So, you’ve established a warm-up regimen that has served you well over the years. Maybe it’s the one you learned from your beloved vocal teacher or coach. Perhaps it’s an amalgamation of acquired exercises, theatre games, and tongue twisters. Maybe you’re a beginner looking for suggestions and tricks, or a veteran vocalist who never solidified a real preparatory routine. Allow me to add a little fuel to you’re fire and offer some tips that can refresh a stale routine or inspire a brand new one!
The purpose of warm-ups is not solely to provide lubrication for your vocal cords prior to practice or performance. More importantly, they provide an opportunity to connect to your physical, mental, and emotional selves which operate the mechanics that allow your voice express itself safely and authentically. Warm-ups are also a great assistant in creating more awareness, stamina, flexibility, and control in both speaking and singing. Sound yummy? Let’s get cookin’.
Begin with a meditative element. The foundation of any effective practice is a focused mind. Whether your meditation involves stillness/silence, writing, walking, gratitude work, or conscious breath, choose a method that helps you to establish presence. Vary your meditation practice to best suit your availability and environmental parameters. If you have the privacy and time, make a ritual of it. Light candles, lay out blankets, or sit on a meditation cushion. If you are limited with time and/or out and about (on tour, at a venue before a gig, etc.) do a shorter and more specific meditation, mantra, or affirmation.
EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE
Building on the natural breath attention yielded through meditation, begin to explore your breath in varied forms:
• In through the nose, out through the mouth
• In through mouth, out through nose
• In through nose, out through mouth like you’re blowing out a candle
• In through nose, out through mouth like you’re fogging up a mirror
• In through nose, hissing out through the teeth
• In through nose, hissing out in short successive spurts
• In through the nose, fluttering out the lips
• Kapalabhati - panting w/aggressive exhale, passive inhale
• Experiment and create your own interesting breath patterns!
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
Physical components are an essential addition to any warm-up routine.
• Engage in self-massage, encompassing the muscles of the face, jaw, neck (gently), chest, and shoulders.
• Make circles with the wrists and ankles
• Engage in a short spurt of cardio - jumping jacks, walking/jogging in place
• If you have the time/physical ability, do your workout routine (yoga, walking/light jogging, swimming, etc.) BEFORE your vocal warm ups. Choose activities which decrease tension and increase awareness of your physicality and breath support. Avoid exercise that may exacerbate tension (sprinting, extreme weight lifting…)
• Also, try being physical DURING your warm-ups! Let your knees bend and arms swing during scale work. Or throw an invisible ball against the wall or floor when attempting to hit challenging notes.
I’LL BE YOUR MIRROR
Utilize a mirror, video yourself, or ask a friend to watch/film you during warm-ups. It’s hard to have objectivity without actually seeing ourselves. Be aware of excess tension in face, shoulders, limbs, neck, and throat. When you spot tension, repeat an exercise or line and adjust the placement until the tightness wanes. Use an analog/digital notebook to document exercises where tension arises and document your progress releasing it.
Create a condensed version of your warm-up routine. On days when you don’t have a lot of time, do your shortened version to help prep you before a gig or rehearsal. On leisurely days, do the condensed routine IN ADDITION to your full regimen. Notice how it feels at different times of the day. Try incorporating your warm-ups into spare moments you have. Flutter your lips as you wait for the train, massage your facial muscles while watching TV. Allow the fundamentals to soak into your everyday life so you are fueling them with consistency.
The voice is unlike any other instrument as it is deeply influenced by everything that effects us as human beings. Environment, emotions, lack of sleep, sickness, allergies, and so forth influence the quality, range, and stamina of our voices. Learning to vary your warm-up routine based on the condition of your voice on a given day is key.
• On “good voice” days, attempt to do more challenging exercises a bit earlier in the routine. Start with subtle exercises, then build quickly into more ambitious ones.
• On neutral or “bad voice” days, pamper vocals by going incrementally from extremely basic to slightly more challenging exercises. If you’re really struggling, do your warm-ups over longer period of time. Take breaks and utilize a personal steam inhaler/drink warm water in between.
Don’t hound problem areas to death. When something isn’t working or provoking tension/tightness, TAKE A BREAK. Often, it is our frustration that is the initial culprit for a note feeling forced or misaligned. Added frustration will exacerbate tension and could provoke injury. Take a breather from that particular exercise/note/melody and return to singing something that is more easeful. Think of it as the sorbet between courses. After a taste of something light and refreshing, you’ll be able to chew on something richer and make it more digestible.
On a “good voice” day, after you’ve sufficiently warmed up, try mixing up your practice by singing songs or chunks of songs in styles they weren’t meant for. Sing a lullaby in your best Ethel Merman or Aretha Franklin impression. Try singing a belt tune like it’s a sensitive ballad. Give rock songs a country twang, or put some soul into a classical piece. Doing so allows the brain to release expectations. Sometimes, when we insist that our voices sound a certain way it encourages tension in the muscles surrounding the shoulders, throat, and vocal cords. Being playful and experimental initiates liberation in the mind, body, and emotions. This leads to those coveted vocal “ah-ha!” moments.
WARM UPS: UNPLUGGED
Do not multi-task during your routine. I have my exercises recorded on my phone and it is incredibly tempting to catch up on emails or surf social media while warming-up. Place your device away from you so you can be fully immersed in the task at hand. Keep devices out of the periphery and on silent so you’re not lured by the notification light or “ding!”. Utilize self-control and give your self the gift of focused study. Untether yourself and reap the benefits!
Utilizing any or all of these suggestions will help to counter monotony. Keep things interesting for yourself. A sense of nuance encourages consistency of practice. Be regimented, but don’t take it too seriously and you’ll see things will really start to heat up!