Vocalises Do Not Always Sound “Pretty”

Vocalises Do Not Always Sound “Pretty”


Last week I started exploring a new exercise with a few of my students who have a tendency to carry tension in their upper mid-range and into the lower high-range. This is such a common issue among singers, as it’s easy to equate “higher” notes with being more “difficult.”

When we perceive something as difficult, what do we typically do? Try harder, of course. This leads to more tension, which negatively impacts all sorts of things, such as posture, breathing, and placement.

As voice teachers, we often use imagery to get rid of unwanted tension. We look for things that help us to “let it go” (no, we’re not talking about the song from Frozen) and release tension in areas such as the throat, neck, upper chest, and abdomen.

The imagery is often beautiful. We teach our students to “float” – “land alight of the note” – “feel like a marionette” and all sorts of other things. Sometimes these concepts work beautifully. If you find the right imagery, you’ll get one of those “Aha!” moments as a singer finally “gets it.”

Last week I had students “get it,” but it wasn’t because of beautiful imagery.

It was because I asked them to snort. 

Them: “Excuse me?”
Me: “I want you to snort halfway through this exercise. It goes like this…”

The exercise I taught them was the following: On an “ng,” sing an ascending and descending major pentascale (1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1). Follow that by gently snorting through the nose, and then singing “ah” on the same pattern.

This very simple exercise does all sorts of things: it loosens up the soft pallete, connects us to our core, and demonstrates that resonance should shift higher as we sing higher. Will your student automatically experience “life changing” things when you have them do this exercise – no, but they should be able to release some of that tension that they might carry as they approach the higher part of their range.

In order to use this exercise, we must help students let go of the concept that singing should always be “beautiful.” Certainly, we do aim for beautiful singing in the studio, but we also aim to educate. Learning isn’t always beautiful. Sometimes it’s messy, silly, or even a little bit ugly.


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  • by Jeannie Posted March 24, 2014 5:52 pm

    One exercise I use for breathing is to play the song, One Love by Bob Marley. We start off by humming, then we go to the sound of “woo-woo” as we place our hands on top of our head. This helps to keep the rib cage lifted and expanded.

  • by Sara @ Sara’s Music Studio Posted March 24, 2014 6:10 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Jeannie. A hand on the head would certainly give you a “lifted” feeling. (And I love that song!)

  • by Angie Posted March 25, 2014 3:32 pm

    What is the purpose of the snort?

    • by Sara @ Sara’s Music Studio Posted March 25, 2014 3:48 pm

      Hi Angie. The snort does a couple different things: it creates a lift in and behind the soft palette. If a student holds tension there (especially as they sing higher), it’s very useful to “reset” the soft palette into a less tense and even lifted state. It also helps the connection to breath support.

  • by Bethanne Posted April 8, 2014 12:09 pm

    Thanks! Love the ‘snort’. I am going to try that with my vocal students. 🙂

    • by Sara @ Sara’s Music Studio Posted April 8, 2014 12:11 pm

      My sopranos and tenors are finding it especially helpful – I’ve even started using it mid-song if they are having trouble in a section with a high tessitura. It’s worked wonders! I hope it works well for your students too.

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