Opera/Expanding Vocal Range
QUESTION: Hello Ms. Walsh,
I have recently started taking voice lessons again with a new wonderful professor of voice and she has me do an exercise that I have not done with previous voice teachers. It is the faster exercise where you go up the whole scale plus one more step and then come back down. We do that exercise to the top of my range, the very last note I can sing.
Since I have not done this exercise with my previous voice teachers, I am curious to know what is the purpose of this exercise. Is this how the range is expanded? If so, how does this work to expand the range? And how does a voice teacher know when a student has really come to the end of their vocal range?
Thank you for your help.
ANSWER: Hi Denise!,
that particular exercise is done by many teachers and is normally thought to be done for one main reason: to practice vocal agility- basically to train your voice to sing coloratura passages in pieces without getting stuck on any one note (a.k.a.- training sprints of the voice basically---because the key to coloratura passages is to keep your voice 'on the breath' (so that your breath doesn't stay stagnant or lessen on any one note of the scale) and so that you can keep the consistent rhythm of the exercise up - aka speed-so that each note is of equal length, and so you can practice this throughout your vocal range (because normally it's harder for singers to have evenness of rhythm/speed/note length in the 'passagio' area of your voice- so this trains you to help introduce evenness and agility. It's basically the same reason a pianist would practice scales- finger dexterity and to try to get each note the same length and not 'lean' on any one note in particular.
To answer your second question about knowing when a person has reached the end of his/her range--well, that you can figure out on your own- you don't need your teacher to tell you, and I'll tell you how. Just sing on a free and open 'ah' vowel (so that your jaw is released and dropped vertically down in an open position (like you're yawning- but making sure your jaw is relaxedly released and not being held down or open) and then just sing upwards towards the top of your range chromatically, breathing in places as necessary (which you can tell when it's necessary by noticing your jaw tightening--that means breathe!) and then keeping going up the scale chromatically until you can't go any further and your voice basically doesn't produce any sound above a certain note- no matter what you do. That- is the end of your top range. The same can be done with the bottom range. However: a warning---do NOT by any means push with vocal or physical force at the extremities of your range (top OR bottom) because that could cause vocal cord damage--just simply 'allow' your voice to produce sound at those places (more often than not you'll end up only being able to send out air once you are at the top/bottom of your range and production of a tone is no longer possible- so that's what you should be looking to hear).
Hope this helps and keep up the wonderful work of being curious and interesting in knowing what an exercise is for that you're using- it's important to know what you're trying to accomplish- I completely agree with you! On another note: if you don't know, and you want to know- you should always ask your teacher right after the exercise is introduced to you- if they can't explain what it's for--then you should start to worry---any good teacher worth their salt will be able to explain to you what a particular vocal exercise is supposed to achieve- otherwise: time to find a new teacher!
Good luck with your singing!
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thank you Julia for your thorough and quick response. It was very helpful.
So is there any such thing as expanding the range? or discovering a greater range over time. I ask because since I started taking voice lessons many years ago I am comfortably able to sing higher notes than what I used to be able to sing and I wondered if that would continue or stop? I've been told by my teachers that I may be a coloratura soprano. Thanks for your insight.
Sorry it's taken me a bit to get back to your follow-up question, things have been extremely busy recently.
It certainly is possible to expand a person's vocal range. That is because basically you are eliminating tension (or you should be working toward doing that) through improving your technique, and as this tension is eliminated, it gives your voice the opportunity to function smoother and better and thereby opening up a larger range to you than you might have thought possible, or were able to reach/comfortably sing when you had less efficient technique.
So, the short and the long is: yes- range can expand. There are exercises for that of course too- but the key to it really is eliminating tension and improving technique. It's a by-product of good technique, not a goal. :)
Okay, hope that helps and good luck with your singing!