Young and teen voice specialist Dr Jenevora Williams gives us her top vocal exercises for young voices of all ages with video demonstrations. Read her full interview with Deborah Winter.
1 Breathing for singing
Do some short, repeated “sh, sh” sounds – as you do so, feel that the energy for the sound is coming from a little pulling-in movement just below the tummy button. Nothing else moves, no shoulders or ribs, just tummy. Then when you’ve got to the end of your breath, just let go of all the activity in the tummy and let it spring out and back to where it was at the beginning. With any luck, this will bring air back into the lungs ready to start all over again. Keep up the hisses and buzzes for many repetitions before you’re ready to use this feeling in your singing. Make sure that the movement is soft, so your tummy feels like wobbly jelly. See how little you need to move in order to get air in an out of your body.
2 Vocal Tone a)
Letting go of squeezing in the larynx. Take a breath in (remember to let it feel as if it’s dropping down into your tummy) making a noise as you do so. Then repeat this silently. What’s different? Can you feel that your throat is letting go when you are silent? Now do the same two in-breaths (one noisy and one silent) each time followed by a sighed “ooo” sound. Can you feel and hear a difference between the two? The one that isn’t squeezed is the one that feels as if you’re doing nothing. It probably sounds clearer and feels easier.
3 Vocal Tone b)
Getting a clear tone that projects without shouting. This follows on from Tip 2 – you can only do this if you’re not squeezing. Instead of the sighed “ooo”, try a “beee” on a falling pitch. The consonant needs to be made with a very loose face so that your cheeks puff out a little, but make sure that it is still like a very gentle mini-explosion at the lips. Have your tongue ready and waiting in your mouth in the “ee” position. There are lots of elements to coordinate here, but when you’ve got it all happening together, the sound should be clear and bright.
4 Tongue flexibility exercise
Feel your jaw hinge just in front of your ears, make sure that you are dropping your jaw without pulling it forwards. When you’ve got that, place your fingers on your cheeks so that you can feel some space between your teeth and check that the muscles of the face are soft. Then sing repeated “ya ya” or “yadda, yadda” or any tongue twister you know – making sure that your tongue is doing all of the work and that your jaw is doing nothing.
Further reading check out Dr Williams’ book Teaching Singing to Children and Young Adults