Set Realistic Goals
Now that you’ve assessed the current condition of your voice and you know where your starting line is, it’s time to think about your musical goals and create a game plan for achieving them.
Think about the singers you admire. What is it about their singing that you want to emulate? Now think about other singers you don’t admire. What are they lacking?
Listen to recordings of a wide range of singers and write down what you like or don’t like about each. Focus on artists who perform music in your chosen genre and whose voices are similar to the sound you are working toward.
Finally, even if opera isn’t your thing, listen to a few opera singers. Focus on their tone quality, vibrato, phrasing, and dynamics. Choose an opera sung in a different language so you aren’t distracted by the lyrics.
Why do you sing? Is it just for the sheer joy, or did the church choir director twist your arm because they needed more participants? (If you were initially coerced by someone else, take it as a compliment. No matter how badly they needed people, they wouldn’t have asked someone who has a horrible voice!)
What kind of music do you want to sing? What are your musical goals? Do you hope to become a professional performer or music teacher, or do you want a role in the next musical with your community theatre company?
Write down your long-term goals (sing on Broadway), medium-term goals (role in community theatre musical), and short-term goals (add half an octave to your range). It’s okay to dream big, but at the same time be realistic.
Start with the short-term goals; as you reach those, move on to bigger ones. Remember, they aren’t carved in stone—you can always change your goals or add new ones.
Focus On What’s Important
Don’t obsess over range! Tone quality is more important. Even the most demanding operatic arias rarely require more than two octaves. Most church choir repertoire, pop/rock songs, and jazz medleys require 1 to 1½ octaves, and most musical theatre roles call for 1½ to 2 octaves. It’s better to have 1½ octaves of range with good tone quality than 2½ mediocre octaves.
Remember, you’re a vocal athlete. Think about competitive figure skaters, gymnasts, and snowboarders: they get more points for a well-executed move of lower difficulty than for a poorly executed but more difficult one. That same concept applies to singing.
Don’t Push Too Hard
By trying to force your range, you could harm your voice and actually set yourself back. Instead, let it increase gradually as your voice becomes stronger.
Again, think about athletes. Runners don’t do a marathon as their very first race. They work up to it gradually: first one mile, then 5K, then 10K, then a half-marathon, and finally a full marathon.
Baseball players start in Little League, then move to high-school and college teams, and only then turn pro. Just as you wouldn’t expect a Little League pitcher to strike out a Major League batter, you won’t jump from 1½ octaves of range to 2½ in a week’s time.
A Note About Exercises
Throughout the remainder of this book, we will refer to several exercise techniques. Below are the definitions of these exercises:
- Yawn-slide. Inhale on a yawn and exhale on a syllable (such as hoo or hee), starting with a pitch at the top of your range and sliding down to the bottom of your range. Imagine the sound coming from a triangle between your eyes and the top of your nose.
- Vocal Siren. Start at the bottom of your range and move quickly to the top, then back down. Do this on a hum. If you have adequate breath support, go up and back down several times on a single breath.
- Buzz. This goes by many different names: buzz, bubble-lips, or lip roll, among others. After a deep inhalation with good expansion, exhale through loosely puckered lips so they vibrate.
- Arpeggio. An arpeggio is simply a broken chord played up and down the octave: do-mi-so-do-so-mi-do. Sing it on “ah” or “oo”, or a syllable such as “la”. For example, in the key of C major, you would sing C-E-G-C-G-E-C.
- Descending Scale. Can be five notes or eight notes. For five notes, start on the fifth tone and descend stepwise to the base: so, fa, mi, re, do. For an 8-tone scale, start at the top of an octave (do, ti, la, so, fa, mi, re, do).
- Ascending Scale. The reverse of the descending scale. For five notes, sing do, re, mi, fa, so. For eight, sing do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do.
- Triad. This is a smaller version of the arpeggio. Sing do, mi, so, mi, do.