I’m continuing my series of articles looking at how and why we should develop our singer’s voices. I’ve already looked at mixed ability rehearsals and posture and breathing. Today I’ll be focusing on range and flexibility. Range-building is, for me, one of the key ways in which I help my singers to improve their skills, tackle new repertoire and boost their enjoyment of singing. Indeed, in my own singing study, I remember those amazing moments when after working on building my range, I could suddenly manage those high notes in my favourite song or produce a richer low sound.
By helping your choir develop the range and flexibility of their voices, you undoubtedly help them to enjoy the repertoire they learn with you even more. Perhaps ‘range’ is a term more widely understood than flexibility. Range is the distance from your lowest note to your highest. Through range-building exercises, we can stretch that range a little further and also work on creating quality of sound within the range. Flexibility is our ability as singers to move around the range smoothly and prescisely, so often these exercises cover scales or arpeggios.
Here are three great exercises for range and flexibility:
- Super Siren – Ask your singers to move up and down their range using a siren sound. This can be done with a closed hum, a ‘hoo’ or ‘ng’ sound, or any sound you like. The sirens can be freestyle or if you’d rather they were uniformed create a rollercoaster image. Ask singers to start at a mid point in their voice, siren down to their lowest note, then up to the highest finishing off with a couple of ‘loop the loops’. Make sure everyone stands with good posture and looks stright ahead as there can be a tendency to move the head up and down when travelling through the range.
- Get counting – To work on flexibility, there’s nothing like a bit of counting. Choose a starting note such as middle C and count scales of one to five and back. Add a nine-note scale to end, so the pattern will be 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2 /1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2 / 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. After each round move up a semitone so that you are working the range as well as flexibility. You could also replace one of the five note scales with an arpeggio to vary the pattern. 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2/ 1-3-5-3 / 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Once your choir have the hang of the pattern try speeding it up.
- A hum and a slide – These are a great duo for gently working the range at the start of a rehearsal. Choose a starting note and hum in fifth intervals sliding through the notes rather than jumping directly from one to the other. Remind your singers to maintain good posture and stay relaxed, particularly as they reach the higher notes. You can try alternating a number of sounds from a closed hum to an ‘ah’, ‘ng’, ‘ooh’ or even ‘ee’. After each hum ascend or descend by a semitone gently working through the range. Once your singers are confident at humming in fifths you can add alternate octave slides in between.