Virtually every singer knows that vocal warm-ups are an important part of any practice session. Just like the athlete has to warm up his muscles before training, singers need to warm up their instruments in order to prevent fatigue and/or injury. Hopefully you have a complete, consistent warm-up routine that can get your voice going quickly and effectively; if not, speak to your voice teacher about what your warm-up routine should look like.
Recently, I wrote a post about the purpose of warm-ups: the why’s, the what’s, and the how’s. If you haven’t read it, I recommend doing so before diving into this post.
Knowing that warm-ups are important and why, you would think that all singers would execute their warm-ups with thought and care all the time.
Sadly, this is not the case. I’ve taught many a student who just zones out after the first few repetitions of the warm-up, forgetting all my instruction and thus falling short of the warm-up’s intended goal.
Now, in the students’ defense, warm-ups are pretty repetitive. You sing the same pattern over, and over, and over again, all throughout your range – I get it; it’s easy for the brain to disengage when you appear to feeding it the same information again and again. It’s like those endless homework assignments your math teacher assigns you: why do I have to do 100 problems, you think, if I’ve proven I’ve mastered the concept after doing just 5?
Vocal warm-ups are not like those repetitive math assignments, however. Singing is not a one-skill event, ever. Unlike a math problem, you cannot just apply the same formulaic approach to every repetition of every warm-up. Your brain has to be engaged constantly – with the right things – for the warm-up to be effective.
So how can you keep yourself from getting bored and zoning out during warm-ups?
- Be mindful of the basics – i.e., posture and breathing. If you think about nothing else, at least make sure these foundational elements are in place. If you start singing with a collapsed rib cage, gaspy inhales, or shallow breaths, chances are you’ve gone on auto-pilot. It could also mean that you’re tired, or concentrating so hard on something else that you’ve forgotten about them. Whatever the case, back up and reset.
- Be mindful of the warm-up’s intended purpose. What is the goal of the exercise? Breath management? Articulation? Smooth registration? Every time you sing a new repetition – that’s a single segment of a single warm-up, by the way – ask yourself, “Did I achieve the goal for this exercise?” If the answer is no, do that repetition again, and again, and don’t move on to until you’ve achieved it. Yes, it might take forever to work this way, and no, you will not have the time or vocal stamina to do this every day. But you must do it frequently nonetheless. This is how we build technique.
- Be mindful of where you are in your range, and make technical adjustments accordingly. It’s easy to go on auto-pilot and, whoops, we’re already in high-note land! And you haven’t adjusted your breath or your resonance, and so your high notes start to tank. Again, warm-ups are different from the one-approach-fits-all math problems: different parts of your range require different things from your body, even if it’s all the same pattern.
- If your teacher gives you an instruction during your warm-ups, you must assume, unless told otherwise, that that instruction applies to every repetition of that warm-up. I can’t count the number of times I’ve reminded a student “silent inhale,” and they do it only for that repetition, forgetting about the instruction literally 5 seconds later when we’ve moved up or down one half step.
Building Mental Focus
If you haven’t realized this already, singing involves a lot of mental discipline. It takes time to develop this kind of focus.
- If you find yourself getting mentally tired after a couple warm-ups, take a break for a few minutes, and come back when you feel fresh again. It’s better to do this than to sing your warm-ups mindlessly with poor technique.
- Make sure that your practice space facilitates focus. If it’s too hot/cold/noisy/small/big/depressing/dry/smelly/whatever, and you don’t enjoy being in it, you’re going to have a hard time focusing on your singing. Make sure your space is comfortable and meets all your needs.
- Consider minimizing distractions. Distracted by your phone? Put it on silent and out of reach – in the next room, even. Find yourself gazing out the window too much? Pull the shade down or face the other direction. Family members getting in the way? Consider practicing when they’re not home, or request that they stay out of your practice space.
Just remember: be patient and honest with yourself. Practicing can be tedious at times, but the reward is well worth it!