Most singers understand that the key to vocal longevity is building a solid technique. Having good technical skills allows the singer to use their voice in all of its many colors and weights, sing crossover styles, and even sing through an illness.
Instrumentalists have books full of etudes and exercises to help them whip their technical skills into shape. You probably even know of a few books of vocalises that promise the same thing for us singers.
What if I told you that you could have a personalized book of vocalises, one containing only the exercises that make your individual voice ring, those that sharpen your unique set of skills as a singer?
The book is real! Or rather, it will be… as soon as you create it.
Creating Your Personalized Book of Vocalises
Simply put, singers are different from other musicians because our instrument is a literal part of our body. That means that just as everyone’s body is different, everyone’s voice is slightly different as well. This isn’t new information – we all know that what works for one singer won’t necessarily work for another. However, it didn’t dawn on me until recently (in this same conversation with my friend) that we singers can’t all go to the same book to get a flat-out “correct” set of exercises to work on the technical aspects of our individual voices.
So how do we go about creating our own reference book for our individual voice? Start transcribing your go-to vocalises.
I started by transcribing the warm-ups my teacher used in my voice lessons. She came up with exercises that addressed the unique technical gaps in my voice. As I listened to the recordings of my lessons, I took notes on what warm-ups worked for me that week. I wrote them out on staff paper and made little notes about how to practice them and what things to focus on during each exercise (nice, low breaths, or making sure to keep the tongue forward, for example). I used these as my warm-ups for every practice session until the next lesson. Having everything written down, rather than just trying to remember as the week wore on, kept me accountable for the technical issues I was working through with my teacher.
*Pro Tip: record your lessons and listen back to them. You should do this anyway to hear what you sound like outside of your own head, but you get the added bonus of being able to transcribe your vocalises at another time, leaving you able to focus on the actual singing during your lesson.
Before long I had pages and pages of staff paper with nothing but exercises that worked perfectly to get my voice set up for great singing. Now, when I encounter a tricky passage in an aria, I find it immensely helpful to be able to page through past weeks of exercises to find one that speaks directly to the problem I’m having in the moment. Better yet, find ways to turn trouble spots in your pieces into new vocalises that you can add to your arsenal.
Stick a few sheets of staff paper in your voice binder and get cracking on your personal technique book! You’ll be so glad you did.
Want to flesh out your practicing even more? The Organized Singer’s Practice Plan printable helps you plan out all of your practicing for the week, and includes a sheet of staff paper for your weekly vocalises!