Why are you doing what you are doing?

Why does your choir do vocal exercises? How to know what to do when – Sequential Choral Training Exercises and its importance

It’s important to think of the voice as not residing just in the pharynx. Think of the voice as being part of the mind and the body. Vocal exercises should have a reason behind why each and every one is done. For example: Singing a bright “nee-nee-nee” raises a suppressed larynx to a more neutral position. This is especially important to bass singers who find themselves pressing their larynx to sing even lower. Singing a “nee to a nah” brings the sound forward. Vocal exercises should include continuous body movement no matter how small. This increases circulation, enables natural breathing from the diaphragm, and provides oxygen to the brain.

Not only should movement happen, but the brain should be triggered to think about what the ear is hearing and what the voice is singing. Doing activities such as writing your name in the air with an imaginary balloon helps engage the mind. Looking about the room and finding something new about it, engages the mind. Calling out the new found thing and naming it’s shape, color, purpose and if it serves any purpose to you.

How we actually begin making our first sounds is important. Using descending slides to gently pull the vocal folds toward the cricoid ring and back toward the thyroid sets good habits into play.

Helping our singers understand the difference in our articulators (teeth, tongue, mouth, and jaw) that make consonants and resonators that make our vowels therefore our pitch is equally important.

I hope you will read below to better understand what a sequential vocal warm up is and how to employ customized exercises to maintain healthy singing for the whole of your life.


▪Connect Body and Mind


▪Breath Management



▪Tone quality/Timbre

▪Aural skills

▪Reading skills

Wash car/windows ▪Dig a ditch ▪Swim front/back stroke ▪Swim circles ▪Quick jog ▪Hand off the dance ▪Draw name with balloon

•Williams: Happyhttps://youtu.be/ZbZSe6N_BXs

•Copland: Rodeo (20:11) •https://youtu.be/SNZs82BZ9R8

ALIGNMENT Massage jaw, temples, neck muscles •Yawn and stretch with arms over head then open to side and drop •Shoulders to ears, drop with blades high •Roll up on toes; back on heels; side to side; soften the knees •Drop, hang over feet, roll up one vertebrate at a time as if stacking blocks on top of blocks •Look about the room – freedom to move •Tongue stretches

ACTIVATE DIAPHRAGM / BREATH MANAGEMENT •Choir Shoulder Check – right hand on neighbor’s shoulder, lightly tap if shoulders rise •Measure Air Stream •Silent breath in, out on “ch-ch-ch-ch-ch” •In 4 out 8 – lungs completely emptied (fast stream of air) •In 2 out 12, 16, 20, 24 •In 1 out 16


KEYS: No audible breathing – closed-mouth yawn Keep shoulders down during inhale Keep muscles engaged Keep moving

ARTICULATORS: Mouth, Teeth, Tongue, Jaw

distinguish articulators from resonators:

Other ex: Cha  – tta – noo – ga,    Cha-  tta-  noo – ga      Choo.
    Bu   -tta –   bu- tta,    Bu –  tta –  bu-  tta      Boo
Other ex: Bu-tter-fly, bu-tter-fly, bu-tter-fly flew,  Bu-tter-fly, bu-tter-fly, bu-tter-fly flew.
Six-ty eight, six-ty eight, six-ty eight-two, Six-ty eight, six-ty eight, six-ty eight two.

RESONATORS and TIMBRE •Whistle register small [u] through head-mix-chest
•Bright to Dark [ne] using pitches A-C#-E over 8 counts
     Reverse Dark to Bright
•“Pepe Le Pew”

•Moving Sound Forward: 1. nasal 2. nasal to open 3. open


Breath Energy – use “z” to springboard the air:


Pitch Matching Teacher calls, students echo; Individual calls, choir echoes; Altos call, sopranos echo, etc.

Audiation Using Curwen Hand Signs: Teacher signs three/four pitches: (“do-re-do”) singers sign & sing pitches

Hearing intonation: Explain that each pitch contains 100 cents; Give “middle E” pitch then gradually move over 10 pulses down a half step (moving 10 cents each pulse)

Divide choir into three or four groups.  •All sing an ascending major scale. •On the descending scale, each group stops and sustains one pitch in the scale, creating a major chord, all resolve on cue to do, mi or so. •Use to work on tuning, balancing chords, dynamics, and harmonization.

SIGHT READING: Choose a system and use it everyday. Think methodically – do not leap frog over any steps

Systems that work include:

Sight-Singing for SSA, Crocker & Eilers, Hal Leonard Publishing

Sight-Reading for Success for SA voices, Stevens & McGill, Hal Leonard Publishing

J. Reese Norris: JReeseNorris.com available strictly online

Young Singers Journey Book 1 & 2, Baldwin, Bartle, Beaupre, Hinshaw Music

•Transfer and Recognizing Patterns and Which one is not like the others:

  Major/minor scale

  Major/minor arpeggio

  Major/minor pentascale

Repeating rhythms

Sing the tune: OLD HUNDRETH, lyrics by Thomas Ken in the key of any new piece you are singing

soprano line in solfege: so-mi-do-re-fa-mi-re-do:


Cooksey, J. M. (1992). Working with adolescent voices. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Daugherty, J. (2012). Sequence of a Choral Warm-Up. University of Kansas, KS: Science-based voice education course, Department of Music Education and Music Therapy.

Freeman, C. (2014). Sequential Choral Training Exercises for Middle School. The Institute for Healthy Singing.

Hasseman, F. , Jordan, J. (1991). Group vocal technique. Chapel Hill: NC: Hinshaw Music, Inc.

McKinney, J. (1982). The diagnosis and correction of vocal faults: A manual for teachers of singing and for choir directors. Salem, WI: Waveland Press, Inc.

Norris.J.R. (2019). ACDA Interest Session: Unlocking Mystery of the Middle School Men. https://www.jreesenorris.com/resources.html

Shalberg, M. (2019). Breath Management Exercises. Una Vocis Choral Training Exercises.

Stultz, M. (2007). Innocent sounds. Building choral tone and artistry in your children’s choir. 1, 69-78. Fenton, MO: Morning Star.

Stultz, M. (2007). Innocent sounds. Building choral tone and artistry in your children’s choir. 2, 137-144. Fenton, MO: Morning Star.

http://Hymnary.org, Ken, T. (1694). OLD HUNDRETH



Published by

Lynn Swanson

Music Director & Organist, Grace Episcopal Church, Gainesville, GA Music Director & Conductor, New South Festival Singers, Atlanta, GA Music Director & Conductor, Cobb Summer Singers, Marietta, GA Advisor to The Institute for Healthy Singing, The William Baker Choral Foundation former Assistant Director, Zhuhai Classical Children's Choir

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