How To Apply Vocal Technique To Songs

August 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Singing Articles

Singing exercises are very effective to improve the sound of your voice.  Singing scales and arpeggios when done right will expand your range, develop power and allow you to sing with more freedom. There is one major drawback with vocal exercises though, they aren’t exactly the most inspiring things to sing!  I’m sure you would much rather sit at the piano, or grab your guitar and sing a selection of your favourite songs for an hour instead of grinding away singing countless “mums”, “nays” and lip rolls!

In this article I am going to show you how you can apply many popular vocal exercises and techniques to songs. This will make the process of developing your voice much more enjoyable and you will see “real world” improvements to your range and tone.  I am going to discuss a series of scenarios you may face when working on a particular song.

Scenario One: You are having trouble hitting a certain high note in one of your favourite songs.

Let’s say that you are working on a particular song that has a high note that you are finding difficult to hit.  What most singers do is attempt to hit the note over and over again which will lead to frustration and a mental block regarding the note.  Sound familiar?

The solution:

Step One: Isolate the phrase and treat it like a vocal exercise.

Step Two: Substitute the words in the phrase with a lip roll.  Lip roll the phrase at least three times in a row.  This will train your singing muscles to relax.  You may also want to do a strong “SHHH” sound in between lip rolls.  This will make sure you airflow is activated.

Step Three: Isolate the note before the high note and also the one after it.  Lip roll (or tongue roll) these three notes five times in a row, again adding a “SHHH” between each attempt.

Step Four: Replace the lip roll with a vowel of your choice.  I recommend either “EEE” or “OOO” as these will help keep your mouth in a neutral (not widened) position.  Sing the three notes on your chosen vowel five more times, each time adding a bit more volume.  Make sure you don’t start out too loud!

Step Five: Sing the three notes again but this time add the words.

Step Six: Sing the phrase again as written (with words).

This six step system is very effective for conquering high notes within a song.

Scenario Two: You are having trouble hitting a series of low notes within a phrase.

Let’s say you are more comfortable singing in the middle and upper parts of your voice and you are working on a song that has a series of low notes in a verse.  You find that your voice gets “stuck” and unable to sing the notes with any volume.

The Solution:

Step One: Isolate the phrase and treat it like a vocal exercise.

Step Two: Do three strong “SHHH” sounds.   Low notes allow more air to pass the through the vocal cords so you need a consistent flow.

Step Three: Speak the phrase.  Your speaking voice uses the same vocal structure as you chest voice.  Now try and speak the phrase “on pitch”.

Step Four: Replace the words with an “AHH” vowel.  Try and maintain the same tone as when you were speaking the phrase.  Put your hand on your chest and make sure that you are feeling vibration in your chest cavity while doing this exercise.

Step Five: Sing the phrase again adding the words.

This is a great five step system for accessing you chest voice.  When doing these exercises make sure you keep a tension free throat.  It will allow your sound to descend much easier.

Scenario Three: You are having trouble sustaining a phrase which sits right in the middle of your voice.

Let’s say that the chorus of a song you are working on has a series of notes which sit right in the middle of your voice.  You find that your voice shifts between head voice and chest voice causing your tone to become very inconsistent.  You have tried singing it with a louder volume but find that your voice tires quickly.

The Solution:

Step One: Isolate the phrase and treat it as a vocal exercise.

Step Two: Replace the words of the phrase with a lip roll.  This will help to keep your singing muscles relaxed and your larynx low.  Do this three times.

Step Three: Sing the phrase using the word “mum”.  Do this three times adding a strong “SHHH” between each attempt.

Step Four: Sing the phrase using the word “nay”.  Do this three times adding a strong “SHHH” between each attempt.  Try and add a crying sound to your “nay”.

Step Five: Sing the phrase again adding the words.  Try and maintain a crying sound to your tone.

This five step system is great for singing in mixed voice.  It is designed to train your muscles to stay relaxed and maintain a low larynx.  The crying sound helps to shift resonance into the nasal cavity.

Scenario Four: You are told that your tone is “muddy” and your words are hard to understand.

Singing is really just another form of communication.  If your words and tone are not clear you will have trouble connecting with an audience.   The following exercises and techniques will help to clear up your tone.

Step One: Isolate the phrase and treat it as a vocal exercise.

Step Two: Stick out your tongue and attempt to sing the phrase with as much clarity as you can.  This will get your articulators (tongue, lips and jaw) working overtime.   If you find that your tongue retreats back into your mouth move to step three.

Step Three: Repeat previous exercise but hold your tongue with your fingers to stop it moving back into your mouth.  The tongue is a major reason for most tone problems.

Step Four: Sing the phrase again with words.  Focus on making the words as clear as you can.  You should find that your tone is greatly improved.

This four step system for improving tone is a fantastic way to add clarity to your voice.

Bonus Tips:

Tip One: If you have a word that has two distinct vowels directly after each other, always make the first vowel longer than the second.  This is called a diphthong.

Tip Two: Always make the vowels in your words longer than the consonants.  This will help create a very smooth tone.  Having shorter vowels will create a choppy tone.

Tip Three: If you are finding a high note pretty much impossible to hit try having a bit of fun with it.  Siren on vowels “ee” and “oo” as high as you can.  When you feel a bit more relaxed have a go at singing the high note again.  Don’t take things to seriously.  Have a bit of fun with your voice and notice the difference it makes to your energy.

Singing exercises for hours on end can often be a boring and mundane task.  By isolating phrases in your favourite songs and treating them as vocal exercises you will see instant improvements to your voice and have a bit of fun doing it!

To view video examples of some of these techniques enrol in my Free Course

Ian Castle

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2 Responses to “How To Apply Vocal Technique To Songs”
  1. Love the tip about singing with your tongue out to improve clarity. I sometimes have trouble with my phrasing being muddy, so this helps. If I do this consistently, will the problem clear up to the point of me NOT needing to practice this anymore,ors it something I need to do daily?

  2. Aussie Vocal Coach says:

    Hey Elgin,

    I still do this exercise to help improve my diction, especially when I am doing a show. I incorporate it into my warm up.


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