A Case Study: 28 Days to a Better Singing Technique

By  | September 2, 2011 | 9 Comments | Filed under: Features, Vocal Technique

Practice makes perfect. In exactly 28 days...

Read the entire article describing these exercises in detail.

The exercises as described by Stemple:

Sing all of these exercises at a very soft dynamic level.

1. Sustain /i/ as long as possible on a comfortable note.

2. Glide from the lowest to the highest note in the frequency range, using /o/.

3. Glide from the highest to the lowest note in the frequency range, using /o/.

4. Sustain the pitches C4 (middle C), D4, E4, F4, and G4 (female) or C3 (an octave below middle C), D3, E3, F3, G3 (male) for as long as possible, using /o/. Repeat these notes two times.

I am always looking for new exercises and technical warm-ups to include in my daily practice routine, so I decided to try the 28-day challenge of isotonic and isometric exercises as discussed in last month’s article by Ian Howell: Vocal Technique: Boring Exercises That Will Make You a Better Singer.  Over the past four weeks, I have noticed an improvement in my breath control, developed a greater sense of my intercostal muscles and the role they play in breathing for singing, and have strengthened the lower part of my range (B3-D4).  I did the exercises every day and timed myself once a week.

Week 1 Observations and Results

In beginning these exercises, I noticed that I expelled more air than was needed at onset.  I also became aware of tension that I had been employing to produce certain pitches (C3, C4-E4, B4-D5, G5-Bb5).  This improved within a couple of days.   On the first exercise using the suggested [i] vowel, I averaged at about 24.5 seconds (see the sidebar for a description of the exercises).

Week 1 average timings using [o] as suggested (see exercise #4 in the sidebar)

Pitch C4 D4 E4 F4 C3 D3 E3 F3
in sec. 18 16.5 17 17.5 17.5 18.5 18 19

Week 2 Observations and Results

By week 2 I noticed an improvement in my breath control.  I was able to sustain an average of 28 seconds using the [i] vowel exercise (exercise #1 in the sidebar). My glides were much smoother, having far fewer noticeable changes (i.e. a gap, hole, or ‘pop’ in voice) throughout the exercise.  Repertory also started to become easier.  Phrase endings that were usually clipped – or that engendered tension – were becoming more organic.  My breath seemed to know what to do… I assumed because I was paying more attention to it.

Week 2 average timings using [o] as suggested (see exercise #4 in the sidebar)

Pitch C4 D4 E4 F4 C3 D3 E3 F3
in sec. 29.5 25.5 24.5 27.5 24 28.5 23 25

Week 3 Observations and Results

Week 3 also proved to be a successful one with small, yet measurable improvements.  I was able to sustain the [i] vowel exercise (exercise #1 in the sidebar) for 30 seconds.  This is the week that I really started to feel my intercostal muscles doing their job.  I became more aware of my breath and the amount of air needed for an optimal onset.  There was more of a fluid transition from my upper to lower register, and tension that I once had seems to have dissipated.

Week 3 average timings using [o] as suggested (see exercise #4 in the sidebar)

Pitch C4 D4 E4 F4 C3 D3 E3 F3
in sec. 30 29 29 29 25 28.5 27.5 26

Week 4 Observations and Results

Week 4 I started to revisit arias using this ‘new found’ technique, and I quickly noticed that places that used to give me trouble (especially my lower passagio area) were easier and stronger.  Higher pitches were also becoming easier to access with less tension and greater spin of breath.  Overall singing felt great, and I was able to explore my voice in new ways.

Week 4 average timings using [o] as suggested (see exercise #4 in the sidebar)

Pitch C4 D4 E4 F4 C3 D3 E3 F3
in sec. 32 31 29.5 32 27 31 29 31

I have a few days left in the 28-day ‘challenge,’ but I already know that I will continue to use these exercises in my daily practice.  If anyone suffers from poor breath control or the tension caused by it, I strongly suggest implementing these exercises in your daily routine.  It will certainly open a whole new world.  Have you tried these exercises?  Let me know in the comments section below.

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Hailed by Opera News for the “richness and pliability of his [voice],” countertenor Tai Oney has won prizes in several major competitions, most recently claiming a prestigious Sullivan Foundation Award and First Place in the Sarasota Artist Series Competition. A Semi-Finalist in Palm Beach Opera’s Competition, and a Regional Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Mr. Oney made his professional opera debut with Opera Boston – in collaboration with Boston Baroque – performing the role of Athamas in Handel’s Semele. He has been a member of the Central City Opera and a guest artist for the Palm Beach Opera young artist program. Mr. Oney holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Stetson University and a Master of Music degree in vocal performance from Boston University. He currently attends New England Conservatory where he is the recipient of the John Moriarty Presidential Scholarship.

  • JayMC

    This is awesome! I was wondering as a countertenor what exercises helps you blend your voice and refine the upper register?

  • Blazer-guarini

    Been doing these exercises for 3 weeks now and I must say they really do give me great support. Guys, I asked a voice teacher about the appogio concept and he told me that theoretically it doesnt apply to countertenors, though it will give great breath support. What he thinks countertenors should be practicing on is the sul flato concept. Are you guys familiar with this? Please let me know. Im from the Philippines and I will have my debut performance on saturday, March 3, wish me luck guys!

    • Anonymous

      Hey Blazer-guarini,
      so glad that you’re working on this regimen and that it has born fruit for you :-) .  I understand the concept of appoggio, but I confess that I am not familiar with “sul flato.”  Can you expand on that for us?  

      I cannot imagine how appoggio would not apply to countertenors?  

      Toi toi on your debut! Let us know how it goes :-) .  I’ve worked with a student from Philippines before.  There is a remarkable tradition of countertenor-esque pop singing there.  Is that the sort of singing you do?


      • Blazer-guarini

        hahaha… Im not into that countertenor-esque singing that you mentioned.

        Well, according to a voice coach I exchanged e-mails with he said “According to some theory Counter-tenors are not tenors, they are falssetists. 
        Falsetto is managed in general by “sul fiato” technique not by active (Balanced)diaphragm”oh its sul fiato not flato.. My bad.I’ll be doing vedro con mio diletto on saturday and I hope everything works out well. Thanks Ian. I just watched you videos on youtube and you truly are an inspiration.

        • Anonymous

          Hey Tai, do you want to weigh in on this?  

          I tend to find bel canto terms to be less than useful unless your teacher is there to demonstrate the idea.  I’d be cautious of a teacher who drew a huge distinction between countertenor technique and general healthy technique.  I think that approach guarantees that the countertenor will sound fake, weak, &c…  


  • Ben

    I have been faithfully doing these exercises every day for a month and a half now. No doubt about it, it has made a noticeable difference! I’ve particularly noticed that my singing feels “smoother” and easier throughout most of my range, and I think this is partly due to the sustained exercises retraining the vocal folds to maintain the optimal balance of sub-glottal pressure. Whatever the case, I am sticking with it, and experimenting with doing the sustained notes in different parts of my range and with different vowels as well.

  • Tai Oney

    I’m glad that you enjoyed the article. I don’t find myself holding back the air but rather allowing my body to take most of the ‘stress’ (i.e. intercostal muscles). When I first started the exercises I noticed that I would use a great deal of the laryngeal muscles to control the airflow. After repeating the exercises multiple times my body somehow knew what it wanted to do and the intercostal muscles began doing its job.


  • http://www.ianhowellcountertenor.com Ian Howell

    Hi Chris, I’m going to chime in here, but I’m curious what Tai has to say too. If you are thinking in terms of having to hold the air back, I think that you are over-pressurizing in the first place. Breathing for singing can be a very easy, effortless action.


  • Chris Sparks

    This is a very interesting article. I have tried to do the hissing exercise where I hiss slowly until I run out of breath. I haven’t done it with vowels. In order to keep from using too much air you must have done something to hold it back?