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Rabindranoth Tagore wrote: "When Thou commandest me to sing, it seems that my heart would break with pride; and I look to Thy face, and tears come to my eyes.
"All that is harsh and dissonant in my life melts into one sweet harmony- and my adoration spreads wings like a glad bird on its flight across the sea...
"I touch by the edge of the far-spreading wing of my song Thy feet which I could never aspire to reach.
"Drunk with the joy of singing, I forget myself and call Thee friend who art my Lord."

These exquisite words almost capture the intensity of the feeling when you are lost in the music. Only the word "Cosmic" sums it up for me: it's a feeling of Absolute bliss and tranquillity. You feel, to use the old cliche, "at one with The Universe."

This article attempts to outline a logical sequence of exercises you can try in order to "train" your voice and to prepare a song for performance. Of course, no article can replace the practical experience you'll get with a singing teacher. Hopefully, you do have a teacher already, and this article will just give you some food for thought.

Like just about anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets. So my first bit of advice is: If you want to sing, then sing! Stop procrastinating. I think of a friend who spent two years "wanting" to start training with a teacher. Life is short!

The first step, thus, in our list of guidelines, is to start placing the voice correctly. This is what your teacher should be doing. Hum for a moment, then try to speak in the same register as your hum. That's your true voice, and that's the voice that your teacher should be bringing out.

Various teachers use different vocal exercises to achieve this. There are scales, the popular "Bella Signora!", glissandos, staccatos and a bewildering array of enigmatic "Va-va-vi-vi" warm-ups designed by individual teachers.

I feel that it's not the exercises themselves that are important, but what you gain out of them. Remember that practice makes perfect; you need discipline, or you're wasting your time. These exercises should ideally be practised five or six days a week. Remember, too, that you can harm your voice if you don't work under the supervision of a teacher. Here are some ideas for your warm-up session.

1. Stand beside a piano or keyboard. Before you start, focus yourself. Take a couple of breaths and clear your mind. Singing is your work now, and other thoughts are going to get in the way. You actually need daily meditation as well if you are going to channel all your energies properly.

2. You still can't start until you know that your posture is correct. Look at your feet, and ensure they are not too close or far apart. Now focus on how your feet are making contact with the ground. Are your feet correctly arched or are you pronating? Moving on up the body, feel the strength of your calves and hamstrings, and make sure your standing straight. The spine should be firm, and this feeling should continue up into the back of the neck, so that you are standing proudly. Imagine that you are standing on a mountain addressing the multitudes. Your shoulders should not be strained; relax them. At this point, your teeth should not be clenched. Your arms are lightly by your sides.

3. Now we can start singing. Listen to middle C on the piano, then hum the note. Be sure that you hear the note to your utmost satisfaction before you begin humming. Don't try to hum loudly; concentrate on humming accurately and beautifully. Move up a semi-tone, then another, in a scale. Then start at middle C again and move downwards. Just humming. No fancy stuff. Keep it light and soft.

4. Now repeat the whole exercise, starting on a hum, then opening it up into a vowel sound. So you'll be singing "Mmmmm-aaaaa", "Mmmmm-eeee" etc. As you sing, focus on the vibration at the back of your neck, moving down your spine and legs and going into the ground. Don't try to project the sound outwards, keep it all focused, pushing down towards the ground, so that your whole body resonates. Breath support should be even, this is accomplished by breathing from the abdomen and diaphragm, not allowing the chest to rise and fall. Again, don't try to be loud; just aim for clarity and precision.

5. Now you can move into some other vocal exercises with your teacher.

6. Let's move on, meanwhile, to the preparation of a song that you wish to perform. Note the key, time signature and tempo.

7. Look at the rhythm carefully. You might even mark the beats in each bar with a vertical slash. This enables you to complete the "crossword puzzle" of words and beats. Practise talking the words while tapping out the rhythm with a pencil.

8. Think about the meaning of the words. Write them out and examine them as though they were a poem. What is the spirit, the predominant emotion?

9. Practise singing the melody without the lyrics (on a "la" or "ooh"). You might even just hum it first. Where is the climax of the song? Where are the rests? Where will you breathe? Mark the ff's and pp's.

10. Learn the lyrics by rote.

11. Now try the song. Feel yourself working with energy, not with sound. Try now to sing every line as though it is for the first time. Each line must be fresh; and must shine with the promise of offering something wonderful. I heard of one teacher who had her students imagining the sound as honey dripping from the mouth. I remind you once more not to focus on sending the sound out, rather feel yourself vibrating inwards and downwards.

12. While you are doing all this, your mouth must be forming the consonants very precisely. There's nothing worse than an indistinct or mumbly singer.

13. Once you think you've mastered all this, add in gesture, facial expression, eye contact, sparkle, moves. Of course, you have to maintain the control in your posture; and the focus in your mind all the time.

14. As though all that's not enough, your final step would be to forget all the rules, the advice, and relax and let go and perform the song as it comes naturally. African women singing while washing clothes in the river have not been to singing teachers, yet they sing beautifully.

My singing teacher taught me a lot more than just singing. In improving my posture, voice and focus, I became a stronger, more focussed person. I felt more confident.

You can do it, too. Just sing!