Back to Basics, Part 2: Vocal Warm-ups
We’ve all done them, or at the very least, heard them before: the endless patterns, scales, and weird noises that singers use as vocal warm-ups. While, to the untrained ear, we may sound like dying cats or like we’re screaming bloody murder, any experienced singer will tell you that warm ups are absolutely essential to a good practice session or performance.
This is true, of course. But why?
Most young or inexperienced singers will say that warm-ups are essential to “get your voice going.” While this is perhaps the most basic aim of warm-up exercises, an effective warm-up routine must consist of at least these three goals:
Goal #1: “Lining Up” the Voice
This initial part of a singer’s practice routine is usually what people are referring to when they say “get the voice going.” However, the point is not simply to use your voice. You must execute your exercises with thought, attention to detail, and self-awareness.
This stage usually begins with some stretches and an alignment check, and then energizing the breath in some way. (Check out this video for posture tips, and this one for breathing exercises!)
When you begin to sing, choose an exercise that will help to connect breath to sound right away (voiced consonants like z or v are great for this). As you sing, you want to make sure the various parts of your mechanism are released (throat, jaw, tongue, soft palate, etc.). Use a variety of vowels, and travel up and down your range, feeling the changes in resonance. (For a few suggestions, check out this video!)
Goal #2: Technical Specifics
Once you’ve ensured the voice is functioning properly, start to think about specific techniques. What technical ideas have you been working on in your lessons lately? What problems have you been trying to fix? Choose warm-ups that will help you work on these things – perhaps some of the same exercises you did in your most recent lessons. The main idea here is that every exercise have a specific purpose.
Goal #3: Preparing for Specific Rep
What songs will you be working on that day? If it’s something with a lot of high notes, you should make sure you stretch up there. If your song has lots of staccato, make sure you include some in your warm-ups. If it’s got lots of runs, long scales should be a part of your routine.
How Long Should I Spend on Warm-ups?
The answer to this question varies depending on the level of the student, his or her vocal abilities, the demands of his or her rep, and other considerations. In a 30-minute practice session, I would advise spending 10-15 minutes on warm-ups, and the rest on repertoire. In a longer practice session, 15-20 minutes is fairly standard for more advanced students.
Other Important Considerations:
Your warm-up routine should be consistent, yet evolve with your vocal needs. In other words, have a regimen of exercises that serve your needs and goals for right now; as your technique grows, you may find that certain exercises no longer serve a purpose or are not stretching you enough. This is completely normal. Work with your teacher to find new exercises that will suit your needs.
You should keep your day’s voice use in mind when warming up and practicing, and monitor how your voice is feeling. You may find, for example, that your voice gets tired on days when you have school chorus. This means you should consider doing a lighter warm-up that day, so as not over-tax your voice. Or, if you know you will be singing a lot in your evening production rehearsal, you may choose to scale back your practicing session to save some voice. In these cases, the primary goal is usually to do what is necessary to get things connected and functioning properly, and then move on.
If you find that a certain exercise just isn’t working, re-assess how you’re feeling/what’s happening and try something else. It’s better to abandon something that doesn’t feel good than to keep going and work more tension and bad habits into your voice. You could just be having a bad voice day. It’s frustrating, but it happens.
You do not need to warm up to the extremes of your range every day. You should choose one exercise to stretch your stratosphere (or your basement) a couple times a week, but you shouldn’t sing up there every day, especially if you are young/new to singing. Singing in these areas of your range too much can be extremely demanding on the voice. Unless you are singing rep in which these notes are required, it’s not essential to exercise them every day.
Remember – specificity is key! It’s better to do fewer exercises – each with a specific goal – than to do more exercises without a purpose in mind.Curious to learn more? Contact us with any questions, or, better yet – sign up for lessons!