Preparing learners for the technical exercises
Teachers from across the country have shared their tips for preparing learners for the technical exercises in singing exams. We’ve selected our favourite tips and split them into 7 sections for you.
The technical aspect of the exam can be daunting for some students. Teachers suggest breaking the technical exercises into small chunks to make them easier for students to digest. Practising little and often is a good idea to ease students in – work some technical exercises into each lesson, and encourage pupils to spend a few minutes on them each day.
'The technical exercises generally help to throw up flaws in technique, but they will be different for each person. We talk about the difficulties presented, and break down the exercise into chunks as needed.'
It’s important that students don’t try to run before they can walk. They should work their way up to the expected standard at a steady pace. Private teacher Mandy Griffin says pupils should learn the technical exercises:
'Note by note - slowly at first, then building up to speed.'
Mandy Griffin, Private teacher
Baz Golin from Felix’s School of Rock agrees that it’s best to start slowly:
‘Rehearse the breathing, posture, and easier parts before digging into the technique of the exercises. Practice the difficult passages slowly in a loop before inserting them into the context of the piece at full tempo.’
Private teacher Anna Gonzalez incorporates technical work into her teaching throughout the year, rather than saving it for exam preparation:
‘This way they have come to learn and use a lot of the technical language and practices before associating them solely with the pressures associated with being learnt only for testing within the exam setting.’
Private teacher Brian Smith Walters says teachers should:
‘Make sure that the student’s individual technique is up to par for this technical exercise and not just trying to learn the exercise for the exam.’
Brian Smith Walters
The Vaccai exercises option is a popular one in the exam. Teachers who responded to our survey had good advice to offer for this, and many said they used Vaccai as a routine part of their lessons:
‘I use vaccai and each lesson I cover a technical issue so it becomes part of the warm up.’
‘I use the Vaccai books as part of weekly warm ups as it works on interval intonation, so they know this part well. I often use sight singing from grade one even though it is not necessary but this way it builds up their knowledge from the start.’
Ben Hoadley from Mounts Bay Academy says teachers should focus:
‘Lots of attention on the vowel sounds – particularly in the Vaccai.’
Helena McCrisken from The City of Belfast School of Music also highlighted the importance of vowel sounds:
‘We usually start with singing the exercise on an appropriate vowel before adding in the text. We discuss the purpose of the particular exercise, break it down technically but ultimately aim to sing it as a piece of music and not simply a technical exercise.’
Audio recordings of the exercises are an excellent practice tool for learners to use at home.
Linda Gerrard, who teaches privately, takes this approach:
‘I record the exercises for them so they can listen to them at home and sing along.’
Private teacher Jacqueline Gill recommends:
‘Getting pupils to record themselves and play it back, listening to intonation and diction.’
Since most pupils now have their own recording and listening devices in the form of their mobile phones, this has never been easier.
A great performance isn't just about singing the right notes – the way you sing them matters:
‘Practise playback from different grades, and ensure that they are performing the dynamics as well as the tune’
Caroline Fitzgerald also stressed the importance of dynamics and harmony:
‘We learn about their importance when looking at the harmonic requirement and the vocal line, and how we can make that even and full, and also the dynamic content and what we can add there. I also add that as the technical is the first thing, that they should use it to place the voice and feel the acoustics in the room.’
Grainne McLaughlin puts the technical aspect into a practical context for her students:
‘I always ensure the students appreciate the usefulness of the particular exercise: for example, how often they will have to sing a song which begins with the interval of a perfect fourth - “Amazing Grace” or “Auld Langs Syne”. Students will often make more of an effort if they can see how a highly specific technical exercise is related to the desired aim of successful singing.’
Many teachers said that they used the technical exercises as a routine part of their lessons, integrating them into warm ups so that students are familiar with them before encountering them in exams.
‘I treat the technical aspects like I would the songs, and try to spend as much time teaching them as I would the songs...My basic premise is to try and include technical elements that might be used in an exam within my general teaching, so that if and when they do crop up the student is prepared and already has a basic understanding.’
Lydia Jane Pugh
Helen Perry of Sheffield Music Hub takes a similar approach to the teaching of technical exercises:
‘I use the Trinity little song exercises which I often use as warm ups at the beginning of lessons so they are very familiar with them before they even realise that they are part of the exam requirements.’
Helen Perry, Sheffield Music Hub
Hilary Ingram from Hertfordshire Music Service also puts emphasis on the technical exercises from the beginning:
‘Tech exercises taught before the songs. Students are encouraged to use them as warm ups. Links between exercises and improving technique which then improves the songs are highlighted.’
Hilary Ingram, Hertfordshire Music Service
Paul Austin Kelly, a private singing teacher, recommends a focus on the soft palate to help with vocal exercises, which you can see in this video:
Use the space at the back of your throat as a resonating chamber
The advice in this resource will be useful regardless of which exam board you’re using, or whether you’re even entering candidates into exams at all.
If, however, you want to learn more about Trinity’s range of singing qualifications, then you can download our specifications and guides on this page.