Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
Cornelius Reid is one of the founders of modern functional voice training. In chapter seven of his book, The Free Voice, he addresses the use of vocal exercises. He begins with the following:
“All exercises employed to assist technical development should be constructed with four main purposes in mind: 1) to re-establish basic functional principles, 2) to reduce complex problems to simpler and more manageable components, 3) to correct errors of technique, and 4) to exercise the voice.” (p. 127).
He goes on to say:
“the error prevalent in the current attitudes toward traditional exercises is the idea that the mere doing of them is beneficial. They are wrongly concluded to have value in themselves…No exercise, traditional or otherwise, possesses intrinsic worth. Almost any scale pattern can serve a useful purpose, but no purpose is served if the repetition is the sole motivation…Any exercise can be performed correctly or incorrectly and may prove to be either tremendously beneficial or actually harmful, depending upon the intelligence of the effort expended and the soundness of the principles being applied. That some exercises are more adaptable than others as a means to an end is obvious. To credit them with more is a serious error…There is ample proof to refute the contention of those who believe an exercise to have value in itself. How many thousands of students have faithfully practiced Marchesi exercises, and how few have derived benefit from them! The key to vocal development is not to be found in the exercise but in the manner in which it is performed! Of greatest concern always is the way the vocal organs react as they respond to the musical phrases selected…When a specific technical problem is being attacked the physical characteristics of the exercise employed must be so constructed as to render active assistance. If the physical characteristics are not so arranged, the exercise will be without purpose and totally impractical.” (p. 127-128).
Reid is not one to sugarcoat his views, which leads some to take offense to the messenger. But the message itself is very important – we must always have a purpose in mind for every exercise we use in the studio. This is backed up by the writings of many modern pedagogues as well.
Reid says “every exercise must be designed to facilitate progress, and behind each there must be an objective, or a series of objectives.” (p.129). On pages 129 and 130, he offers the following twelve objectives:
If you are a CCM teacher, it is important to remember that Reid’s clientele was classical. I believe Reid’s first three points can work for all styles. Of course, the idea of what constitutes “vowel purity” or good resonance will vary from style to style. We must also remember that in classical singing there are a lot of expected norms, while in CCM styles unique is what sells.
In steps four through twelve, you will notice Reid frequently mentions legato. While there are clear benefits of learning to sing a legato line, it is important to remember that commercial and musical theatre songs are often rhythmically driven. If legato becomes habitual in CCM singers, it can significantly impact stylistic authenticity. Therefore, you have to make adaptations to the concepts Reid presents. However, for me, the most important take away is that all technical work should be deliberate with a clear outcome in mind. Reid says you must always consider if what you ask the student to do coincides with why you are choosing that exercise at that moment (when). Finally, “how it is executed will determine the ultimate result in terms of success or failure.” (Reid, p. 128)
For more information about Reid’s thoughts on vocal exercises, read chapter seven of The Free Voice. If you have additional thoughts, feel free to add them in the comment section below. You can also add your name and email (without commenting) to be added to the mailing list, which will ensure you are notified each time there is a new post. If you enjoyed today’s “Mix it up Monday,” please consider sharing it on social media. If you are interested in learning more about functional voice training for all styles, consider joining us this summer at the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute at Shenandoah University.
As always, thank you for reading.