Warming Up For Singing
When discussing warming up for singing, the subject is often greeted with sheepish looks and the response "I know I should warm up but..."Every time this happens (which is about once a week) I can't help but feel the weight of this singer expecting me to disapprove of them being projected at me. The truth is, warming up is something that should make you feel good- powerful even, and this has nothing to do with approval/disapproval/ or doing things 'properly.' I am a Vocal Coach, but I am also a singer, and it wasn't until I had already been singing for 20 years that I learned how to REALLY warm up my voice. Before that I either didn't warm up at all, or I made some random noises that I had seen other people doing and hoped that they ticked the 'attempted to warm up' box. In short, I'm hardly in a position to disapprove.
My response to the 'should' word is usually as follows:
"I'm not going to tell you that you should warm up, but I am going to show you how. One day you will experience how awesome your voice is when its warmed up, and you will WANT to do it."
I honestly think that a big reason that singers don't warm up is that they either don't know why its important, or they haven't found a warm up strategy that works for them yet. Once these factors have been addressed, they almost always become warming up converts. One professional singer that I worked with recently was having issues with vocal tension was struggling to access his upper range during gigs. After assessing his voice it was clear that he simply needed an effective warm up strategy. After sending him off with a strategy that was right for him, I was delighted to receive the following review on my Facebook page.
"I now use this method before every gig. Everyone has told me how much my voice has improved, and I am singing songs I never thought possible."
Positive feedback = Happy Gemma :)
Are you tempted to start warming up yet?
My Top Tips for Warming up your singing voice
(Please note, this isn't going to be a list of my favourite exercises- anyone could compile a(nother) list. Instead this article will address areas to focus on and things to think about, with the odd exercise thrown in for good measure.)
1) Get in tune (excuse the pun) with your voice and what it needs on a regular basis.
Some days your voice may need a longer warm up than others depending on how much you've used it, how you've used it, what you've been eating and drinking, how well hydrated you are, your hormones and more. (Ladies, have you noticed that your voice is different depending on what time of the month it is? You're not imagining it!) Being in tune with what your voice needs on any given day is a hugely beneficial skill for singers.
Before you begin to warm up, count to 10 out loud, in your normal speaking voice and take some time to consider 1) How easy does it feel? And 2) How does it sound? Is there any huskiness there? Or is it resonant and rich? This is a really simple way of drawing your awareness to your instrument and what it needs in the moment.
2) Start with a Semi Occluded Vocal Tract exercise (don't panic, its not as scary as it sounds!)
The term Semi Occluded Vocal Tract (SOVT) basically means that your mouth is partially closed. This partial closure creates a back pressure when you're making sound, helps your vocal folds to vibrate more efficiently. This has the lovely knock on effect of discouraging any unnecessary muscle tension from kicking in, and encouraging the muscles that we DO need to work just as we want them to :) Examples of SOVT exercises that you may have heard of before include vocalising through a straw (my favourite) and lip trills. Don't take my word for it though, here is some feedback from one of my clients.
"Warming up through a straw gave me a 50% improvement in my voice, instantly. I was blown away!"
Try it yourself.
Before you put the straw in your mouth, make the sound 'ooh.' Then try moving up and down in a siren on the same sound. Then place the straw in your mouth and repeat this siren. The key is to not push your voice anywhere it doesn't want to go. Warm ups should be gentle, targeted and gradually build in intensity. The last thing you want to do it tire your voice out before you've even begun.
N.B. If you can find a sustainable straw to use then you are a hero. Usually the thinner the straw the better, but it does vary from voice to voice
3) Simply singing songs isn't an effective warm up (sorry.)
That's not to say that incorporating some songs into your warm up routine is a bad idea, its actually a very good one. (Gravity by Sara Bareilles is my personal 'go to' song for seeing how my voice is feeling. However I don't attempt it until I've done adecent amount of SOVTs.)
The reason why I'm so anti the 'sing an easy song and warm into it' approach, is down to the randomness of songs. They aren't written to be kind to us, they are written to convey emotion. When we're emotional, we push the extremes and this is NOT what we want from a warm up (not at first anyway.) Additionally, with constantly changing vowel shapes and tongue positions, long phrases, and short phrases, there just isn't time to focus upon the whole gamete of muscles that are required for dynamic singing. If you are a singer who tends to be on the tense end of the spectrum (most of us) then diving straight into a song (no matter how easy it is) increases your chances of actually triggering that tension and tiring yourself out before you've begun. If you are someone who usually takes this approach, I don't dispute that your voice probably feels 'warmer' to begin with but I challenge you to try some SOVT exercises first and see how much your stamina is increased.
Try it, and let me know how you get on :)
One last thing. So many people say they don't warm up because they don't have the time. Quite frankly, this is rubbish. A decent warm up can be the difference between a long career and a short one, or an average one and an excellent one. I'll let you decide which one you'd prefer ;)