When Singing Scales Doesn’t Help

It’s a common frustration for the voice student.  You work scales over and over, and get pretty good at them.  The voice feels balanced and pretty secure.  Then you go to sing a song and it all falls apart.  Notes are suddenly cracking and straining and you don’t know why.

Why Scales Are Easier

Vocal exercises are usually constructed to make it easier for the singer to find vocal balance or to extend his or her range.  They use “friendly” vowels and consonants to guide the voice into the right spot.  Unfortunately songs are not constructed with this in mind (thank goodness, those would be some pretty lame songs).

Suddenly you are dealing with sounds that make the high notes harder, with consonants that trip up your tongue and with no space to breath.  How to bridge the gap between vocal exercises and singing songs?

Songs As Exercises

The trick is to stop singing songs all the way through at full speed and to isolate small parts of the music.  Use these fragments as singing exercises.

For example, if trying to sing Rolling In The Deep, the hardest part of the song is the word ALL in the chorus (we could have had it ALL).  This is difficult because up to this point the song is in the lower part of the voice (chest voice) and then it suddenly jumps up to the note right in the middle of the vocal break.  The temptation is to shout this note “we could have had it AAAAAALL.”  This leads to strain and cracking.

Break It Down

Try this instead:  just take the two words “it all.”  Sing it slowly.  Feel the vowel of AALL change to UHLL.  This will help eliminate the urge to shout.

If it is still difficult, sing the two words on a lower pitch, gradually singing higher until you can do it in the original key.

Now sing the whole line slowly, remembering how it felt to sing the word ALL without shouting.

Just working that much of the song as an exercise can be very powerful and can go a long way to clearing up bad habits when moving to songs.