Anyone who’s ever sung on stage knows how much damage a night of singing can do to your throat. Your vocal cords are just like any other body part: they need regular exercise to function normally. For most people, everyday conversation is all the practice they need. But if you sing for a living, you need more targeted exercises to keep your voice in top form.
Voice exercises are all about preparing your vocal cords for the rigors of performance. They address three main areas: they improve your voice quality, broaden your vocal range, and make your voice stronger. Most importantly, at least for the pros, it loosens your vocal structures so they can take the strains of singing for hours on end. Going into a performance without voice exercises is like going for a run without warming up. You can do well, but you’ll be stiff and sore afterwards.
One of the simplest voice exercises is humming. This helps you practice hitting notes without the filter of lyrics and other elements, and controlling volume. Start with a gentle, quiet hum, and then increase the volume little by little until it’s clearly audible. Pay attention to the soft buzzing it makes in your face—you’ll know you’re doing it right when you feel the buzz without making an effort to create it.
The exercise you’re probably most familiar with focuses on the articulators—the parts of your mouth that shape your words, such as your tongue, lips, and jaw. Practice using them by singing isolated syllables such as “ba,” “ma,” “ya,” and “la,” making sure to use a different, deliberate pitch every time. Concentrate on the movement of your articulators. This is especially useful right before a performance, as it relaxes your vocal, facial, and oral muscles and allows you to put more emphasis on your voice itself.
Voice quality can be addressed with two common drills, one to help you develop a smooth voice and one to extend your range. The first is what allows good singers to move between high and low notes seamlessly, without changing pitch, volume, or any other element. Do this by singing “ah” up and down the scale, feeling the way your throat, chest, and face work together to create the notes. When you’re able to switch between notes while keeping all three body parts working in unison, your notes will sound smoother.
Finally, you can practice extending your vocal range, which is what singers probably work on the most. You can do this by singing as high and low as you’re able to, and then trying to go just beyond that. It’ll be hard and probably sound off on your first few tries, but you’ll be able to get it with practice. One way to help yourself along is to imagine physically reaching up for the high notes and bending down for the low ones. It’s important to always push yourself beyond your current limits; once a particular top or bottom note has become too easy for you, work on learning the next.