There’s a Hawaiian music channel on Time Warner Cable’s menu (channel 800 if you didn’t know) and there’s always a lot of Iz. I was puttering in the kitchen yesterday when his version of “Over the Rainbow” came on. Yeah, he got the words wrong and tinkered with the melody a bit but’s it’s still beautiful in its simplicity. Once it found its way out of Hawaii worldwide sales have been in the millions.

As I was humming along I realized that this simple song is an excellent exercise for keeping your voice agile. It has an impressive list of things that are worth practicing over and over. Here’s how it breaks down (and no, I have no idea what synapse fired to make me think of this…the Blogmeister’s brain is a vast wasteland of nothing-to-see-here-move-along ):

Large jumps between notes are excellent for improving your control and the first bit of the song has a bunch.

  • The first “somewhere” is an octave jump, the foundation for vocal agility.
  • Going back down to the “way” in “way up high” is an octave in the other direction.
  • “Way up high” tightens up to a 6th, a more difficult move and then the next three notes are true gymnastics.
  • “High” to “there’s” is down a 7th.
    “There’s” to “a” is up a 6th.
    Then there’s a 1/2 step down to “land” followed by a melodic exercise that you might find in one of Susie’s warm-ups as you sing “that I heard of once in a lullaby”.

Wow. And we haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet. Just like the old Fig Newton commercial,
“here’s the tricky part”.

  • “Some day I’ll wish upon a star and” is back and forth in a minor 3rd.
  • “Wake up where the clouds are far” is back and forth on a whole step.
  • “Troubles melt like lemon drops a-” is the minor third again.
  • “-way above the chimney tops” is the same minor third up a half step (just like we do in warm-ups every week).

So let’s see…in four lines of a song we get:

– Up an octave
– Down an octave
– Up a 6th
– Down a 7th
– Up a 6th again
– Down a 1/2 step
– A descending melodic exercise
– Repeated minor thirds
– Repeated whole steps
– A move of a half step to another set of repeated minor thirds.

In the land of getting your voice into shape that’s a pretty full day.

So what do we do with this knowledge? Given that pretty much everybody knows this not-as-simple-as-you-thought-it-was melody, use it to get better at interval singing. First, do it really slow. Make every effort to nail every note perfectly without “sliding” into the correct spot. Hum it first and then do it on “doo” and “la”. Also try doing it legato moving smoothly from note to note, exactly the opposite of the first exercise. Then do it faster and faster but don’t go past the pace where things start to fall apart. Finally, do all of those things using the lyrics dramatically emphasizing the consonants. This adds a layer of exercise for your mouth to the interval work.

If you do this as part of a regular practice routine I can gaurantee that you’ll get progressively better and will be able to apply your developed skills to other music.

(And of course get a brain, a heart and courage.)