Did you know that when it comes to improving your voice, you can learn a lot from your dog? Seriously! Have you ever heard a puppy or even an adult dog whimper? That very sound can be the starting point for you to find a clear, free, and natural sound that is uniquely yours. Let me explain.
Puppy whimpers, and humming, which is a similar sound, are two exercises that singers do with their mouth closed. This is a huge advantage when you are trying to warm up and train your voice.
“Mouth closed”, you say? “How is that going to help me sing better? I need to open my mouth to sing.” Here’s why it works…
Think for a moment— when you are singing words in your song, or even just vowels in your vocal exercises, you are losing air from your mouth at a fairly fast rate. Depending on how developed a singer you are, you will hopefully be experiencing good vibration, or what is called resonance of the sound before it leaves your head. This means that your voice is clear, freely-produced, and has a ringing quality that allows the sound to carry.
But for too many singers, the resonance is not complete— either your voice is too breathy and weak, or the opposite happens— you try to push the voice out, so it can’t resonate naturally and is strained and harsh-sounding. The fix? Puppy whimpers and humming! When your mouth is closed, you aren’t losing air at the same rate as singing with an open mouth (a little leaks out through your nose), so the air has the time and space to “find” its natural vibration, and “correct” its quality while it stays in your head longer. The result? A voice that immediately has more volume, clarity, and beauty. And the best part? It sounds like YOU. It’s not a manufactured, manipulated sound, or an imitation of someone else. It’s the central core of what will become your unique full singing voice.
So let’s get to it!
Exercise one: Puppy Whimpers
Take in a breath through your mouth, close your lips gently, and then on a pitch higher than your speaking voice, but comfortable for you to produce without strain, “whimper”, which means doing little slides from higher pitch to lower pitch, several times in a row, with your mouth closed. Repeat as many times as is comfortable, making sure you don’t feel any strain in your throat. It starts high in the face, and then trails off easily as you slide down. You can start the whimper a little higher in pitch each time, to explore and warm up your vocal range, but don’t go any higher than is comfortable. For a little inspiration, here’s a video of a sweet little pup whimpering:
Remember, it’s not important what exact pitch you start on, and it certainly won’t be as high as our little puppy in the video. All that matters is that it feels completely free and easy, all up in the head and away from the throat.
Exercise Two: The “Agreement” Sound
Closely related to Puppy Whimpers, but moving in the opposite direction pitch-wise, is the “Agreement” exercise. Here you pretend that someone has just said something favorable to you, and as you nod your assent, you say “Mmm-Hmm”, moving from a lower pitch on the “mmm” to a higher pitch on the “Hmm”. Take a breath through your mouth, close your lips, and like the puppy whimpers, start a bit higher in pitch than your normal speaking range to make sure you are “off the cords”, meaning not producing the sound by pushing from the vocal cord level in the throat. You can start each one a bit higher than the last, and then also come back down in pitch as well, but always stay above your speaking voice pitch level. Repeat as many times as you need to feel the sense of the voice coming “through” the face and releasing freely, rather than being caught in the throat.
Exercise Three: Humming
We all probably know what humming feels like, but are we doing it correctly? You’ve probably never given it a second thought. But how you hum can make or break your singing voice. There are a host of humming exercises that you can do. I like to start my students with a simple one, just humming on one pitch on “mmm” and sustaining the sound for the length of their breath. This gives them time to make sure that the hum is freely produced, feeling like it is coming through the face and not from the throat. Breathe deeply, bring the lips together, then start humming on a comfortably low pitch. Move comfortably high with each subsequent hum, and then work your way back down through your range to where you started. Take your time, close your eyes, and really tune in to the floating, vibrating sensation of the hum in your head. You shouldn’t feel any muscular effort in your throat at all.
So, our dogs do teach us something after all! Puppy Whimpers, along with the Agreement Exercise and Humming, will set you on the path to your best voice every day, both for singing, and for speaking. Need to give a speech, or just want to have a better speaking voice? Keep using these exercises every day for a consistent, healthy sound.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post, where we’ll talk specifics about all the tremendous benefits of humming, and what points of technique you need to look for to alway enjoy great results!