Tom Blaylock often asks the question, “does it get results?”
He has this lil’ gem of a thought provoker posted in 1001 point font on his studio wall in reference to vocal exercises. Do your vocal exercises get you the results you need?
I think this is a correct question to be asking. It requires a singer to dig a little deeper than just mindlessly doing a vocal routine from day to day, or picking and choosing random vocaleses depending on their mood.
It also allows for many answers! There are any number of ways to get the result you want, so don’t box yourself in to just one way of thinking. On anything, really. (Voice is a reflection of the cosmos, remember.)
Just keep asking, “does it get results?” Maybe this is also a good question for many things in life.
In order to answer the question, we need to be able to say what we need. A precursory question to “does it get results,” could be “what do I want to learn vocally?” or “what does my voice need help doing?” That will help you (and your teacher) determine the required exercises, and whether they actually work.
Another question to consider when asking “does it get results” is, “when I do [_______] exercise, what response is my voice giving me in the moment?” This may seem like an obvious question, but many times a vocal exercise is NOT producing the tone, or amount of airflow, or whatever, that we really want. And it takes some honest self reflection and possibly a conversation with a teacher to figure it out. What you practice, your body remembers.
Some things to consider when thinking about why and how you are doing a voice exercise:
- Amount of vocal fold adduction
- Thickness of the vocal folds
- Stretch of the vocal folds
- Amount of airflow
- Amount of subglottic pressure (phonatory threshold pressure or PTP, for the super nerds)
- Shape and tension of the throat and mouth (vowel choices)
- Macro level muscle engagement (the big, obvious muscles)
- Unseen (but heard) muscle engagement – as in tongue, jaw, laryngeal muscles
- Ability for sound to express emotions
You know, the same list of things all the voice teachers are talking about. If you know what you are targeting with a vocal exercise as exemplified by the above (partial and humble) list, you can start to answer “does it get results?” But if you don’t have a target or have “why the heck am I doing this exercise?” answered, the results will almost always be mixed.
For me it’s a matter of loving the logical. If I know why I’m doing an exercise, I can better assess if it’s working. I’ve run into more than a few vocalists who are just doing vocal exercises ’cause they are doing them. No one ever taught them why or how they work. This is not necessarily the fault of their teachers, and at the same time if the /why/ and /how/ are answered, a student tends to practice more intentionally. And get results they actually want – and faster.
Different vocal exercises are good for different things. Sometimes when we master a vocal skill, we need to add a different level or different perspective of vocal exercise. I know this has been true for me, and I hope it continues to be true. Each vocal exercise has merit, and with anything in life, some are more effective than others. They are all tools in the tool box, and each has a purpose.
Just keep asking, “does it get results?” And . . . may I add, figure out why you are doing those vocal exercises you are doing. If you know that, you can figure out a lot about your voice on your own.