For many months I have been working on a series of exercises I consider fundamental to vocal structure. These first exercises in a series that will probably go on for years and years are “training” exercises. What I have researched for the past 25 years is basically what the components are of a fully developed operatic voice. Most teachers apply coordination and refining exercises to instruments that are already basically structured. Those exercises are great as long as the muscular balance of the phonation and resonance structures are prepared.
The state of a singer’s vocal structure (the larynx, the vocal tract, the breathing apparatus, body alignment, etc) depends primarily on the way the singer uses his/her voice on a daily basis: mainly how the person speaks spontaneously. This has all kinds of cultural influences and ramifications. If this default posture is not optimum for singing, the singer will have to train the instrument to assume a better default state. Many singer’s have poor speaking habits which effect at least the speaking range. If the speaking range is poorly produced, it will malfunction in singing (this is one of the most determining effects on the female lower passaggio for instance). When that region malfunctions, it has a profound effect on how the singer goes from that area of the voice outward (lower or higher). Consequently, the singer must learn some way of finding balance beyond the malfunctioning speaking range and then these compensatory methods will come define the singer’s conscious technique.
The ideal is that all the components of the muscular and acoustic systems of the vocal mechanism are developed independently and then in relationship to each other such that the instrument is able to respond with little effort to our desire to utter (speak or sing) a certain sound. The default speaking/singing sound must be the optimum set-up of the singer’s very unique instrument. In truth, no teacher really knows what a singer’s ideal sound is unless or until the instrument is fully developed. What a singer identifies as their sound is simply what they are used to producing and in most cases it is incomplete and therefore not the true quality at all. One of the greatest challenges for singers is making friends with their developing vocal quality.
After so many years of study, I now precisely how my own voice should feel! I know how full (not how loud, but how substantial) it actually is at its best; I know what my ideal resonance space should be; I know how brilliant and how warm it can be; I know I can sing C2 (bass low C) to C5 (tenor high C) every daily if I am basically healthy. My falsetto range goes quite a bit beyond that. Despite this low range (which I developed thinking I was a bass in my early singing days) I know my voice peaks in the way that a tenor’s voice does. F4 despite the substance of my voice, does not produce the intensity that is required in important moments. For a baritone this is a note for important moments. For a tenor it’s just a passaggio note. So it is for me. In short, after doing these exercises for the past 6 or 7 years, I know my voice! I know what is now strong and what is not yet strong. I can warm up to C#5 or D5 on a good day, but I know that the highest performable note I have right now is a B4. Good for a Heldentenor, but I want more. There is always better. Beside these exercises which I do regularly for developing and maintaining muscle tone, I also do coordination and refinement exercises (coming very soon)!
This recent In fernem Land from Wagner’s Lohengrin (First reading of the aria with my pianist) is light years from when I started to make the tenor transition and the early clips I posted on the blog several years ago. This summer I have planned performances of scenes from Siegfried, Turiddu, Otello and Manrico. What is remarkable is that none of it is difficult to sing. The work I have to do is musical, interpretive and working on beauty of tone, legato, consistency, etc. This is how it should be. The work of preparing for a performance should not be about hoping that the notes will come out. The notes should be there! The work of performance preparation should be about refinement, not basic structure. We build our structure so we can begin to perform.
I know I am a perfectionist! And it’s been the most difficult thing for me to do to expose the different phases of imbalance that I went through to make this tenor change. It was very important that I do this and continue to do it even as I achieve levels of a professional quality. We are never done! As long as we chose to sing we must aspire for something better.
Likewise, I struggle with the idea of putting out these exercises. I wanted them performed at the highest quality, but then I thought: No! I should perform them in my current state. It is important for singers to experience these training exercises done by different levels of performers. Some of my top professional students have agreed to record the fundamentals as well as more advanced exercises. So we will in a very short time have many examples of these and other exercises by many different types of singers, male, female, lighter and heavier voices, etc. I recorded these videos about one year ago. So I am also much better now than I was then. Nevertheless, I am in a strange way happy that these fundamental exercises are performed well but that there is room for improvement. I wanted the singer using this not to feel intimidated.
Editing these videos so they are presented with some level of explanation without overdoing it was the goal. The production values will improve as well as I have more professional level filming. Nevertheless after so many emails from you, the readers asking about my exercises, it was time I just put them out.
The videos cannot be downloaded for obvious reasons. After spending literally a year putting the videos together, I did not feel I should open them to those who do not pay for them and the internet being what it is, people will still find ways to share the material with friends who do not pay for them. I am not charging some crazy price. The full one-hour video can be accessed for a low rental fee and limitless streaming (lifetime) for a higher price. In the next few weeks, there will be a monthly subscription option and exercises will be added weekly.
We plan to have a series on developing coloratura abilities (fioratura, speed of articulation, brain-voice coordination, etc…) as well as classics like “Turning the Voice” (cover, girare), learning to develop top notes, the female lower passaggio and middle range, etc.
The perfectionist in me will always say: “It can be better!” But the human being in me has accepted that: “It is pretty good…for now!”
I am always in search of improvement and I know you are too. I will be working to edit at least one exercise video a week. We will record a lot of material during the Härnösand Summer Opera Academy and Festival, and so I expect early September to see great amounts of video released on the site.
I hope you find the exercises as rewarding as I have. The Kashu-do Website is being updated with professional singers who use these fundamental techniques as an integral part of their vocal work.
As with all “exercises,” there are good ways and bad ways to perform these exercises. Short and frequent sessions are better than long and tiring ones. Be diligent about your comfortable range. I perform the exercises as high as I was comfortable on that day. I believe I only perform one high C on the lip trills and go to F in falsettone. Do not feel compelled to take these exercises too high. The principles are more important than how high or how low. Loudness is not helpful to an undeveloped voice. Appropriate challenges yield good results. Overzealousness only yield fatigue and potential harm. Practice safely! Practice happily!