Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
I have watched many masterclass where the teacher had the student slide up to a trouble spot or “siren” around the pitch to find release. It is a very useful indirect exercise for fine tuning a specific pitch without micro-managing the singer. While the simple slide is great, Robert Caldwell and Joan Wall have taken the concept to a whole new level with a very detailed step-by-step approach in their book “Excellence in Singing: Multilevel learning and multilevel teaching.” In volume three on pages 174 through 184, they give numerous exercises based on sliding. I’m only going to highlight a few today, for the full set of exercises and the exact descriptions provided by Caldwell and Wall, please check out their book.
Option 1: Sliding widely from different directions
When a student is struggling with tightness on a pitch, it is often because they are lacking a proper balance between registers. Instead of just sliding in one direction, try sliding from both the bottom and the top. You can use any vowel or even a hum. You can also encourage the student to use more “exhale” or more “held breath” (see article here) to help navigate register breaks. At first just slide past the pitch covering a wide pitch range.
Option 2: Sliding narrowly from different directions
When the student is handling the wide pitch range, try narrowing the pitch range of the slide so that the student is working around the vicinity of the trouble spot. After a few passes, try sliding into the trouble spot and see if it is better.
Option 3: Sirening around the trouble spot
After you have played with sliding into the note, try doing sirens around the trouble area. Start from above if you are trying to bring more head register into the pitch or from below if you are trying to add more chest register.
Option 4: Sing normally, slide/siren through the trouble spot, then sing normally again
You can also use slides in the context of a song to help smooth through trouble spots. Sing the song normally and when you get near a trouble area, slide through it or siren around it, and then get back to singing it as written.
The Caldwell/Wall book series is incredibly well written and while a bit pricey for the whole series, it is worth the investment. If you are not in a position to make the investment, check your local music library and if they do not have it on the shelf, ask them to consider ordering it.
Do you have variations on these exercises that you like to use? If you do, please share in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!