The singing Instrument Pack provides video tutorials and practice MP3s to add instrument-specific guidance to the core musicality training provided at Musical U.
Resident Pro: Clare Wheeler
Clare Wheeler is one of The Swingles (a.k.a. “The Swingle Singers”), arguably the most revered and respected a cappella group in the world. As well as her extensive performing background in The Swingles, Clare also has a passion for teaching. She has run workshops, directed choirs, and taught one-on-one, and she specialises in the two major areas we focus on for singers at Musical U: helping beginner-stage singers master pitching and gain confidence, and helping singers of all levels develop their musicality and ability to improvise and be creative in music.
Resource Pack Previews
Every month we release a new Resource Pack for singing. Here are previews of the packs so far:
Pack 1: Beginning Improvisation
For this first singing Resource Pack we took the theme of improvisation but applied it to that all-important preparation skill: warming up.
Guest Pro Nina Rosenberger put together this inspiring tutorial on some more interesting and unusual ways to warm up your voice and start playing around with vocal ideas:
- Why do we warm up?
- Physical warmup and breathing
- Vocal warmup using different syllables and words
- “Sing it away” exercise
- The importance of keeping true to your own vocal style
- MP3 tracks for warmup with instructions and demonstrations
Nina manages to transform what is often a boring and repetitive part of singing practice into something truly musical and actually enjoyable! By using these specific exercises as well as the overall ideas that can be applied in other ways, you need never suffer through a dull warmup again.
Pack 2: The Major Pentatonic
With our singing Resource Packs we’re always keen to help our singers develop their vocal creativity and feel more free and confident in what they sing. In this pack Clare Wheeler introduces the major pentatonic in a way that makes it feel immediately familiar and manageable, leading smoothly and easily into some great ad-libbing improv exercises, building on the last pack’s creative warmups.
- How to work out the major pentatonic scale from any starting note.
- Three examples of songs with pentatonic melodies.
- How to start by singing pentatonic melodies by ear and using that as the basis for improvising.
- Why learning the major pentatonic gives you the minor pentatonic too.
- MP3 practice tracks for the major and minor pentatonic and two backing tracks to practice singing melodies and improvising over.
It’s easy for singers to make the mistake of thinking scales are just an exercise to be used when warming up before singing real music. Clare shows why scales can actually be the key to freedom and confidence in creative singing and how to use the major pentatonic as a great way to get started with them.
Pack 3: Audiation
Audiation is essential for singers in a number of ways, as Clare explains.
- Audiation lets you bring theory to life, judge and match pitch, stay in tune,
and harmonise by ear.
- How audiation can be the difference between an amateur and a professional choir starting a piece.
- One simple exercise and a valuable insight to practice matching pitch dead-on, first time.
- How to stay in key and not drift during a piece.
- The usefulness of memorising a single reference pitch.
- How to start learning to harmonise by ear when singing
As musicians and music lovers we all audiate in one way or another, even if it’s just when an annoying song gets stuck in our head! Clare shows how even this is an opportunity to improve as a singer, and the myriad other ways audiation can transform your accuracy, confidence and creativity when singing.
Pack 4: Scale Degree Recognition
Using your voice to train your ears is something we’re often recommending at Musical U but for singers, it starts and ends with the voice.
Clare included an essential starter skill in her tutorial: how to find the key (and hence the scale!) by ear. She introduced several exercises you can use, and then two practical applications: finding the correct starting note by ear, and creatively improvising using scale degrees.
- Practicing finding the “one” of the scale by ear
- Singing through the scale degrees
- How to sing intervals using your knowledge of scale degrees
- Finding your starting note for a song
- Some handy tips for jumping straight to each scale degree
- MP3 Practice Tracks to work on these exercises with more examples
Pack 5: I-IV-V Chord Progressions
For this pack we were joined by a guest Pro, the wonderful Fini Bearman, a professional jazz singer who also teaches at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the United Kingdom.
- Why the IV-V-I progression works so well, musically
- Which notes to listen for, to understand what’s going on
- Exercises to sing through the progression and internalise the notes
- Improvising over I-IV-Vs
- MP3 Practice Tracks for the two sing-through exercises.
It’s not always immediately obvious to singers why they should care about chords but Fini brings it to life in a clear way and shows how you can tune in your ears and your voice to these highly-common chord progressions.
Pack 6: Rhythmic Precision
For this pack guest Pro Nina Rosenberger shared some excellent exercises for tightening up your sense of rhythm as a singer and handling new songs with tricky rhythms.
- A simple exercise to tune you into note subdivisions of quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes
- A fun spoken-word exercise to get your mouth wrapped around rhythms and coordinate with body percussion
- Effective tips and strategies for tackling new repertoire with challenging rhythms
- MP3 tracks for each rhythm exercise and to practice singing back rhythms you hear
Rhythm is something singers often overlook but as Nina demonstrates so clearly in her examples and explanations, it’s a vital thing to tighten up and master if you want to be a compelling and expressive vocalist.
Pack 7: The Power of Dynamics
Guest Pro Nina Rosenberger shares exercises you can use to more accurately and easily control your volume as a singer and apply it to songs in musical ways.
- Why and how to use dynamics as a singer.
- The traditional names and notation for volume levels.
- Five exercises building up from simple to real song practice.
- Practice MP3s demonstrating the three exercises for you to try yourself.
As Nina points out at the start of her tutorial, dynamics can turn an “okay” performance into a really powerful one. With the exercises and ideas she shares you’ll be able to bring the power of dynamics to your own singing every time.
Pack 8: Improvising with Chord Tones
For this resource pack, we welcome guest Resident Pro Meghan Nixon of How to Sing Smarter – a classically-trained vocalist with a degree in Jazz Performance who has performed in Jazz, Rock, Funk, R&B, Bluegrass and Folk bands. In the past 15 years, Meghan has helped hundreds of people become better singers and musicians:
- How to hear and sing the chord tones in all five types of 7th chords using solfege.
- How to sing up the chords in the context of a real song.
- How to create melodies and patterns using just chord tones.
- How to challenge your ear and experiment with on the spot improvisation.
- MP3s to practice with.
Meghan also introduces the concept “footholds” to ground you as you venture into uncharted improvisational areas. Learn how you too can find a stronger connection with the harmonic structures of the music you love to sing.
Pack 9: Syncopation
Syncopation is our strongest rhythmical tool to make music a lot more interesting and it is used across all genres. You probably use syncopation quite a lot without even knowing what it is! Guest Pro Nina Rosenberger will help you gain a greater understanding in this field, so you can enhance your musical abilities and be even more creative:
- A discussion about what syncopation is and how we can learn to apply it to songs.
- Important terminology you should know.
- Three unique exercises to get you started with this rhythmic concept!
- Three fun MP3 practice tracks to practice your exercises.
Gain a deeper understanding of how syncopation works, and what you can do with it when you’re singing to add more rhythmic punch to your performance.
Pack 10: Swing Rhythm
We mostly identify the particular rhythmical feel known as “swing” with a certain style of music and a certain time period: the swing era (1930s/40s). But swing persists in many styles and genres. Guest Pro Nina Rosenberger shows how to “Swing it” with your voice:
- The theory and practice of swing rhythm.
- How to apply swing to songs, and to take a song from “straight” to “swingin'”.
- Listening links to examples of different styles of swing.
- Three unique exercises to get you started with this rhythmic concept
- Backing tracks for your exercises.
A little study of rhythmic transcription – and how to translate this with your voice – will get you singing and swinging in various styles and intensities.
Pack 11: Harmonizing, Part 1
In this Resource Pack, Resident Singing Pro Clare Wheeler looks at one of the ways we can create our own harmony lines to a melody. There are several different ways we can do this, but this particular video is about using parallel harmony in thirds. This means that we need to understand which scale degree the melody is on, and go up a third from there:
- Recap on scale degrees
- Identify the scale degrees of a simple melody
- Learning about triads
- Working out a harmony using the parallel approach
- MP3s that illustrate the exercises
Clare demonstrates clearly that just a little music theory can be a singer’s best friend – especially when it comes to creating beautiful harmonies.
Pack 12: Harmonizing, Part 2
Ever wonder how some singers seem to come up with cool vocal harmonies on the spot? It’s not magic – there is a science to it that you can learn. In Harmonizing, Part 2, Singing Pro Clare Wheeler continues to expand on the parallel method of creating vocal harmonies:
- Recap of Harmonizing, Part 1 – using scale degrees to create one parallel harmony.
- Working with a new song in three-part harmony.
- When, why, and how to easily adjust when the parallel method isn’t working.
- Full scores for the exercises.
- MP3 demonstration and background tracks to help you in your practice.
Beautiful vocal harmonies add such richness to the music! Understanding how to come up with them yourself will also add to your appreciation of the harmonies you are already singing, and those that you hear in the music you love.
Pack 13: Breathing 1
The breath fuels our singing – and if we want to sing with a good tone, in tune, and in control, learning to maximize the breath is crucial. In Breathing, Part 1, Singing Pro Clare Wheeler focuses on the process that happens before we ever sing a note, and how to prepare yourself to be in the best body-and-mindset to produce the sounds you desire:
- A basic understanding of posture and the breathing cycle to apply to singing.
- Warm-up stretches to improve posture.
- How to do abdominal breathing.
- How to extend the ribs for more capacity.
- A short practice regime combining the two that can be done regularly to improve breath support and stamina.
Many singers are concerned with their tone, or the timbre of their voice. Posture and breathing are inextricably linked to produce and support that tone.
Slow, deliberate and mindful stretches also put us in a good headspace so we can thoroughly focus on what we are doing as singers. And above all, it is important to recognize that all vocal sound starts with something silent – the breath.
Pack 14: Breathing 2
In Breathing, Part 1, Singing Pro Clare Wheeler provided a step-by-step routine to relax and strengthen your breathing cycle as you prepare to sing. This month, Clare integrates that sequence with vocal warm-up exercises:
- An efficient practice regime that can be done regularly to improve breath support and stamina.
- Warm-up stretches to improve posture.
- Locating the abdominal muscles that maximize the breath.
- Training your body to expand the ribcage.
- Adding in held notes, scales, and arpeggios in the best way to build both breathing and tone.
- Working with vowel sounds, and the best vowel to use for these exercises.
- MP3 backing tracks to add more pleasure and musicality to your vocal warmups
As a busy touring professional, Clare shares with us the go-to sequence that helps her to stay vocally fit and prepared even in the midst of a busy performing schedule.
Pack 15: Matching Pitch
Did you know that we are capable of two types of hearing?
That’s right – external hearing describes hearing a sound out loud, while internal hearing describes what we hear in our own head – our auditory imagination, so to speak.
Singing resident pro Clare Wheeler makes connections between these two types of hearing to teach an indispensable skill for any musician looking to sing consistently, comfortably, and in-tune – matching pitch.
- the three concrete skills involved in matching pitch
- exercises for practicing both external and internal hearing
- the close relationship between external and internal hearing, and how you can leverage this to accurately find notes
- a trick for hearing when the note is “right”
- MP3 tracks to practice pitch matching with
This resource pack is a powerful tool for vocal learning and will go a long way in helping you sing and accurately evaluate the pitches you produce.
Pack 16: Singing in Octaves
Each human voice occupies a unique vocal range, allowing for voices to blend together to create beautiful polyphonic textures.
However, in order to sing with others, or sing a song by a vocalist with a different range than you, you’ll need to match pitch in a different octave – and differences in vocal ranges can make this a tricky exercise.
This month, Clare Wheeler teaches the concept of singing in octaves – a tool that will help you sing any song you wish in a register that is comfortable and natural for you:
- How to recognize octaves and sing the interval
- Matching pitch between two voices in different octaves
- How to sing along with something in a different octave
- MP3 tracks to sing along to in different octaves
Get the Singing Instrument Pack
Instrument Packs are available for purchase within Musical U as an upgrade to your member account.
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