Jaime Vendera – the world’s top Rock vocal coach – brings you everything you need to know to deliver the perfect vocal performance! In this article – The Siren exercise.
Hello singers, welcome to another edition of my Vocal Bootcamp.
I hope I’m not having a case of vocal dementia as I tell this next story, (because I’ve told it sooooo many times before) but it is very important for this edition of my Vocal Bootcamp as we learn how to apply the full voice Siren exercise. Many have asked, “Jaime, how and why did you become a vocal coach?” In all honesty, I never wanted to be a vocal coach. In fact, I used to say, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t teach.” Ha-ha, did I live to eat my own words! As I said, this story is very important to this lesson, so if you’ve heard or read it before, just bear with me…
In 1996, a friend of mine named Troy asked me for vocal help. He wanted to know how I was able to hit such crazy high notes with ease. He wanted the same ability, and was 110% determined to learn how to extend his own vocal range so that he could sing Dream Theater songs. He swung by my studio one day and begged me for a voice lesson. I had no clue what I was doing. I had only given two voice lessons before, back in 1992 or 1993: one to a girl who wanted to sing Country tunes and the other to a guy who was a Karaoke enthusiast. All I did was play them Vocal Power scales, the program created by my coach, Jim Gillette. After they listened, I simply said, “Now do these exercises every day.” In other words, I basically left them clueless with little direction as to how to properly do the exercises. They only knew to do them and that was all. Thinking back now, reliving the times I had met with Jim Gillette after Nitro concerts, he had always given me direction on how to approach his scales. Sadly, I had failed to do the same. WOW, what a poor excuse for a teacher, ha-ha! Back to Troy…
As I scratched my head, realizing that I didn’t want to just play Vocal power scales, in fear of Strike Three, my Kratt Chromatic Tuner in the Key of C, AKA a pitch wheel caught my eye. Simultaneously, I thought of that infamous sliding scream that Jim Gillette does in his Vocal Power video.
If you don’t have the slightest clue as to what I’m talking about, simply search for, “Jim Gillette Sliding Scream” on YouTube to hear and see for yourself. Using my pitch wheel as a pitch reference guide I demonstrated a low slide from the C below Middle C (C3), up to Middle C (C4) where I sustained the C4 for a few seconds. A light bulb went off in my head and I knew I was on to something.
For about 30 minutes, Troy and I slowly worked up from C4 performing each slide on each pitch multiple times until I had extended his voice to an A4 below Tenor C. We even changed up the exercise, sliding back down to the octave below, which reminded me of a warning siren. As well, I made sure to guide Troy to the technique I’d been taught from Jim – keep the sound -< resonant, ringing, clean and always keep the stomach tight.
By the time we had finished this unofficial “voice lesson” Troy was vocalizing FIVE notes higher in full voice than he had ever reached in his life! His voice had always cracked every single time he tried to get beyond an E4. However, that day, by performing this simple slide, which I quickly dubbed the “Siren” exercise, had extended his range beyond belief.
When he had returned home and tried to sing along with Dream Theater he had discovered that he lost all five notes he thought he had gained. I quickly recalled how another influential coach of mine, Thomas Appell, had told me that an exercise does not instantly transfer over to singing. Exercises build the muscle in a controlled way, usually on sustained and maintained vowels, which allows quick range extension. Singing, on the other hand, incorporates countless vowels and consonant combinations, which changes the game altogether. I’m sharing this now for a reason. As you begin working with the Siren lull voice exercise, do not be discouraged if you quickly gain several notes, but soon find that those same notes do not transfer over into singing. Trust me; they will in time because you are building vocal muscle that will eventually allow you to sing higher with ease!
Over the years, I’ve perfected the Siren into a very precise exercise that must not be deviated from the explanations given. You must always breathe, support, and place the voice as I explain, adding more support (not volume) as you ascend into the higher range. You must always keep the tones even, never deviating from the full tone or the volume at which you start. I’ve had students who have worked with other vocal coaches who have decided to incorporate my Isolation Method into their own routines. Every time I’ve worked with a student who has experienced these exercises before working with me, I can attest that every single student realized they had been taught incorrectly, either varying the volume or transmuting the upper notes into some weird nasal belting approach to squeak out another note for the sake of being able to say, “I gained another note.”
Varying my approach will not work for developing a full strong tone in the upper register. This is not a race to the top. Always focus on quality over quantity. Be patient, you WILL gain range AND vocal quality.
So, pay close attention to the video as I explain it, remember the vocal technique I’ve explain in the first four installments of the Vocal Bootcamp, and re-read as well Raise Your Voice, so that you do not deviate from my approach.
Another tip is to watch your face, neck, shoulders, and chest in a mirror to check for incorrect breathing and/or signs of vocal strain. If the veins are popping out in your neck, you’re straining. Moving your head side to side like saying “NO” will help to eliminate it. As you watch this video, you’ll see what looks like veins extending on the sides of my neck. For the record, they are not veins but the cords of my Platysma Muscles, which I have developed from exercises like Bullfrogs and Platysma Pull Ups, which I will explain in future Bootcamps.
Now, it’s time for you to grab your pitch wheel, acoustic guitar, piano, or even my iPhone app for singers, TUNED XD, so that you have a pitch reference and are ready to rock your Sirens. Start as low as comfortable and work as high as comfortable, practicing six days per week. As well, don’t forget to ALWAYS warm up first by performing the Vocal Stress Release massages and stretches as you sing along to the Ultimate Vocal Warm Up MP3 that you received for free from issue 22, followed by your Falsetto Slides and finally, your Sirens. If you stay dedicated to this routine, I know that you’re well on your way to seriously enhancing your tone, increasing your range, and improving your vocal stamina. See you next lesson!