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Ratio between exercises and songs

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jonpall
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I'm curious to hear what some of you geniouses think about the ratio between vocal exercises and songs.

Some people, like Mark Baxter, f.ex., think that when a singer is practising, he/she should pretty much entirely do vocal exercises and save the singing until live performances or rehearsals.

Others, like CVT, are in the opposite spectrum and think that you should work mostly on songs - not complete songs and not sung at normal speed, but a section of a song, a phrase, even a single tough word, sung over and over, fairly slowly, then building up speed, until you can do it well at normal speed. They do however tell you that before doing this, you should do a few but short vocal exercises with the same sound you're gonna be using in the song - but once you can produce the sound, don't spend too much time doing the sound just in the exercise - do it in the song, where you have complex melodies, dynamics, both consonants and vowels, etc.

There is a third way, perhaps a variation of the second, which is just improvising random words and melodies that don't really make sense, but can be very helpful, too.

I've done all of these methods from time to time. Right now I'm leaning towards the second or the third way, even though I still do a bit of sirens as almost my only vocal exercise these days (and some lip rolls and easier stuff if I'm sick but have a gig that day and can't back out).

What do you guys do? What do you think is the best ratio between those two or three methods? And most importantly, for you vocal coaches here, do you know if any statistical experiments have been done to try to find out the success rate of those 2-3 methods?

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i'm sold on the importance of the exercises....they have proven themselves to me as a slow, but effective way to improve the voice.

6 days a week, 30-50 minutes a day after i close i go completely through james lugo's vocal asylum. i just put on that cd and practice my ass off, not caring about sounding good, just trying each day to get another 1/2 step up or whatever clearer, more resonant, stretch and build something lol!!!...it's hard work, but i hear/feel results. then i take difficult passages of songs and try to get them better. funny, i rarely practice a song from beginning to end...just the parts leading to the hard parts and the hard parts themselves. so i guess in terms of practice...i'm probably 80% exercise practice, 20% song practice. my stylistic practice is listening to songs and mental visualization. if i'm just hanging out in the store and there are no customers, i'll knock off some lib bubbles or ng sirens or those "hah" hah" diaphragm pumping exercises.

i say this with all due respect jonpall, if your not routinely exercising the voice, i think you might be missing out on an important channel towards improvement. i've read too many times how singing and exercising are not the same. you've got to build, stretch, strengthen, and create muscle memory. again, just my opinion...bob...

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I think it depends on how many songs you want or need to learn versus how much improvement of a certain technique you want to learn. If you need to learn a bunch of songs then you are going to have to spend a lot of time on songs. For me, right now, I'm not concentrating on learning a ton of songs, and I am trying to advance certain technical aspects, so my average ratio is probably about 70% exercises and 30% songs. Exercises always come first, so if I don't have a lot of time on a certain day it will be 100% exersizes. If I'm in the middle of recording a song, I may do a quick warm up - maybe 20min and then the rest of the time practicing a song and / or recording it.

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I don't practice exercises just for exercises. 10 percent exercises, 90 percent singing songs. Though I will sometimes sing a song using different resonances and different sounds, which helps me stretch. It may sound funny but who cares? I'm doing 70 on the Texas version of the Autobahn and I am the least crazy of them all.

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I tend to work the same way as ronws does. I prefer spending what little time I have on songs than on exercises. I still manage to learn new things so I guess 'm not doing it entirely wrong :)

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Bob, I get the feeling that you're putting too much effort into your singing. Although it's true that singing high, powerful notes take effort, I really, really get the feeling that you're overdoing it slightly, from how you've been writing about this for a while. I might be wrong.

I must also disagree a bit with your idea of "trying each day to get another 1/2 step up or whatever clearer, more resonant". I think it's more a matter of trying to fix the hole in the middle of the voice rather than building it up from the bottom up. To explain better, most people have a hard time singing in their passagio, but a lot of people can sing decently both below it and above it (above it would be in falsetto). So the range is already there and doesn't need to be "built" and not "incrementally". Personally, my top note was always about E5, although now I've increased it to at least G5, but I rarely sing that high with my band. What I've been doing is increasing control and power in the middle part of my voice, basically the passagio. So I'm not trying to "gradually be able to sing higher and higher, a half step at a time". It's like I have a hole in the middle of my range and I'm trying to fix it. And actually, as of now, I feel it's almost fixed and has been so for maybe a year.

You and some other people here talk as if singing students have a "top note" at any given time, say an Ab4 as an example for some singing student - and that student is thinking "man, I'm really hoping that after a couple of months or so, I'll be able to pull of an A4 or even a Bb4". I don't think it should work that way - unless you just want to get better at pulling chest, which I hope you're not doing. None of the greatest singers, not even Lou Gramm were pulling chest on their high notes. They just made their mixed voices sound like their chest voices. I think it's not that hard to produce a powerful note at almost any given point between your lowest and highest possible note, but again, what takes time is the ability to control your entire range, make it sound like one voice and be able to control it at will. So again, I think building range is about filling in the gap in the middle of your voice and not building it from the bottom up. I'm not the only one with this opinion and I really respect your opinion on this. I'm not 100% which one of us is right about this, you see, Bob :) . So I hope you've come to know that I mean no disrespect but I'm just trying to help both of us here with our singing process, possibly help others who are reading this and in return receive help myself from other commenters on this thread.

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I've been able to sing powerful notes throughout my range, including in my passagio, for a long time, but it's controlling those notes well within the context of a song and not just an exercise which is the hard part. That brings me back to the topic of this thread. I've been able to do powerful and well connected sirens for a long time, without too much effort - well actually with some abdominal contractions but without simply shaking due to the effort. But usually, when I tried singing a SONG that included a high pitched phrase, I found it surprisingly tough. I was like "What? This shouldn't be as hard as it is for me. After all, my sirens and scales are getting so good. What's going on??". I'm realizing that in reality, simple exercises are so much easier than songs, because you have many different vowels and consonants, irregular breathing patterns, non trivial melodies, range of emotions, maybe vocal effects, etc.

So exercises are a good starting point and they are a MUST to start out with.

But these days I'm agreeing with CVT with the statement that as soon as you are somewhat comfortable with a simple vocal exercise with the sound you're gonna be using in a song or many of your songs, start to practise songs and not exercises. And here's the important thing: You don't want to just sing the entire song in one go, just like you would do live. No. You want to work mostly on the difficult phrases and words - the ones that are mostly in the passagio - and sing them over and over - and at a slower speed than how it will eventually be sung.

For each tough phrase or word, sing it over and over. If you find it easy, increase the speed slowly until you get to normal speed. If you find it tough, slow down the speed. If you still find it tough, stop singing the song and go back to an exercise with the same sound as the phrase in the song has. When you've managed to do a decent dob at the first tough phrase or word in the song, a few times, proceed to do the same with the next tough phrase or word.

And I suggest that you also spend just a tiny bit of time with the easy phrases (the lower pitched ones, usually), just to give yourself a short break from the hard stuff, to "center" yourself slightly and to re-remember what the easy stuff feels like. You'll probably be singing lots of easy phrases anyway, live, so it's not like you're cheating or anything.

If you make sure to regularly choose a different song from a different artist and also make sure that the majority of the phrases you're working on is in the passagio, you should get a good variety of different melodies (some going up, some down, etc.) and vowel/consonant combinations.

Think about the gains you can get from practising like this: You practise a phrase over and over, at slow speed, trying to make every small detail sound as good as you can. As you manage to increase the speed all the way up to normal speed, you sing it a few times over and over and suddenly realize "Hey! I'm singing a tough phrase over and over, trying to use the least amount of effort I possibly can and it's working! Cool!". Compare this to the method of working mostly on exercises: There you get gradually better at the exercises and then you HOPE that it will transfer well onto songs when you rehearse with your band. In my case, it often just didn't work that well. But with the "song-method" of practising, you don't have to HOPE that you'll be able to sing those songs - you already HAVE!

Finally, all of this is just my CURRENT opinion (and vocal schools such as CVT's - which I'm not associated with in any form, btw.) and it might change in the future. And I also consider myself to be a beginner at all this still, or maybe an intermediate at it, so take everything in this thread with a grain of salt.

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hey jonpall, thank you for taking the time to write to me on this. i appreciate your keeping an eye out on me. I am not, nor would i ever not welcome anyone's opinion or viewpoint. it would be a long write if i tried to explain my particular ways of going about this and why i choose this way, but all i can say is i am correctly reaching (hard to explain "reaching") and it is working for me. i don't know what else to say. i have felt results because my voice has a newfound tonal variety i've never had before. i sing better than i ever have before i embarked on exercising. there's a newfound freedom and control i'm starting to get (albeit not as consistently yet) but i sing from a different place these days. the most important discovery has been this "pocket of release" i find when i sing with the write formant alignment which gives me a ring that just is addictive...lol!!! and i must tell you, at least for me, these scales and the googs, gugs, mums, all of it these do transfer into the singing voice as a default. you seem to recall where you best phonated...i don't know..... it's very hard to articulate. but again i'm a big, big advocate of the daily exercising..no question..it helps greatly.

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Fix the passagio is what I mean, basically. Being able to control the notes there well. Bob, that was a cool response. Of course, if it's working for you to practise the way you're doing, awesome, and you should keep doing what you're doing. Actually, I don't think either method has really been "proven" to work better than the other via any form of statistics.

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Fix the passagio is what I mean, basically. Being able to control the notes there well. Bob, that was a cool response. Of course, if it's working for you to practise the way you're doing, awesome, and you should keep doing what you're doing. Actually, I don't think either method has really been "proven" to work better than the other via any form of statistics.

thanks man.

i know it sounds a little scary, but i look at it this way...as an analogy, if i'm doing barbell curls correctly in good form, (vocal exercises)

with 15 lbs. (the notes) i'm gonna try to get to 20lbs. (higher/stronger notes) now if i work the muscle to failure without straining, the next time 20lbs. becomes possible but the 15 lbs. is a lot easier.

if my goal is strong b4's and up, (for example) how am i going to reach that goal unless each day i work up to at least that point and try to go just a little higher (crutial though,in good form) each day?

well, i may be wrong, but nothing ever hurts and i like the challenge i guess.

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Since it doesn't hurt it's probably good. But I look at it like I'm gradually building power and control in ALL the notes between, say E4 and E5 (or so) at an EQUAL rate. So my B4 and C5 are growing stronger and more controlled at an equal rate.

You see, I think this is mostly a matter of technique. Raw strength, even in the abdominal region, is a bit less important, IMO. Yes, I can sometimes contract my abs pretty hard for high, powerful notes, but that's a bit beside my point. I think that being able to have a strong A4, B4, C5, D5, etc. can be achieved fairly quickly if it's tought correctly. Please note that here I'm just talking about being able to produce that sound - not to have great control over it. But for the singer being able to call upon those notes at will and hit them dead on with that power every time, within the context of a song, on tour, etc., that's the main problem.

I think almost anyone can be taught fairly quickly to sing an A4 or a B4, etc. with a LOT of power within the span of maybe few weeks or maybe months, up to a year, depending on the learning capability of the student and the skill of the instructor. F.ex. just sirening up from E4 to E5 in a full voice and make each note in between sound good just isn't that hard if your technique is good and you get help from someone who knows what you might be doing wrong. Personally, I don't think that in order to hit a note X with power, you MUST be able to have a good X-1 note (the note below). I think both notes - in fact all notes - can be developed in power and resonance at an EQUAL rate. Please someone correct me if you think I'm wrong. Perhaps even both those methods are equally valid. But if someone like Steven Fraser would come and give a good counter argument to what I'm saying, I'd be happy to start doing that method. Cheers, Bob, and you all! :)

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yes, i agree with what you are saying, but if a goal is to hit, like you said, to hit these notes in (powerful, ringing) full voice in the context of a song i personally know from practising gramm's stuff when i finish certain songs of his, my abs are worked i am physically affected either i sweat or find myself spent (i know, define "spent" bob) but effort has been expended on a lot of his songs, much more so than other songs...you simply will not decently sing his stuff (forget about trying to sound like him) just to do justice to his songs without some level of effort (and technique). i've talked to other singers on youtube about him, and they all agreed that gramm's stuff really has you working. what really has always intrigued me is even lowering the key the challenge remains. i'm sorry, but the one thing i guess we don't agree on is singing this kind of stuff can be made easier...a little easier perhaps, but not too much easier.

so my strategy is by exercising and working out the voice i will hopefully in a few years build up the strength, agility, and stamina to sing just about anything i set my sights on.

so now that i'm on a roll here, my objectives:

have the strength and coordination to keep the folds adducted to the highest possible notes regardless of volume

regulate fold tension at will

regulate dynamics and volume at will

be able to jump note intervals or octaves at will (gramm did this a lot)

maintain the ring and ping sound (center of the mode)

explore and utilize all sounds colors and effects

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Oh, don't get me wrong - when I attempt to sing in a style similar to Lou's, it definitely brings out the sweat. It takes effort for sure, more so than most other styles. But like you said, the effort can be minimized a bit, with experience. Not saying I'm there yet. Oh no :)

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Here's the problem I have with the weightlifting approach. For I use to work out religiously, butterlfying 110 free-weight, 130 machine weight. When you task a muscle past it's ability, it will tear down and re-build itself bigger. Please believe me, this is not opinion or viewpoint, it's a cold, hard fact and it is why bodybuilders are are so big. And so un-limber. It is because muscle does that that they walk around with their arms splayed out because their lattimus dorsai are so big (the cobra look). Imagine that in your throat.

What is better for the throat is toning. That is where the muscle stays the same size or leanness but gets stronger in its role. But really, the throat doesn't need toning. What it needs is coordination. And that comes from habit, like typing on a keyboard. Your fingers don't become bigger or even more "tone." They become acclimated to doing the movements that are required for typing. Same with the voice. You already have the muscle and toning you need. What voice lessons or practice does is make a habit of the coordination needed to sing.

In my opinion, the object of singing exercises is not to go to 20 lbs if you are 15. It's to make that 15 lbs solid throughout your range.

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Also, I agree with many points jonpall makes, though I don't use CVT. In fact, I am the baddest boy of all, not ascribing to anyone system. If one called my singing a style, it would be akin to Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do. The style of "no style."

Point being that why scales and exercises are good for developing some good habits, they are simply not mechanically the same as singing a song with phrasing, emotion, libretto. But they are building blocks that can be used in the pursuit of singing a song.

I'm not going to sing like CVT. I'm going to get into headvoice when I feel like it. I am going to shift resonance when it suits me because, I find, for me, if the resonance is good enough to provide the volume, my breath management will take care of itself. When I concentrate on some sound effect, or "managing breath," I tense and screw up. But if I take care to maintain resonance, the other things fall in line. Which turns out to be the viewpoint of some older classical texts on the subject. No, I'm not singing opera but the approach is similar.

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Cool. Just note that only a part of what I do is CVT. I too, blend lots of system together for my vocal workouts. And I have the feeling that lots of people on this forum do the same.

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Here's the problem I have with the weightlifting approach. For I use to work out religiously, butterlfying 110 free-weight, 130 machine weight. When you task a muscle past it's ability, it will tear down and re-build itself bigger. Please believe me, this is not opinion or viewpoint, it's a cold, hard fact and it is why bodybuilders are are so big. And so un-limber. It is because muscle does that that they walk around with their arms splayed out because their lattimus dorsai are so big (the cobra look). Imagine that in your throat.

What is better for the throat is toning. That is where the muscle stays the same size or leanness but gets stronger in its role. But really, the throat doesn't need toning. What it needs is coordination. And that comes from habit, like typing on a keyboard. Your fingers don't become bigger or even more "tone." They become acclimated to doing the movements that are required for typing. Same with the voice. You already have the muscle and toning you need. What voice lessons or practice does is make a habit of the coordination needed to sing.

In my opinion, the object of singing exercises is not to go to 20 lbs if you are 15. It's to make that 15 lbs solid throughout your range.

hi ron, buddy it was meant to be more of an analogy than reality.... i guess it's hard to explain.

let me try this....let's say your doing a scale using a vowel. now, as the notes rise (and it's a full voice exercise) no doubt these notes are getting harder the higher up you go.....in lugo's program, appell's, (ken's i think is similar) instead of shifting into falsetto they want you to try to get a little more connected by training the folds to adduct the higher you go.....if you don't go to that point at least that point every time you work the exercise how are you going to get past a note (that point) you can't yet reach? but the real beauty comes when you get that extra half step and it keeps getting easier and easier, the notes below it are now so much more "nailed" you need less effort to hit them.

if you had some of these programs it would make it so much easier to explain.

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Bob, maybe you and I are trying to make the same point. The object of vocal training is to make singing easier, not harder. The only work I expect to do in any system is the work of breaking a bad habit, which is always harder than starting a bad habit or a good habit. Just ask an ex-smoker. Was it easy to break the bad habit? Hell, no, it was the toughest thing. Same with bad habits in singing. The struggle is in breaking the bad habit. And that makes it mental. Once again, the old ones are right. Singing is mental, not physical. For example, if a person thinks that chest must be carried high to sing rock and roll, that is totally mental, psychological, and does not reflect the reality of creating a high note with power. And that is harder for some people than it is to add another ten pounds of weight to a barbell curl or butterfly. Because now, you are dealing with the mind. And a note starts in the mind. Feel the note, sing the note. And it is totally possible to sing a head note and have it sound thick like a chest note. Lunte does it every day, sometimes 20 hours or so in that day. Pavarotti made a one of a kind career with it. I will buy your damned lunch if Tate isn't using head voice and making it sound big. For freaking decades. But if one wants to think that he or some other is singing chest that high, neither you nor I can stop that person from thinking that. Because it's psychological, mental. Singing is mental.

And here, I must agree with Russ, you (in general) need to go with a classical instructor who teaches head voice, or someone like Lunte, who has adapted some classical concepts to extreme singing in a way that takes even a rank beginner to stellar heights. Again, I am not a rep for 4 Pillars, I don't even own the system, expect no special treat or given no quarter in judgement, just stating, from what I can see of various singing systems and their aim, it's one of the best. Because the approach is from head voice. And I wil bet dollars to donuts that many of the singers that have lasted so long are actually using the techniques for headvoice, even in the low end.

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Lifting a bag of groceries can be hard for someone but if that person does it a lot then it will get easier. Note this: For singing, producing a high note with a soft, low volume, thin tone DOES take a lot less breath support effort than producing the same note with more power, more volume, thickness and resonance.

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I think you got my analogy, jonpall. It is more conditioning although, granted a person who has never lifted anything before is going to struggle with just the 15 lbs required for singing. I just think most people have to conditioning mostly from speaking in their lives. But there is some coordination to sining that must be learned. I also think the process is the other way around. Eventually, to support the voice, we will learn to speak like we sing.

And re-reading the original post, I do some things the way you mention from CVT. I will use a song to exercise or stretch on. It helps me to work in the context of phrasing and rhythm.

And I get now what Bob was saying about effort. Yes, there is some physical effort expended to manage the breath. Some of the big singers mentioned that. If they haven't rehearsed in a while and are getting ready for a tour, they know they are in training because their guts feel tired. But it does mean that they kept the strain out of the throat, esso muy importante.

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Lifting a bag of groceries can be hard for someone but if that person does it a lot then it will get easier. Note this: For singing, producing a high note with a soft, low volume, thin tone DOES take a lot less breath support effort than producing the same note with more power, more volume, thickness and resonance.

jonpall,

i think you may have meant to say

producing a high note with a soft, low volume, thin tone DOES take a lot more breath support

and ron, all i can say is when i'm really having to manage breath.... where there's challenging song components like volume change, notes jumps, long sustaining notes on one breath i litterally can feel all my low lower support muscles working, even feel by belly rising and jumping and pulsing depending on the song....

stacatto-oriented tunes...can be very physically demanding. i can't think of any besides foreinger stuff, but i have noticed the stronger i develop my support area the more free and relaxed i can make my throat. it's as if the throat can be willed relaxed.

i know a lot of folks don't agree, but i really believe those support muscles could never be overdeveloped.

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