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





In the over forty years I have been leading choral ensembles in community, professional and church realms, I have seen many trends and fashions come and go, and I have seen more than a few come back and then go away again.  It is not an exaggeration to say that most of the fads that have inflicted our art are best forgotten.

In recent years however, there has come a movement that I believe has already positively impacted the quality of choral performances and the health and hygiene of singers’ voices: the science-based approach to choral pedagogy that has been championed by a number of leading programs, including the VoiceCare Network based at St. John’s University in Minnesota, the Master of Music Education in Choral Pedagogy offered by the University of Kansas in Lawrence, the Institute for Healthy Singing based in the Kansas City area, and the Developing Voices blog.

[Full disclosure: Though I have no role on the faculty of the Institute for Healthy Singing (www.HealthySinging.org), the IHS is a program of the William Baker Choral Foundation (www.ChoralFoundation.org), an organization I founded in 1990.]

Not only has the work of these researchers and leaders contributed mightily to the effectiveness of choral and individual vocal training, this effort has helped choral conductors adopt methods and techniques of gesture, rehearsal pacing, teaching process, and repertoire selection that maximizes the health and expressive capacity of individual voices in the ensemble.

With the foundation well-established through the science-based approach to choral pedagogy, as a part of choral training, I would offer two suggestions to carry the benefit and training to the next step: using a) chant and b) chorale as training tools for the purpose of applying the newfound health and freedom of voices to the goal of building more sensitive ensemble unity and, consequently, stronger musicianship in every area.

I recommend devoting 5-10 minutes of the choral training session at the beginning of rehearsals to using chant and chorale for ensemble building.

Chants are found in many configurations, but I believe pointed plainsong and Anglican chant to be the most useful forms for this exercise.  Over the course of a semester it could be instructive and helpful to begin taking several lines of text to chant in unison on a single tone.  Though it is tempting to save time by using the unison chant exercise to work out a text issue in the repertoire scheduled for rehearsal, I recommend using words that are not being otherwise rehearsed so the full attention of the singer during the chant may be invested in the inflection of words, clarity of consonants, purity of vowels and sensitivity to articulative nuance across the entire chorus.

After unison chants are mastered on a single tone, pointed plainsong verses may be employed to carry the same principles forward into a deeper realization of text painting, natural sensitivity to dynamic and timbre, and nuance of enunciation.  The less gesturing from the conductor the better.  The entire exercise is intended to increase sensitivity and mutual awareness of each individual voice in the ensemble and in the ensemble as a whole.  It is critical to engender a keen awareness of unison tuning through this exercise in the context of the rehearsal and performance space.

The final step in this exercise is a study of four-part chant in the Anglican tradition.  All of the musical goals of single-tone chant and plainsong are present, of course, but harmonic tuning and chordal balance is added to the mix of skill sets with the study of the 4-part chant.  I believe the wise conductor who approaches this process with intentionality and care will experience an amazing improvement in the tonal center, intonation, enunciation clarity, and expressive potential of the ensemble.

There are few treasures in the last 1000 years of choral expression as profoundly rich as the chorales of Johann Sebastian Bach.  Not only are these works a great pillar of religious expression, they are a virtually limitless reservoir of common practice period harmonic understanding and practice.  The study of Bach chorales, shamefully neglected in recent years, provides a ready resource for building harmonic understanding, balance, blend and tuning in choirs at every level.

I find it useful to choose a Bach chorale for weekly choral training.  If an accompanist is available, the chorale can be sung on nonsense syllables with piano, then on nonsense syllables a cappella, and finally a cappella with texts.  Because the primary focus of the exercise is musicianship building, I recommend using English texts for the chorale exercise.  I also recommend building sightreading acuity by using a different chorale with each rehearsal.  Fortunately, Bach left us enough wonderful chorales to provide exercises for many rehearsals without repetition.

Whether the choir is a high-functioning community chorus, a professional project choir or a developing parish choir of volunteers, I believe these exercises, patiently and consistently applied, in conjunction with a program of science-based vocal health and hygiene, will positively impact the intonation, enunciation, tone and expressiveness of every performance of the concert season.


Dr. William O. Baker, Personal E-mail Account




Kinesthetic Gestures to Aid Your Choir

by Jennifer Berroth, Contributing Author, DevelopingVoices.blog

Movement is often used to engage a singer’s breath, energy, and musicianship.  Young singers can benefit from using gestures throughout a rehearsal to help them understand musical concepts they are performing.  Here are some kinesthetic gestures I use to help my own singers.

Staccato gestures

            Staccato phrases can be tricky.  Singers might find it hard to stay in pitch, maintain tall vowels, or continue the shortened rhythms.  I have my singers “pop bubbles” in the air with their fingers while singing staccato phrases.  The “popping” helps maintain the shortened sounds. I also instruct them to sing with the round space of the bubble. 

Pop the Bubble Video

Other staccato gestures can be “throwing a dart”, tip-toeing in a space, or tapping the staccato rhythm with their fingertips on their shoulder or arm.

Singing Legato

            Legato phrases can be tough to get singers to sing with energy through the entire phrase.  Here are some gestures I have my singers use:

  • Paint on a blank canvas with smooth brush strokes in the air
    • Add a color to your “painting”- If you want a warm sound have your singers visualize warm colors: deep reds or oranges. 
  • Spread the butter or frosting gesture
    • Use one arm to “spread” your sound evenly over the other arm.
  • Long, legato rotations
    • Using the arms, rotations should move perpendicular and not parallel to their body.  This helps singers keep their energy and sound moving out in front on them verse staying right in front of them.

Long, legato rotation video

Supporting the tone

          Have singers imagine they are lifting weights.  When someone is lifting weights, the support should come from their core strength and lower body; the idea is the same for singers supporting their tone.  Some things to remember when having singers utilize this gesture:

  • Keep knees slightly bent
  • Don’t allow the chest to drop, vice versa, don’t overextend the straightening of the spine
  • Singers should imagine they are lifting a fairly heavy object and the weight should be lifted over the entire phrase.

Phrasing- I really like to use sport gestures for phrasing; Throw a baseball/football, shoot a basketball, shoot an arrow, etc.  The same way we might see football laces or baseball laces spin throughout a throw, so can singers visualize “spinning their sound” to the end of the phrase.

There are many ways you can have your choir experiment following through with their energy and phrase.          

Other Kinesthetic Gestures

Using opposite movement for ascending or descending line

Have singers move their arms upward when singing a descending line to avoid coming down too hard on their sound. The same thing applies to ascending lines and using downward motions.  Have singers try to bend their knees, or a plie squat to create support and an ease of sound through-out the ascension.

Move around the room

            Use the rehearsal space to have singers move freely while singing.  Encourage them to really listen and fill up the entire room with their sound.  

In addition to the benefit these movements provide in learning new musical concepts and vocal technique, they are a great way to break the monotony of “choir class,” and encourage a classroom climate that is relaxed and safe.

Article written by Jennifer Berroth, Choral Director, Leawood Middle School, Leawood, Kansas, USA.

The Breathy Girl’s Changing Voice

Two videos attached for your reading enhancement ~

My favorite part of being a voice teacher is working with “Changing Voice Girls.” An email arrived this morning from Becca (8th grade) who has an audition for a select 9-12 girls touring chorus. She’s been making bi-weekly recordings of her singing for me this season so that I can track her voice change progress. In January I noticed her sound becoming progressively more “breathy” and “gunky” so when I received the following message today, I was not surprised! Here is our exchange:

March 2018

Hi Miss Jamea! 

My voice has just recently started to fade away. I have to work a lot harder than usual to sing even the S1 part of “Let the Sea Make a Noise[1]”. Do you have any tips that might help? Just a couple weeks ago I would have said with confidence I have a good chance of making the top girls’ choir next year, but now my sound doesn’t sound as pure as before.




Hi Becky!

I noticed on your recordings that some changes are a-coming! The most important thing at this time is to keep singing with all the healthy practices that you’ve learned. No pushing or forcing the voice. It’s going to be a bit breathy and gunky for a while. That’s ok! We know that this is normal and that most girls auditioning for the first time to the touring chorus are in this stage.

Adolescent Female Vocal Folds.

Helpful Guidelines:

  • Practice daily. It’s important to stay ‘conditioned.’
  • Drink lots of water & swallow (or spit) the gunky stuff.
  • Avoid coughing or clearing as this is wearing and damaging to the vocal folds. Take care of the voice!

– Your sound will not have the same clarity as last year, but you will still do your ‘set up’ the same as always. We’ll keep watch that you don’t start any unproductive habits like:

  • pulling the lips, arching the tongue, over-blowing the air (this actually makes the breathiness worse)
  • pushing/pressing the sound, or even getting a strange head/body posture started. These things would ultimately undermine the sound.
  • Support the breath just like you have been! Nothing needs to change from what you’ve been up to already. You will feel like you don’t have enough air because you’re leaking[2]! It’s normal!

 You can still get resonance. The more relaxed your teeth/mouth/jaw/pharynx is, the better! When these things are in place, your breath will be more efficient!

Vocal Exercises:

  • Descending glissandos. Start with your lighter head voice production and maintain that sound throughout the exercise.
  • Ascending glissandos throughout the range. You want the voice to sound even from top to bottom. If you feel a ‘yodel’ or ‘break’ in the slide, focus on:

1.) maintaining lighter “production” all the way through the line.

2.) energizing the breath where the break happens. (The tendency is often to back off when there’s a hitch, but you must keep that breath moving!) Note: when I say “light,” I don’t mean wimpy tone: I’m saying not to use a ”muscular” or “heavy” tone.

  • Skip-intervals will add flexibility to your voice. Strive for accuracy and ease. (“Let the Sea Make a Noise” has great melismas that make a perfect exercise!)
  • Sing your own voice! If you start trying to “do” your old sound or a more mature sound, you will likely be going in the wrong direction. Your new “changing” voice is beautiful. Embrace it!


Miss Jamea

 [1] “Let the Sea Make a Noise” by George Frideric Handel, Arr. Jacob Narverud for SSA & Piano. S1 range is E4 – G5, S2 range is D4 – D5, A1 range is A3 – B4. (This is Becky’s required audition piece.)

[2] During female adolescent changing voice, girls’ vocal folds develop a gap (place where the folds don’t fully close). This is an occurrence that is normal and that will eventually pass given good technique and time.

  • Please watch stroboscopy showing small posterior gap or vocal chink in normal teenage girl:

Allegro Choirs of Kansas City perform “Let the Sea Make a Noise”, Georg Frideric HANDEL. Christy Elsner, Director; Jamea Sale, Vocal Coach.


The Difference Between Timely and Timeless Music


The voice of the high school junior was a bit hesitant as he offered his question during a Q&A that followed a talk I had given to a his choir at the end of a workshop: “Why is it that you [choral leaders] call some music “worthwhile” and other music “something less.” After all, isn’t Bach and Beethoven just the Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift of another time?”

This is a question that is often heard.  Indeed, the peddlers of commercial church music would be quick to say that a contemporary religious music song-spinner with big hair is the 21st century version of Martin Luther or Charles Wesley.

Of course, we know that today’s pop artists are not Beethoven and Bach, just as we know that someone selling a paint-by-numbers canvas out of the trunk of a car parked along a highway is not Monet or Rembrandt.  It may be hard to articulate how we distinguish greatness from the ordinary but, if we are honest with ourselves, we have a sense of it when we hear it.

There is music that is timely and there is music that is timeless.  Both have a legitimate place in our expressive lives.

I would bet many lovers of great choral music would be surprised to look at the playlists on the cell phones of America’s most well-known and respected choral leaders.  Most certainly there would be thousands of recordings by the great choral ensembles of the past half-century, from the Robert Shaw Chorale to Trinity College Cambridge to Chanticleer and many others.  There would also be music of a more timely fashion, perhaps Johnny Cash, perhaps Queen, perhaps Gladys Knight, and possibly even Bruno Mars or Taylor Swift.  Music that is timely has its place.  Timely music can comfortably sit in the background.  It can offer atmosphere for warm or nostalgic feelings, even inspiring a spirit of romance at the right occasions.

Great music, or what we might call “classical” music cannot sit in the background.  Its richness and urgency calls for our full attention.  Whether it be the creations of the great European masters, or authentic renderings of folks music from across the globe, or the spirituals of those who fought oppression of the body and the spirit, great music distinguishes itself in unmistakable ways.  We have a sense of it when we hear it.

The first distinguishing characteristic that comes to mind is craftsmanship.  Great music is distinguished by the quality of its construction.  It has been said that Handel was such a genius at musical craftsmanship that he could receive an order for a work on a certain theme for a certain array of instruments to last a specific amount of time, and that he could fill the order perfectly with a work glorious and inspiring.

Great music is also marked by its integrity.  There is an honesty and a reality to it, an avoidance of contriving, in words and sounds, something unique or something said uniquely.

Great music conveys a spirit of inspiration.  Inspiration may certainly evoke a religious response, but it may also inspire any area of contemplation, be that human relationships or self-reflection.

Great music is beautiful.  What would be considered beautiful in sound will certainly vary from culture to culture, but within each is a standard of melodic and harmonic interest that delights the aesthetic of the ear.

Lastly, and most importantly, great music is timeless.  It has passed, or has the power to pass, the test of time.  The symphonies of Beethoven have been enjoyed for 200 years or more, the Masses of Palestrina for twice that long.  This music will still be enjoyed many hundreds of years from now.  Indeed, one could study the scores and listen to recordings of the Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem or the Beethoven Missa Solemnis every single day for the rest of one’s life and discover new treasures with every encounter.

Timely music certainly has its place.  It can bring a welcome distraction to a busy or stressful day.  It can help anchor a joyful memory, or assuage a time of sadness.  Timeless music, on the other hand, has the power to change lives and destinies.  When it passes through the heart, soul, and mind of the performer and the hearer, it changes those lives forever.

William O. Baker, DMA

Founder and Director, The William Baker Choral Foundation


Image found online: