My thoughts...Wisdom from over the years

What is a Vocalise? Part 1

Posted in: Blog, tip of the week ♦ Monday, August 13th, 2012, 11:35 am ♦ No Comments on What is a Vocalise? Part 1

What is a Vocalise?

What is a vocalise {voh-kuhleez}?  More commonly referred to in most church circles as a warm-up exercise, a vocalise is a vocal exercise. Usually without words, a vocalise is made up of vowels sung on various tones and using various rhythms. There are some vocalises that make use of consonants for specific reasons, but generally vowels are sung when warming up and learning new vocal skills. The singing of a vocalise is called vocalization.

Function of a Vocalise
The function of a vocalise can go well beyond simply ‘warming-up’ the vocal mechanism. Typically there is a specific purpose for each vocal exercise. It’s important to be aware of what the purpose is when you are using an exercise for yourself, your worship team or your choir. Otherwise, you can find yourself slipping rather mindlessly into useless repetitions—it’s easy to do this– especially in a group setting.  If you are studying voice privately, be sure to get a clear vision of the purpose for each and every vocalise or warm-up exercise that you are given to do. Then with each repetition you have something that you’re working toward.

For example, I use a particular exercise with my students when I’m trying to get them to understand and/or feel the different places of resonance they can experience. I like to use a particular exercise when I’m trying to get a proper vowel shape. I use another exercise to help them find their diaphram and learn to manipulate it. Each exercise is specifically designed to help learn those functions.

A problem can arise if the student doesn’t really understand the intended use of the vocalise. Or, if he/she understands the ‘why‘ but not exactly the ‘how’.  In cases such as these, the student may end up actually reinforcing BAD habits rather than learning the new GOOD habit I’m trying to teach. This is one reason its very important to not only understand the exercise and it’s intended purpose, but also to get feedback confirming that you are doing it correctly. This is the one drawback to books, DVDs, CDs etc. They can be great learning tools of course, but they lack the obvious element of feedback.

A Vocal Check-up!
If you cannot afford to take private vocal lessons regularly or simply haven’t been able to find a teacher you work well with, it would probably be worth it to at least periodically get a vocal check-up from a professional. I typically recommend looking to your local college or University for qualified teachers. Most teachers will teach privately outside of their school teaching schedule. Generally speaking I recommend avoiding music stores that give voice lessons. The teachers there are usually not qualified vocal teachers but rather some other type of musician or ‘jack-of-all-trades’ musician. The kind that teach piano, guitar, trumpet, etc.. It will be better for you if you can find someone who has studied voice specifically and even better one who has studied how to teach voice. (I know, I’ve sung this song before-but it’s worth repeating!)

A check-up with a vocal coach can assure you that you are doing your exercises correctly and give you pointers on anything that you aren’t doing correctly. In addition they can call attention to any areas that you may need to focus on as you are studying on your own. As always, use a mirror whenever you vocalize for immediate, constant feedback.


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