Bottom-Up vs Top-Down Vocal Training for beginning singers to sing better faster and improve your singing voice.

Bottom-Up vs Top-Down Vocal Training

Joe NaabVocal TrainingLeave a Comment

Two Distinct Approaches to Long-Term Vocal Training

I've been through a lot of ups and downs in my vocal training over the years. At first, I couldn't explain why some strategies worked and some didn't.

When I began to suspect that a focus on exercising vowels and consonants was less effective than other exercises, I actually felt some shame.

Weren't these the best exercises to solve all problems? Weren't the other exercises, such as lip trills and humms only for "warm ups".

Making the Old New Again

In my second time around as a beginning singer, I'm studying classical technique and applying it to contemporary singing.

I'm improving much faster now.

I've also added new exercises that I learned about from my independent studies and through experimentation.

I can now articulate the difference between what works so well now and what didn't work earlier on.

The slower and less effective approach takes a top-down approach, focusing mostly on articulation in the mouth.

The better, faster and deeper improvements come from a bottom-up approach, focusing at first on breathing and phonation, then core sound qualities, and then vowels and consonants.

Tell-Tale Signs of  a Top-Down Vocal Training Method

This is a short list of how I would best summarize a top-down approach to voice building:

  • Exercises emphasize open-mouth work on vowels and consonants. These are forever and always treated as the most important exercises to master.
  • There can be a lot of song work during private lessons, returning to vowel and consonant exercises to solve problems that come up during the song work.
  • Phonation training is considered to be happening during the vowel and consonant exercises. No other types of exercises are emphasized to directly strengthen, lengthen, and coordinate the vocal folds, without regard to vowels and consonants.
  • Teachers of these methods use a lot of confusing and poorly defined jargon, such as "find your mix", head mix, chest mix, chest voice, head voice, falsetto, etc.
  • Breathing technique is de-emphasized or non-existent. Sometimes you are told that it's important, but there's no deep dive into how the breath engine works and the best exercises to make it work better.

What I have found most characteristic of the learning and development curve of this approach is:

  • Early improvement can be impressive.
  • Improvement eventually slows, then comes to a stand-still.
  • The foundational problems of singing, which are always grounded in breathing and phonation, are never solved because they are never given the full attention they deserve.
  • You're never able to reach your goals as a singer. This approach can't ever get you there.


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Tell-Tale Signs of  a Bottom-Up Vocal Training Method

This is a short list of how I would best summarize a bottom-up approach to voice building:

  • Breathing technique and exercises come first. Instruction is not just lip service. It is in-depth and thorough and complete with a variety of excellent exercises.
  • Phonation techniques and exercises come next. The vocal folds are strengthen, lengthened and coordinated using mostly semi-occluded vocal training (SOVT) exercises.
  • Today, the straw phonation in water device produces the deepest and fastest results of any other exercise.
  • The articulators (tongue, jaw and lips) are held mostly still during this portion of development. Yet you are training the core sound of your instrument, that which all vowels and consonants have in common. In effect, you are training all of your vowels and consonants at the same time, without making them.
  • The training of other important sound qualities, such as tone, timbre, depth, strength, blending of registers, pitch accuracy, placement, and more can be trained to full effect with SOVT exercises.
  • Training on vowels and consonants is slowly introduced as subtle deviations from the core shape and technique.

What Improvement Looks Like with a Bottom-Up Approach:

  • The worst singing problems, the foundational bad habits of breathing and phonation, are solved first.
  • Once these foundational problems clear, your rate of improvement begins to accelerate.
  • Vowels and consonants improve without devoting time to open-mouth vowel and consonant exercise.
  • You are able to reach your fullest potential as a singer.

Key Takeaways

As always, I share these ideas as food for thought. They make sense, especially once you get into it.

Resist the temptation for fast and superficial results from a top-down approach.

Instead, devote your time to reconditioning your worst muscle habits through repetitive training. Begin where they begin! From breathing to phonation and then, finally, to vowel and consonants.

You will ultimately see much faster improvement and a singing voice that a top-down approach simply can't ever give you.

What to do Next

Study the blog for articles on SOVT exercises and The Best Daily Vocal Exercise for Rapid Improvement.

I've have an article and video that shows what my current daily workout looks like.

I can only share with you the important things I've learned from my own trial and error. The next steps belong to you!

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Leave any questions you have, too. I'll be posting more articles and demonstration videos soon, too.

Be Well and Train Hard!


Written by Joe Naab

Voice Building Coach and Course Creator

Since early 2013, Joe Naab has immersed himself into the study and training of all things related to improving his own singing voice at a fundamental level. Having overcome a number of serious vocal problems along the way, he now shares what he has learned in the hope that he can help others fulfill their own goals as singers.


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