What are the ten best exercises for worship leaders (or any other singer for that matter)? I’m going to try via the written word – to give you some suggestions. In part one we’ll go over the first 5 exercises. The first one is more of a habit than an exercise, but here they are:
Exercises For Worship Leaders – Part 1
1) Warm Up Every Day
There is no doubt about it, this should be every singer’s mantra, even if it’s only for 10-15 minutes a day. Your vocal folds (cords) are muscles and the more you work them out the better they will function for you. The benefits are overwhelming. You can strengthen, condition, stretch, increase flexibility, etc and perhaps most importantly you can remind yourself each and every day that you are a singer. If you are mindful of that as you start each day, you are more likely to take steps to help preserve and keep your voice healthy.
Your warm up routine should start off gently. I always recommend starting your warm up with a hum. I especially like a more nasal hum as it will help to focus your voice and keep it far away from your throat as you get warmed up. Start with a simple 5-note descending scale and move up a half step after each scale. As with any exercise, be mindful of using proper breath support. This exercise is valuable in-and-of itself but can also help get your voice ready for other exercises in your routine. Additionally, humming throughout the day can help to keep your vocal cords warmed up and flexible!
(Breathing exercises fall into primarily two different categories: support and control. Here are 2 different exercises, one for each)
3) Breath Support Exercise
Understanding, practicing and APPLYING proper breath support to ALL of your singing should be at the top of your “to-do” list as a singer. If you don’t truly understand how to properly support your tone then **STOP EVERYTHING** and get some training. Without proper breath support, you are at risk for creating vocal damage. Once you are certain that you do understand how to properly support your tone then make sure you practice beefing those skills up every day. Don’t forget that even your SPEAKING voice should always be properly supported to avoid too much stress on the vocal mechanism.
A simple exercise to reinforce your knowledge and your muscles is this. With proper posture, sing a 5-note scale up and back down with a good strong “diaphragm kick.” Try starting with one vowel at a time, for example, “Ah.” As you give a good strong kick from the diaphragm it will come out more like a “Ha.” The point of the exercise is to manipulate the breathing muscles each and every time you sing “Ah” so you feel a “kick” just under the center of where your rib cage meets. Go through each of the five vowels – up and then back down the scale, taking a breath between vowel changes. Gradually work up to all five vowels – up and back down in one breath. Eventually, it would look something like this:
Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha/ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho/hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo, etc C D E F G F E D C D E F G F E D C D E F G F E D etc.
4) Breath Control
Breath control is as much mental as it is physical. Simply going through your songs ahead of time and deciding when it makes sense to breathe and actually practicing the song ahead of time with your breathing choices will make all the difference in being able to properly sing the phrases the way you want to. Beyond that, you can also increase your ability to maintain good breath control, which is being able to apply your breath in the way you want to: slowly and powerfully, by practicing a few simple exercises.
First, start by simply “hissing” and time yourself. After you get a base time, see if you can beat it by altering how hard you push the air out. Notice that you can control how long you are able to “hiss” by how much air you push through: less air flow = longer time. Once you have a good grasp of the concept then move on to speaking the alphabet. This will enable you to articulate vowels and consonants, which is much more like actual singing. See how many times you can speak through the alphabet in one breath. Obviously, how quickly you say the letters will affect how many sets you can do. But you are only “competing” against yourself. Try to beat your own score!
The other warm ups you have can double as breath control exercises as well. Simply try to focus on breath management while you are doing them. See how many reps you can do in one breath and try to increase the number over time!
Because the vocal folds are muscles, they can stretch. In fact, the way we make different pitches is by stretching (lengthening) and shortening the cords according to the sound we are looking for. For most singers, increasing vocal range is a coveted objective. It’s quite common for students of voice to find that their vocal range increases by about an octave just through proper training. Overall, the vocal cords can be stretched and conditioned through consistent practice and working out. The more you practice and stretch, the more flexible and strong your voice will become.
Many people have a very limited vocal range simply because they underestimate what they are actually capable of. Growing your range can happen slowly but surely with consistent work, but you have to “push” yourself (gently). This is important because you can’t increase your range if you don’t try. Here is one of my favorite exercises. It has many uses, but gently stretching your range is one of them.
Once you are warmed up, start this exercise in the lowest part of your range. This exercise spans an octave so you need to start low. Using a simple triad to the octave (C-E-G-C) sing with a staccato tone and big diaphragm kicks up to the octave, then connect the notes and sing legato back down (singing the triad notes C-G-E-C). Try various vowels to find which you are able to go highest on!
For more help with exercises for Worship Leaders, check out my Warm-up/Work-out! DVD