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Warm-ups: Warm-ups for the high register

Dear All,

The following is a compilation of replies I received concerning my query
about preparing amateur sopranos and tenors for singing Handel's "Israel in
Egypt", in which their tessituras lie unusually high.

Many thanks to all of you for your thoughtfulness and help.

Best regards,

Jerome Hoberman
Music Director/Conductor
The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra

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Spend a lot of time focusing the bottom and middle ranges, then do octaves
with portamenti up and down, keeping the top no louder than mf. Challenge
them to keep the top note very forward, controlled, and easy, working on a,
o and oo vowels.

* * * * *

I use just a very basic warmup - sol fa mi re do, but sing it on the
syllable 'mah'. Just say the 'm' at the beginning of the exercise (to avoid
glottal clicks and to keep the sound forward). I always beginning in the
middle of the voice say a sing the warm-up and go down a half-step and
repeat the exercise again. I do 3-4 repatitions and then go up a M2nd to a
M3rd up from where I began (which was a so up to c). Next I would go up to
e, then f#, then g, a, and so on and so forth. Make sure you take them
above the highest note they will have to sing that day. Also, stress that
once you get into the upper register to try to really rely on the head
voice and a nice pure sound that is very 'sigh-like' - Almost like a female

If they have to sing only long sustained notes, this warm-up should be
enough. If they have to sing quicker notes, you might want to add a warm-up
after this that focus more on 'popping' out the high notes. I use do mi so
do(high) so mi do and sing it on yah, hah, hah, hah, hah, hah, hah.

* * * * *

Practice the melody -- intervals, articulation, dynamics, text -- at a
lower pitch level, within a fourth of the original. Raise it a half-step or so
when they're getting confident, raise it again, and then when they really
feel they have it, try it at the original pitch level.

Breathe in "through the eyes."

Sing with "happy sinuses."

Keep an open -- not closed -- expression on the face.

Don't worry about singing loudly -- it will project fine because it's so high.

Warm up with an exercise that covers an octave, and on the high notes, ask
them to bend their knees (in ballet the term is plié).

Don't try to get great diction up high -- you will have to soften some
consonants and modify some vowels toward a neutral syllable.

Breath support is absolutely critical, otherwise it will be shrill. Do lots
of breath support exercises, such as SSS-sss-sss-sss-SSS-sss-sss-sss, etc.

On high notes, push down as in giving birth or as in a bowel movement (find
a way to put this delicately).

Sing lyrical melodies that call for good breath support in the low part of
their range to get them really open and supporting. Do some quick exercises
in the upper part of the range right away then, to keep the principal of an
open throat alive in the upper register. You can even do some exercises in
the "fry" range -- the extreme low register that opens up the throat. Go
lower than singing tone and ask them to just
relax and let the "ahh" out. It's very relaxing.

The audience will be delighted if the sound is a happy sound, not a worried
or pushed sound. Let the lower voices deliver the drama.

Practice the high stuff after they've really warmed up. Don't try it in the
first twenty minutes of rehearsal.

* * * * *

I often use a lip trill (buzz) to ease singing in the upper part of the range.

* * * * *

Lip trills are the best thing I have found. "If they can trill it they can
sing it."

* * * * *

Try the Conconne book of daily exercises. This resource alone has freed up
my tessitura range (using the bel canto technique). The Conconne (opus 11)
is the best resource I've known, bar none! (This book will separate your
"sopranos" from the SOPRANOS!)

* * * * *

In passages that are really high for extended periods of time, I usually
rehearse my sopranos and tenors down an octave until they have
the notes solidly learned, and also while we're first working the "music"
of the lines. Singers have difficulty, as you know, keeping their minds on
proper technique while learning notes (or phrasing, or dynamics, etc.) so I
have found that if I say, "To save your voices a
bit, we're going to take this down the octave while we learn," they don't
give me any flack. :-) They think I'm being respectful of their
instruments, which I am, but it's all in the approach. My choir has a high
percentage of vocal performance majors, so I can talk easily with them
about body support while working lines like that. We routinely use a
"siren-sigh" exercise: singers "ooh" from the lowest part of their ranges
through the highest, waver back and forth near the top for a bit, and then
slide back down to the low. This takes anywhere from 10 seconds (beginners)
to 25-30 for the more advanced.

* * * * *

Do you rehearse the high passages an octave lower when you are working on
notes and articulation, phrasing etc. That seems to help.

* * * * *

If you are in the note-learning stage, try just learning the part an octave
down to avoid strain. Then, when singing it eventually up to the octave,
allow those voices to modify vowel sounds esp. i, e, eh, a (as in "sat")and
ih to more open vowels. Devise some vocalises that are spin offs from the
problem passages always sung on open vowels.

* * * * *

Be sure to warm up at least a step above where they need to go. Also,
exercises that skip up, i.e., an arpeggio, then descend on scale, help.
Again, always working to above the notes needed. The tenors need to go into
falsetto range and come down across the passagio. Be careful that they are
using the lower muscles not the throat to get their sound.

Speaking of lower muscles, may I add a technique I use in voice -- for all
voices? Idea taken from a wonderful choral person whose name I cannot
recollect to credit at this time, unfortunately. Have them say "Ah, Ha!" as
if they were pleasantly surprised. The muscle just below the sternum should
"tuck" in. I work with my students to use that muscle and NO MORE "tension"
than needed to say that phrase, to "lift" those high lines. I avoid the
word "support" and talk about tucking that muscle and lifting the pitches.
It's a semantics thing, but I find I get less forced tone. Most of my
singers find it very "freeing" and not so much "work -- though it is indeed
working that muscle. That term support often has caused "grabbing" of the
"diaphragm" and gets poor results. This is all a little difficult to
explain in words, but I hope you can get some sense of what I mean.

Regarding those altos (which we voice teachers never really accept as
altos!): To be careful with the voice, try to avoid use of the chest voice
down there. It means you probably won't get as "big" a sound, but it will
keep your altos going a lot longer and not damage the voice in the
meantime. Again, exercises that take them up "high", into their "head
voice", then down to low notes, trying to mix the top texture in to bottom,
avoiding the chest sound, is much healthier.

* * * * *

Start in the middle of the voice somewhere. Sing "ZEE-AH" with the "ZEE" on
the tonic and then have the ladies SLIDE UP TO THE "AH" on the fifth. Then
simply do a descending arpeggio back to the tonic. Essentially, using
numbers you get 1 - 5 (hold the AH vowel for a
second on the fifth) and then 3-1.

The crucial parts of this warm-up are:
1) the ladies vibrate the "Z" consonant
2) the "ee" vowel is bright and forward
3) they must slide up to the "ah" getting every single pitch in between

The "ah" at the top is simply an "outgrowth" of the "ee" vowel and will
allow them to sing freely and keep the sound bouyant.

* * * * *

I would be sure to ensure that they bring the head voice sound down, not
the chest voice up, as it reduces tightness. Also, warm-ups w/ 5th and 8va
jumps up and back.

During the rehearsals, I also let my singers sing an octave lower at times
to ensure that they have all the notes, melismas, etc., learned and then
place it back.

* * * * *

Tell your singers not to attempt to sing full throttle, don't attempt
forte/loud singing in the upper reaches over a sustained period. This will
burn them out quicker than anything else. Encourage half-voice, mezza voce,
mezzo piano singing, just touching the notes, while maintaining good
support and keeping that central core of resonance in the vocal quality.
This will carry and work very well. Look for developing agility and not
forte singing.

* * * * *

1. Yawning. Breath with your arms out in front of you and mouth open wide,
raise the arms slowly above your head while breathing, stretch back and
YAWN! lower the arms and let out sound. I do this several times a day and I
notice the palate in the back of my mouth naturally goes up.

2. Sing with your eyes smiling. When we smile with the eyes the skin of our
face and our ears pull back, therefore making the tongue go down and the
sound rounder. Its a slight squint of the eyes you want. Lower the jaw and
sing oooooo.

3. Pavarotti said that singing properly is like sitting on the toilet.

* * * * *
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