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Tona De Brett's Vocal Points

Article from International Musician & Recording World, October 1985

More vocal gymnastics with Queen of the chords

The serious singer should do a daily vocal work-out. Singing songs is fine, but you will find that half an hour a day spent exercising the voice will warm it up and make the songs easier and more fun. Begin with a quickie. Use a "Va" and "Vi" (as in "Vim") on each note, and be sure that your jaw and mouth are relaxed. Stand in front of a mirror and sing without making faces! It is not necessary to screw your face up or stick your chin in the air! A wistful smile can help, it lifts the cheek-bones slightly without stretching the mouth in a "cheesy" grin.

Repeat Exercise One at least five times taking ita semitone higher each.

Next sing a slow downward scale. Start in the middle of your range and repeat each scale a semi-tone higher as before. Use the vowels "oo" and "ah" on every note. Listen to the pitch before you breathe and decide how many notes you are going to sing in each breath. Then breathe in deeply on an open vowel ("ah" is good) and begin. Don't hold your breath before you start. Breathe. Sing. Think rhythmically. Push your lips forward for "oo", as though you are holding a straw between them, and open the mouth downwards for "ah". Support the exercise with a gentle continual squeeze from the lower abdominal muscles. Pretend you are a tube of toothpaste and squeeze as low as possible! It's a good idea to sing two notes per breath to begin with. As you become more confident try four degrees of the scale in one breath.

Remember to relax your tummy muscles and your mouth whenever you take a new breath. See Exercise Two.

Now you need an exercise for your diaphragm. Sing a quick pattern downwards, using "va's" and vi's" (I like the consonant "v". The lower lip just touches the top teeth, your tongue need not move and can stay flat in the bottom of the mouth where it is out of the way! If it curls or humps up it can impede the tone.) Breathe in at the bottom of the passage and then sing an upward scale attacking each note from the diaphragm.

It's like laughter, your middle pushes in as you make the note and rebounds between notes. Sing each degree of the scale three times using a light "ah" as in "laugh" and try to sing the whole passage in one breath. Don't worry if your tummy muscles are aching by this time, you are obviously using them properly! See Exercise Three.

(Click image for higher resolution version)

If your throat hurts, stop practising and check with your mirror. Are your facial muscles relaxed as you sing? Is your tongue flat? Is your mouth open enough? When you sing staccato (as in the second half of Exercise Three) be sure your throat is open. Don't use the glottal stop, rely solely on your diaphragm for a clean attack. A glottal attack is something like a cough and can lead you into the habit of using your throat muscles to push the note. It can be useful, but use it intentionally and not too often. If you find it difficult to sing an open vowel without using the glottal stop, precede the vowel with an "ah" until you feel confident that your throat is open.

Now for a range-stretcher. One of my pupils christened this "the wheel". It's a good name for it! Start low in your range as this exercise covers 12 notes. Use "va's" and "vi's" again and turn the wheel at least three times! See Exercise Four.

It is difficult to describe these vocalise without using notation: however, for those of you who don't read music I have made a cassette which has these exercises and a good many more on it.

Your last task this session is to master a couple of tongue-twisters. Sing them on a downward scale, repeating the phrase on each note. Number 1 is: "Red Leather, Yellow Leather", and No. 2 is: "Rubber Baby-Buggy Bumpers"! Good luck!

Tona de Brett gained an ARCM in teaching at the arts centre at Dartington Hall and has taught at the City Lit and other adult education establishments. She now teaches solely at home and her pupils have included Green, MorrisseyCurt Smith, Strawberry Switchblade, John Lydon, Edwyn Collins, Martin Fry and Liz Frazer. For information re vocal exercise cassette write to Tona including an SAE at (Contact Details).

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Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Oct 1985

Donated by: Mike Gorman, Neill Jongman

Scanned by: Mike Gorman

Feature by Tona de Brett

Previous article in this issue:

> Waxing Lyrical

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> Dr Beat

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