When you want to sing a wider repertoire of songs and genres, vocal agility is essential. But you don’t need to achieve the melismatic acrobatics of Christina Aguilera or Guy Sebastian to create impressive sound easily. Singers of all levels can develop more agility in singing and effortless fluidity of notes, by slow, steady practice.
What is vocal agility?
Singing with agility means being able to move easily, smoothly, and sometimes quickly, through registers. To do this, you need to master an easy breathing process so you can open up quickly for an in breath. My recent articles on inhalation and exhalation techniques have helpful breathing tips.
Your vocal tone can tighten if you don’t open up quickly, and you are more likely to push notes out as you shift registers, sounding strained. As I’ve covered before, register shifts require a patient, step-by-step approach.
Start slow and feel your way
Be patient when working on vocal agility, as it takes time for your brain to learn the note arrangements, while learning to open your airways and move your short and long vocal muscles to facilitate that arrangement. Focus on these steps:
Exercise for a quick, easy inbreath
Rena El-khoury started working on her vocal agility a few months ago, when I sent students a video of exercises during our online lessons in lockdown. Incorporating agility exercises into her vocal warm-up, like many of my students, Rena enjoyed them so much, we introduced more agility focus into our lessons.
Rena experienced first-hand the importance of set-up and not overthinking to improve vocal agility. “If I have an open throat, ribs and then shape the articulators, I find I don’t need to think too much about the sound or pitch because it just becomes fluid,” she said.
“Sometimes, when we overthink in singing, it can affect the sound. Agility exercises are quick, so it is vocally important to keep it light and forward so the sound can be free, and the voice doesn’t feel strained. Once you put weight on the sound, it doesn’t flow out as easily. When you understand the pitch and how to set up the agility exercise, the sound almost works as muscle memory, so you shouldn’t need to force it out.”
Since working on developing more agility in singing, Rena has noticed she produces sound with more ease after first setting up her throat, ribs and torso correctly. Her sound has become much brighter, lighter and richer in tone. And with greater voice agility she’s expanding the repertoire we’ve been working on together.
“I sing a lot of musical theatre, and am dabbling in a bit of opera, where vocal agility is needed. It also allows me to sing a variety of genres, learning at a much quicker pace. My vocal quality has also improved, and I’ve reduced my warm-up time, creating more efficiency in my voice,” she said.
All of my students have enjoyed this intense focus on vocal agility, learning to trust their ears, stop obsessing about correct pitching and have a go, even if the notes slide or slip across pitches at first. If this happens, we slow the patterns until the singer feels accuracy is better.
With most singers back to in-person lessons, we now include agility exercises each time, whether they are beginners or highly experienced. Students find them fun to do and, best of all, challenging and strengthening.
Working on vocal agility is specialised work. Kathleen Connell’s expertise in singing training helps singers achieve specific goals like this through targeted single lessons or packages. To find out more, get in touch.