Singing Away the Sorrows: Maintaining Your Voice During COVID-19
Let’s be honest:
Of course, this deadly virus has impacted every community.
And this situation has been rough on musicians and artists of all stripes; especially singers.
That’s because singers are at even higher risk of infection.
You probably already know this, but singing in groups is actually one of the easiest ways to spread the virus.
For this reason, singing anywhere besides alone in your own home has become pretty much impossible.
Whether you’re a professional singer, choir singer, or anything else, it’s been hard lately for you to get out there and do the thing you love.
I mean, it’s just so depressing, right?
Singing is our hobby, our passion, sometimes our livelihood. And we have no idea when we’ll be able to do it in public again!
But not all is lost.
Singing Away the Sorrows
Today I want to talk about how singing can get us through this difficult time.
Plenty of studies have shown that singing is great for your physical health: your lungs, your heart, abdominal muscles, and so on.
But did you know that singing is also excellent for your mental health?
Of course, you knew that! You’re a singer!
That’s why I wanted to share 5 important exercises to improve your voice and keep you physically, mentally, and emotionally fit to sing.
For all the beginners out there, these are all great general exercises for learning how to sing better and developing your vocal skills.
And for the more experienced folks who might not have sung in a while, I hope these exercises will pick you up and remind you why you became a singer in the first place!
I believe in the power of music to brighten people’s lives and beat back the darkness.
So, even though this is a really strange time and nobody knows what the future will bring, you can still do the thing that you love.
That’s what these exercises are all about.
So I put together this great video to walk you through some great exercises you can use to keep your voice in shape during COVID.
Leveling Up Your Voice
Before we dive in, I wanted to say a brief word about what you should hope to accomplish during the COVID quarantine.
Even if you can’t take in-person lessons, sing in choir, gig, or whatever else, there are still plenty of opportunities to sing.
Try to make the best of this bad situation.
Use this time to ‘level up’ your voice and achieve that next singing goal that you’ve been striving for.
You might try to expand your vocal range, for example.
BUT your main goal in doing these exercises should be to relax and have some fun singing!
This is a difficult time for everyone—physically mentally and emotionally.
The last thing I want to do is put extra pressure on anyone.
Trust me, no one is expecting you to invent calculus or anything (like Isaac Newton during the plague of 1665).
At the end of the day, I just want to help everyone rediscover the joys of singing and get through this difficult time together.
Sound good? Okay!
Let’s get started.
5 Exercises for Improving Your Voice
The following exercises will allow you to practice basic singing techniques to keep your voice healthy and strong during the quarantine.
The Diaphragmatic Breath
Obviously, breathing for singing is an essential skill for any vocalist to have.
But breathing is also a great way to relieve some of that anxiety we’ve all been feeling!
So, we’re going to start things off with some diaphragmatic breathing exercises.
If you’re not familiar, the diaphragm is the muscle located between your heart and your lungs.
Diaphragmatic breathing is simply when you let your lungs expand and your diaphragm contract as you inhale.
When you exhale, the reverse happens: your lungs contract and your diaphragm relaxes.
This is the correct kind of breathing for singing, so it’s a great way to get back into singing if you haven’t done it in a while.
- Stand up straight and make sure your belly can go in and out freely.
- Inhale and let your belly expand. Count to 4 as you inhale.
Relax and let your lungs freely expand, like in the image below:
Whatever you do, don’t tense up, don’t lift your shoulders, and don’t breathe from your upper body!
Just keep things low, slow, and quiet.
- Hold that pose and count to 4 again.
- Then exhale and count to 4 one last time.
To recap: inhale for a 4-count; hold for a 4-count; exhale for a 4-count.
Try doing this on a loop: inhale, hold, exhale, rinse and repeat.
Breathe from your diaphragm and feel the stress rush out of your body!
Here’s a demonstration of the kind of breathing I’m talking about:
The 5-Tone Solfège Scale
You may already know this, but when you take a long break from practicing, your ability to sing on pitch is one of the first things to go.
Singing the right pitch is a complex bodily process.
It requires a ton of different muscles in your throat, larynx, and chest to be in sync with one another.
If you haven’t sung in a while, all those muscles get out of shape and lose coordination with one another.
Incidentally, the same holds true for instruments.
I recently dug out my old acoustic guitar that I hadn’t played in a while, and man were the strings out of tune!
Well, when your voice feels like an out-of-tune guitar, this 5-tone solfège scale exercise will get you back in tune in a jiffy.
This one is great for ‘tuning up’ your voice after a long break.
To recap: solfège is the Italian naming system for notes in a scale.
You know! Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do. That sort of thing.
We’ll use the movable do, where “Do” stands for the first note of the scale no matter what key you’re singing in.
- Start in whatever vocal range you’re comfortable with
- Sing the first five notes of the major scale: do, re, mi, fa, sol
- Sing back down to the bottom of the scale: fa, mi, re, do.
As you sing, focus on the pitch and the vowels.
Go for those big, open, Italian vowels! Try trilling your r’s if you feel so inclined.
If you’re still having trouble with the solfège pronunciations, no worries!
Check out this video demonstration for a refresher on solfege:
The 5-Tone “Gug”
Another thing that, in my experience, tends to get rusty after long breaks from singing is chest voice.
Chest voice is when you use your thicker vocal cords to sing.
It’s the vocal register we normally use when speaking, and it produces a thick, strong, and warm tone. It’s how to sing low notes.
Chest voice is actually a muscle.
So you need to use it regularly to keep it in good shape.
Don’t take this analogy too literally: your vocal cords (while they are muscles) aren’t in any danger of atrophying or anything like that.
But, if you haven’t sung in a while, it’s easy to forget how much vocal power to put into your voice.
For example, I sometimes have trouble gauging how strong my chest voice should be.
If I don’t put enough energy into my chest voice, it comes out rough and gravelly. But if I try to push it too hard, it becomes flat and strained.
You forget your own vocal strength, in a way.
This exercise is designed to ‘reboot’ your chest voice, help you sing without straining, and remind you exactly how much energy you need to sing correctly.
- Use the 5-tone scale in whatever range you’re comfortable with, just like before.
- Instead of the solfège vowles, say “Gug.” (That’s like “gut” but with a “g” at the end.)
- Sing up and down the 5 tones of the scale.
The “Gug” syllable is not meant to sound pretty or eloquent or anything like that
Instead, the brash “Gug” sound is great for promoting a rich and balanced tone in your chest voice.
Sing it strong and full! I know it’s hard, but try not to worry about whether anyone else in your house or apartment can hear you.
Remember, it’s very important that you practice your chest voice on a regular basis.
You don’t want your voice to get too weak or too breathy.
The 5-tone “Gug” scale is a great way to keep your chest voice in shape!
For a demonstration of this exercise, please see the video below:
Now let’s talk about head voice!
Head voice is the singing voice that uses your thinner vocal cords.
In contrast to chest voice, head voice is higher-pitched, softer, and a bit thinner and breathier.
While your chest voice might have lost some of its power during the COVID-19 quarantine, you may have found yourself straining or pushing your head voice a bit too much.
As with chest voice, a long break from singing can sometimes make you forget how much power to apply to your head voice.
You might accidentally push your head voice too hard, which can result in a vocal break.
And that’s no good!
To get your head voice back in shape, try the octave-down “Wee” scale:
- Start on a high note.
I usually start on the octave above the bottom note of a major scale.
- Sing down to the tonic.
I like to sing the following notes:
octave, perfect 5th, major 3rd, tonic.
You might recognize this as a downwards major arpeggio.
- Sing all these notes on a “Wee” vowel.
The “Wee” syllable is great for practicing a strong and full head voice without becoming too shrill.
- Repeat the scale and raise the pitch a little bit more each time.
Go as high as you can without letting your head voice strain or break.
The trick is to just allow the top part of your voice to come in naturally.
Don’t push it and don’t strain it.
Keep it smooth, full, and strong, and maybe toss in a bit of vibrato for extra style points!
Check out this video for more tips on the octave-down “Wee” scale:
The 1.5-Octave “Gee”
This last exercise is all about remembering and developing your mixed voice.
Mixed voice is how you connect your head and chest voice.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a literal mixture of head and chest voice.
Instead, mixed voice means being able to smoothly switch between chest and head voice with little or no break in between.
Now, mixed voice can be a difficult technique to master.
It definitely doesn’t come naturally to many singers, myself included!
But it’s also one of the best and most useful techniques you can practice during the COVID quarantine.
Today we’ll practice our mixed voice with one of my favorite exercises of all time: the 1.5-octave “Gee.”
- Sing up the 1.5-octave major scale using the “Gee” syllable.
That’s “Gee” as in “Geese” with no “s” at the end.
As for the scale, the 1.5-octave scale in C goes like this:
It’s just a couple of major arpeggios up and down an octave and a half of range.
- Sing back down to the tonic of the scale, again with “Gee.”
- Repeat the scale and try to raise the pitch a bit each time, as in the last exercise.
The main thing with this exercise is to make a smooth transition from chest to head voice and back again.
For most of you, the switch will occur around the middle of the scale (maybe at the 4th or 5th).
Don’t push your chest voice too high!
Don’t suddenly flip from head to chest voice!
The switch should be subtle enough that only you can really hear it.
This is definitely the hardest exercise on this list, so don’t be discouraged if it gives you trouble.
But mixed voice is an essential technique in singing riffs and runs, which are two of the coolest and most fun parts of singing!
So, I highly encourage you to give this a try!
Just be sure to work through the previous exercises first and tackle this one whenever you feel ready.
Check out my video on mixed voice for another demonstration of the 1.5-octave “Gee”:
Awesome job everyone!
These are all great for keeping your voice in shape, whether you’re a beginning singer or a veteren.
Aim to practice these exercises 5 times a week, about 30 minutes at a time.
In addition to these exercises, you can take online singing lessons as part of my Master Your Voice course.
Finally, I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to read this article.
If you’ve been away from singing for a while, I hope that these exercises have done something to rekindle your love of singing during this difficult time.
Music has gotten me through some tough times in my life.
I hope it will for you too.
Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay singing.
Before we go: lots of singers all around the world are hurting financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you can, please consider donating to the Musicians Foundation, a nonprofit that provides relief to musicians of all kinds during times of need.