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)
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)
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)
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)
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.