Matt Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: The value of sustained pitches

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music-fermataI follow several voice teacher forums on Facebook and regularly see posts from teachers seeking new vocal exercises. While complicated exercises may be useful for more advanced students, there are many occasions when simple exercises will provide the best results. The simplest of all is the sustained pitch. While sustaining a single note may seem too simplistic to achieve significant growth, if used strategically it can be quite beneficial. Leda Scearce, CCC-SLP details the benefits of sustained pitches in her book “Manual of Singing Voice Rehabilitation” (p. 172-173).

Sustaining a single pitch helps coordinate the action of the vocal folds and the respiratory system. At the vocal fold level, a sustained pitch will require coordination of the thyroarytenoid, cricothyroid, interarytenoid, and lateral cricoarytenoid muscles building the fine motor skills necessary for more advanced work. While singing a single pitch, the singer can focus on maintaining phonation in the register of their choice, while making respiratory adjustments to maintain a consistent dynamic level throughout the duration of the pitch. By removing the challenges of changing pitch, you can focus on releasing tongue and jaw tension while fine-tuning vowel quality. Here are some exercises to try:

  1. Have the student sustain a single pitch while massaging their masseter muscle (see past post) and digastric/mylohyoid (see past post).
  2. Have the student sustain a pitch while making respiratory adjustments to maintain the same dynamic level throughout. I teach ribs out and a relaxed abdominal wall at the beginning of phonation (resist the collapse) and a slight contraction of the abdominal wall when pitch or dynamic level begins to fall (increasing exhalation force).
  3. Have the student sustain a pitch on a problematic vowel and ask them to make adjustments to the articulators to improve vowel clarity as they hold the pitch (also see “Finding the Right Vowel Shape”).
  4. When the student has mastered single vowels, try singing several vowels in a row (also see “Closely Related Vowels“).
  5. Finally, try the old reliable messa di voce (<>). You can teach this exercise by focusing on dynamics, registration, or airflow. When the student has mastered crescendo/decrescendo, reverse the dynamics – decrescendo followed by decrescendo. If you work on every vowel, this exercise will keep you busy for weeks.

While it may be difficult if not impossible to keep the student’s attention on sustained pitches for more than five to ten minutes, there are advantages to sustained pitch work that should be considered. If you are not already following the blog, please enter your email address on the bottom right of this page. If you have other ideas for how to utilize sustained pitches in the voice studio, please leave them in the comment section below. Thank you for reading and have a wonderful Thanksgiving! ~Matt


3 comments on “Mix it up Monday: The value of sustained pitches

  1. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: Begin with the source | Matthew Edwards

  2. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: The benefits of using chest register when training sopranos | Matthew Edwards

  3. cidelle1
    October 17, 2019

    Matthew are these FB teacher forums open to other teachers? Would you mind sharing them?


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This entry was posted on November 21, 2016 by in Mix it up Monday.

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