These are just a few pointers and suggestions... things I do in the studio to help people along. It is not all there is to singing, but these are basics and I hope you find them helpful.

On Breathing | On Warming Up

On Breathing

Anyone who's done any singing at all knows this can be a sticky subject. I myself have been asked to lay on floors, lean on walls, push pianos with my back, my stomach, my arms and my chest. I have been chased around rooms, jumped up and down on giant inflatable balls (while I'm not sure it helped me with my support, it was kinda fun)... the list goes on.

Properly inhaling breath and then using it efficiently is the most important thing you will do to set up a proper phrase. You must breath "down" while keep your throat in an "awe" position. No high breathing. Don't attempt to "lift your soft pallate" while breathing. Leave it alone to relax. It will rise when it needs to. Just breathe down into your body. If you can achieve this, you've already done half the job to set up your first sound. I cannot show you the proper way to do this on a website, but I can at least give you some old exercises from Manuel Garcia which do help to strengthen your breathing apparatus.

Exercise 1 (Read entire exercise before doing):

1. Exhale all the air in your lungs.
2. Breathe in slowly and evenly as through a straw while counting or keeping time on a second hand watch. Try not to tense up your torso muscles while doing this (your back, your stomach, your buttocks, your shoulders should remain as relaxed as you can muster).

As you are breathing in slowly do not force the air to stay down there. Just like when you fill a glass, the water hits the bottom then, the more you fill, the higher the water level becomes. This will happen with your air as well. You begin down, then as you go, you will feel that you are filling up. Stop before it becomes uncomfortable. Feel the air at the center of your torso, roughly about your solar plexus. (Ribs up but not stiff, back unclenched, neck muscles relaxed).

3. Now that you're filled with this nice comfortable breath, hold it for 10 seconds (later, you can add 10 seconds, then another, then another... each time a little more until you can hold for a 45 seconds to a minute fairly comfortably).

The only muscles holding back the air are in your torso, in the floating rib area. Try and feel a release in all the muscles of your shoulders, your neck, your head, even your face! This helps to strengthen the intercostal muscles, the muscles which will have to do the job of "holding back" your air when you're singing.

Exercise 2:

1. Sit relaxed in a chair, preferably without arms.
2. Bend over in a swooping down motion, arms above your head while exhaling. When you bend down, your arms should sweep the floor and your head should just flop down towards the floor.
3. Once you're at the bottom
, you should completely empty yourself of air.
4. Now slowly start to raise your body into a position where your head and body are sitting straight up while also breathing in at a moderate rate (not too slow, not too fast).
5. When you come up notice how your body feels. Do you feel "full of air?" Can you feel as if the air is creating a bit of a resistance in your mid-area?

Do this exercise a couple of times, taking at least 30 seconds between each time. This is an exercise to bring your attention to just where your breath "sits" in your body.

Note: As with any exercise, if there is unwanted or inappropriate tension anywhere, it may not have the desired result. This is why it is always a good idea to have someone with a skilled eye monitor you, especially at first.

On Warming Up

Many people ask about warming up. Your warmup should be individualized. After a time, you should know which exercises warm you up safely and effectively and quickly. Some people might feel that warming up from the top down is good and others from the middle out or bottom up. It really is as individual as each person. It also changes depending what stage of progress you're in. However, there are some universal warmups which most everyone can do and which are very soothing to the throat. One of these is the lip trill. This exercise gets the air moving without giving the singer much more to think about.

Lip Trill

1. Put your lips together and blow through like you would if you were trying to make trumpet noises or like it's a cold day and you're blowing "brrrr" through your lips. (For some people this is difficult at first. If it is, try holding the corners of your mouth with your hands.) Once you've established that you can do this, now try doing that while adding a note... any note that sits comfortably in the middle of your range. Make the trumpet note on a held note, to be sure you can do it.

2. Now that you've done that, try singing on a lip trill up and down a 5-tone scale. It will feel strange at first, your lips might tickle, it usually causes giggling... this is all good.

3. Once you've learned how to do this, go up and down your range keeping the feeling as relaxed as possible. There will be a temptation to push breath when you get into the higher voice or to press your lips together very hard. You should try to do neither and keep everything very free as you go up so that it truly will feel like a free trumpetty sound and feel very buzzy and easy.

Note: Again, like any other exercise. It is a good idea to try this with a trained ear a couple of times so that you can be guided. After that, this is a very good way to start your warm ups.

5-tone scale

1. This is your basic Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-Fa-Mi-Re-Do scale. (Start on Tonic, go to Dominant and back to Tonic.)

2. I suggest if you're a beginner and are reading this, having never taken a lesson, you should do this exercise on Ma or Wa. Repeat the syllable Ma or Wa on every single note as you go up and down, keeping the jaw very floppy. Think that you have jowls but try to keep a very natural position. Do not exaggerate the motion. It's best to look in a mirror. You should have a very relaxed look and natural look.

3. While doing this, the most important thing is to monitor yourself.

a. Check to see that your tongue feels very free. You should be able to wiggle it left and right while singing.

b. Check to be sure you have good posture, straight back, shoulders relaxed, nothing stiff or held.

c. Check your jaw and under your jaw. Gently massage your jaw line and the hinges of the jaw as well as under your jaw where you can feel your tongue. All of these muscles should be relaxed. If you can feel any balls of tension try to GENTLY relax them with soft pressure from your fingers while you sing.

4. Do the exercise up and down by half steps within your comfortable range until you feel that the voice is practically moving on it's own. It's a good basic warm up.



Celia Castro, 212-417-0074