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Practicing Vocalises, or Not by Dena Murray

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Hey everyone,

I wanted to address some issues regarding vocalise practice, perhaps get some feedback.

For anyone who hates practicing scaled exercises, I hope to bring a new perception to it. They way I teach, exercises do not identify whether you are a good or bad singer. That's all in the way you sing songs, how much you like to perform and, hopefully, how much you like your own voice (since yours is really the only opinion that matters no matter how great others think you are).

I'm often asked about the signifigance of such practice. Many singers don't feel the need, especially those who have good voices and haven't found their voice to ever fail them...yet.

I teach from beginners to pro. Some of the advanced and professional singers come just for coaching and quick tips for songs. Yet every so often, I hear an advanced singer who is still struggling with certain sections of their voice, whether it be in foundation or with effects, or both.

I subscribe to the idea that before adding effects, one must have a good clean foundation, all breaks bridged, good technique in order, and control over the instrument. If not, vocal problem areas manipulated with too much body effort to conceal wrong way may put the voice at risk for damage down the road.

When I teach a singer a vocalise to practice, I don't want them to use this as some kind of barometer as to whether they have a good voice or not. From my perspective and the way I teach, practice is about breaking incorrect habits. When a wrong way of singing becomes habitual, it is hard to reverse -- much like breaking the habit of biting nails or cracking knuckles. It's so unconscious that you don't realize you are at it until, perhaps, somehwere in the middle of doing so. To reverse a physically ingrained automatic reflex requires active participation.

I teach singers to use a tape recorder, a simple one because of rewind. I also teach them exactly what to listen for when listening back and steer them into evaluating with words like right or wrong, correct or incorrect, rather than words like good or bad. I've found that for real improvement, one must learn to separate self-esteem from their sound -- especially when trying to break a habit. It's in exercises that you are most likely to hate the way you sound because you are not used to hearing yourself (from the inside) a new way. Shift in acoustical perception -- to learn to listen as others hear you. -- may be required. To do that, I have singers listen for steady streams of sound, place their hands or fingers on their abdomen ,belly, or adams apple while literally WATCHING these areas as they perform the exercise to determine wrong from right. These are actions, not thoughts.

The time to intellectualize is upon evaluating. This means once you realize you may have done something incorrectly, feel it, or hear it back on tape, you jump right back in, practice it again with ACTIONS and not thought. The very fact that you evaluated is the only thought needed. Yet, sometimes a habit is so ingrained it's unrecognizable to the singer. This is when I'll instruct to imitate what he/she heard on tape.

Imitation is not about trying to figure out what you just did before imitating it. This only creates more problems and/or the repitition of the same one. Imitation requires going STRAIGHT for the sound you heard as SOON as you heard it -- NO THINKING ABOUT IT. It also requires the willingness to overexxagerate and make a complete fool of yourself. When I had to do this myself, I figured, "Well, no one else is seeing or hearing me but me, so what have I got to lose?" Besides, sometimes it was really laughable -- and it's been a source of great fun and laughter for both my students and me. After all, I want lessons to be just as fun as they are instructional.

In short, if a singer can learn how to think of using vocalises and/or vocal exercises as breaking incorrect habits, remarkable progress can be had by this. Sometimes in just breaking a habit the voice automatically falls into place on its own. Also, what you think you heard that makes you not like your sound vs. what you hear back on tape after having just performed it --no matter what you were thinking at the time -- might just astound you. When I was in the process of getting my voice, I was shocked hearing the tape reveal what I'd been seeking from my voice all that time. Yet from inside my own head the song sounded wimpy or like I was in head voice all the way through. Once I heard it as others were hearing it, I had to ask myself about how hard I'd been making things. Could singing really be that easy?

The more I separated my identity as a singer from my sound when practicing vocalises, the better I got. I like to teach students how to become their own teacher, the voice their student, and give to them what I have for myself today: independence and complete control over the entire vocal apparatus.

I believe that once your foundation is in place, it's important to then seek out those who are skilled at teaching effrects properly. And there certainly are a variety of those teachers to choose from on thiswebsite. It's an honor to be a part of it.

Very sincerely

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