales in Vocal Training


A survey of singing exercise programmes available on the net shows that most have one thing in common – a predilection for lip-rolls and sirens sliding up and down sections of the scale as a means of linking the registers and sequences of arpeggios mostly sung on one vowel at a time and notable in the audio demos for serious intonation problems, especially on the descending pathway. They also work from low to high and back again covering far too wide a range especially when one has to wait for the pitch to come back down to join in again. They are laborious and boring. Some perceptive students have noted that while they can ‘zoom’ across the registers in these exercises, they cannot repeat the feeling when they come to sing words. It is worth noting that the master teachers of the past used solfeggi and words set to music in a way which aided the movement of the voice from note to note, whether by step, skip or leap, and imprinted mechanisms for deliberately setting the voice in place on one word or syllable ready to successfully make those moves, especially when the notes spanned a ‘register break’. In all these systems the voice is continually moving within the resonators of mouth and head with no danger of being stuck in one place. Even discrete scale passages or arpeggios sung on ‘ah’ or ‘oo’ or ‘ee’ or ‘ay’ do not train the voice to land as accurately on a note as would be expected of a pianist/ violinist/ windplayer etc. The fact that most of the classical pedagogic systems are in Italian can be a hindrance in this ‘impatient to succeed’ age and may be the reason behind the widespread use, by singers, of the rather unstructured exercises described above. There is a requirement for a set of exercises which will produce an agile, fully integrated voice, which are easy to learn, and enjoyable to perform repetitively. Such a system does exist and will be introduced in the succeeding articles.

Vocal Warm-ups and their Relevance to Actual Singing

When one watches TV clips of sports-people at practice, it is apparent that they are working repetitively on coordinated movements which are integral to their particular sport, (swerves, side-steps, ball-control, club/bat control etc) which will build up muscle memory so that they can perform with maximum agility and efficiency on the field of play. The same argument can be applied to dancers working at the barre - (the warm-up is related to what is required in performance) and to the exercises devised for instumental teaching. A survey of vocal warm-ups presented on internet singing sites indicates that this connection has been lost sight of when it comes to voice training. (see my earlier blog - one does not sing on a lip-roll or on a single vowel) These initial blogs are setting the basis for introducing a vocal warm-up/voice development programme which re-establishes this connection.

Why Singers Should Do Scale Exercises (1)

Exercises based on scales and scale variants are the means by which instrumentalists attain the technical proficiency which allows them to negotiate any sequence of notes or chords with precision and fluency. It is only possible to communicate the musical meaning of a composition when these skills become second-nature and the performer can ‘get behind the explicit notes’ to find and convey the implicit nuances from the mind of the composer. Moving from note to note or chord to chord on keyboards, strings, woodwind, and brass involves changing the configuration of the instrument by changing finger/hand/arm positions (OK wind players also have to think the pitch but I’ll cover that later) and the exercises are designed to implant strong muscle memory patterns so that in all possible keys the performer can translate the symbol on the page into the appropriate configuration in an instant. At first glance it would appear that the voice does not need this type of exercise because one just opens one’s mouth and sings, no matter what the key may be – no buttons to push – no string-length to alter – no keys or valves to depress – ie no obvious configuration change (whatever happens at the vocal fold level is essentially automatic) However, when one considers what vocal control is required to effectively interpret a song, it is obvious that the technique used to move from note to note and the weighting given to every note and word/syllable is of prime importance.
What a boon it would be to have an exercise programme which will not only give the voice the required technique, but also smooth out the register breaks to produce a flexible, agile, integrated vocal instrument. The next blog will introduce the philosophy of such a programme ‘Calisthenics for the Singing Voice’.

Why Singers Should Do Scale Exercises (2)

Introducing Calisthenics for the Singing Voice

This exercise system has been devised to demonstrate the validity of the arguments put forward in the previous articles. As documented in other essays much of the impetus behind this project came from my taking up the challenge of playing the natural (valveless) trumpet as used in the baroque period. On this instrument the main operating scale (The octave and beyond from 3rd space C) is played completely using mind and tongue control – (there is no configuration change being made to change the pitch) and, along with the natural horn, is the closest in required technique to the human voice. The skills I had to develop to master this instrument, especially in the use of the tongue began to influence my singing technique and I found that I had much more control over both words and notes than previously and this also led to techniques for correcting apparent ‘tone-deafness’. The system uses sequences of 4 vowel sounds in various permutations to move around the notes of the scale by step,skip, or leap generally spanning an octave but the important aspect is that these exercises are repeated over 6 defined pitch ranges in total spanning d to c’’’’ for female voices and D to c’’’ for male voices. This means that you are singing a very focused pattern right across the bridge points between registers and achieves the required blending of those registers in a manner which reflects actual singing. The particular use of the tongue which is clearly described in the system notes ensures that the vocal tract and hence the voice remain relaxed and there is no strain. The voice develops the flexibility needed to sing in any style and sound authentic in each.
(eg I trained a ‘pop/country’ performer to authentically sing Messiah arias with all those florid runs and trills with the result that he was able to sing his usual repertoire much more effectively!!!) The exercises are all supported by fully composed keyboard accompaniments so the warm-ups/exercises are sung rhythmically rather than having a rather unstructured track of just the scale notes going remorselessly up and down the keyboard

For Demonstration Videos of the Exercises Sung in the Medium Voice Range Please go Here

Note - The exercises all have vocal demos in medium range (MR) but all exercises are presented as accompaniment only

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