Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
When I first began studying voice I was often given multiple technical goals to work on at the same time. For instance, I might be told to spin the tone, support my voice, relax my tongue, and lift my soft palate all at once. I would try to practice all of those concepts for a week only to be told the following lesson to keep working on spinning the tone, supporting my voice, relaxing my tongue, and lifting my soft palate. Six months later I would usually be working on some variation of the same technical goals and making only minimal progress. To say it was frustrating is an understatement. Today I want to share with you what I believe is a more efficient way to achieve progress. I call it the Five Step Process.
This isn’t a gimmick and it is not a technique, it is a way of structuring your practice sessions regardless of the vocal technique you are studying and regardless of your technical goal. When using the Five Step Process, you are going to work on only ONE technical goal at a time using all five steps. For instance, if you are trying to strengthen your vocal fold closure by working on developing your chest voice, in the Five Step Process you are only going to work on your chest voice using these five steps. It requires that you work on only one technical goal for a week or more, but once you have completed the five steps you will have made significant and noticeable improvement on whatever you are working on.
First Step: Coordinate and Stabilize
Whenever you learn a new technique you need to give your body time to adjust and coordinate the necessary musculature. Let’s relate this to bench pressing. When you first begin bench pressing, you do not just start piling weights on the bar. You begin with only the bar and you practice coordinating your movement and stabilizing the bar before you add any weight.
Your only goal during the first step is to coordinate the movement of the vocal mechanism necessary to achieve your goal and to stabilize that technique in your body. You are going to use the following patterns in this order: 1-2-1, then 1-3-1 glides, and then 1-2-3-2-1 patterns (see the PDF at the end of this post). Only move to the next pattern when you feel like you are singing the prior pattern successfully and consistently.
These patterns are small and simple. Your only goal is to coordinate your vocal mechanism and stabilize your voice. Do this at volume 7-8 on a 1-10 scale (1 being the softest, 10 being the loudest), at a moderate tempo, and use whatever vowel works best for you.
Second Step: Strengthen
Once you have coordinated and stabilized whatever technical adjustment you are working on, it is time to strengthen your mechanism in this new adjustment. In this step you are going to use the same vowel as in the first step at a moderate tempo, but this time you are going to sing between volume 8 and 9. Begin with 1-3-1 glides, then 1-4-1 glides, and then 1-5-1 glides. Then progress to the 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 pattern, and then the 1-3-5-3-1 pattern. When five tone patterns feel comfortable, move to octave patterns. Begin with 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, and then try 1-3-5-8-5-3-1 (download the PDF at the end of this post to see the musical notation for these exercises).
Third Step: Build Stamina
Now we need to work on building stamina. In this step you are going to use the same patterns in the same order as in the second step but you are going to SLOW THINGS DOWN and slightly increase the volume. Use the same vowel as in the last two steps, sing somewhere between volume levels 8 and 10, and take your time. When it is comfortable to go through the exercises in steps one and two, try extended patterns (see the PDF at the end of this post for notated examples of extended pattern exercises).
Fourth Step: Develop Agility
Flexibility in this process is not about moving between pitches quickly, it is about being able to make adjustments to your volume, vowel, and registration. Up to this point we have been singing on only one vowel, whichever one worked best for you and only between volumes 7 and 9. Now we’re going to change things up.
Let’s go back to the basic 1-2-3-2-1 pattern. Begin with whatever vowel you started with in steps one through three and then try other vowels one at a time. Only move to the next vowel after you are sure the previous vowel is being perfectly executed with whatever technique you are working on.
When you are working with the new vowels, sing the patterns somewhere between volume 7 and 8 at a moderate tempo. After you have mastered all of your vowels on a 1-2-3-2-1 pattern, move to 5 tone and then 9 tone patterns. Once those patterns feel comfortable, explore volume levels between 3 and 9. If you are working on a technique other than registration, try singing each vowel in different registrations and then different registrations at different volume levels.
Fifth Step: Finesse
Once you have mastered whatever your technical goal is on every exercise pattern with every vowel at every volume level, and registration (if applicable) it is time to apply your new technique to songs. The advantage of this process is now that you can easily make adjustments to your vowels, volume levels, and registration (if applicable) you should be able to apply your new technique to songs without having to over-think.
Try focusing on only one technical goal this week using this Five Step Process. If you can master one technical goal each week, you could potentially conquer 52 issues in a single year! Even if it takes you two or even three weeks per goal, you are still looking at conquering 17 to 24 goals a year. That is incredible progress and all it takes is slowing down and becoming a master at one skill at a time instead of trying to fix everything at once.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you!