Think if you will of a game of tennis. If you don’t warm up before the game, initially you might not notice anything wrong. However as you start to stretch for shots, move faster, volley harder, you begin to realise that there are muscles working beyond their comfort zone. By this time, it’s too late. The muscles have been strained, stretching too much too soon, and you know that walking the next morning might be a slight issue!
The same is true of singing. At first you may not notice the damage that is being done to your voice by not warming up. However as you begin to push yourself, that’s when you feel it and by the time you feel it, it’s often too late.
As with warming up your body for sports, warming up the voice must be done in stages, each of which has specific benefits for us in terms of warming up, and of general vocal stamina. This post is the result of a request from a customer for us to unpack the content on the Musicademy Essential Vocal Warm up CD. We’ll look at the different types of warm up exercise used and what they do for the voice. Click on “Read more” to read more!
Breathing Exercises (Track 2)
Breathing is the foundation for all singing. Waking up your breathing apparatus slowly by starting with long deep breaths, and then progressing onto more demanding breathing exercises gives your diaphragm a chance to warm up before you put it through too much. Breathing to a pulse helps to learn to control how much breath is being used as you breathe in and out, and also helps you to get used to your own capacity.
Scales (Track 3-7)
Beginning with short scale wakes up the voice without pushing too much in any direction. You should always start a warm up on a note that is comfortable, as during the course of the exercise you will begin to push higher or lower into your range. Beginning with a humming sound gently eases the voice into action, before moving on to vowels. Using different vowel sounds during the exercises gets you used to using the different facial muscles and positions that are required to make each sound. Elongated vowel sounds, such as those used on tracks 4 and 5, work on getting these vowels sounding rounded and warm. Introducing jumps (track 6) into the exercises requires your diaphragm to begin to working harder, as it is now required to not only support longer passages, but also shorter individual notes.
Slurs (Tracks 8-10)
Slurring between notes is good for working on the strength of the voice, as it requires unbroken support from the bottom note to the top. It is especially important to work on slurs over the break in your voice (from chest to head voice – more of that on our Worship Vocals DVDs), as ultimately you want to be able to shift between registers with no obvious change in the strength or sound of your voice.
Small Intervals (Tracks 11-13)
Working with smaller intervals, often it is harder to get things exactly in tune, especially when repeating the same two note pattern a number of times. It is essential when doing this sort of exercise that each note is being hit separately, rather than sliding around between the tones (singing like a piano, not like a trombone). This is good training for the vocal muscles. Using the diaphragm for short bursts (tracks 13/14) helps to be more accurate with the tuning, and helps give the sound some kick, which will also strengthen the diaphragm muscles.
Arpeggios (Tracks 15-17)
Arpeggios do not only test tuning, but also the ability to keep the support and strength of the voice over a wider area of pitch. To join shorter, arpeggiated notes with longer scalic phrases in an exercise works the diaphragm, and shows the ability to control it effectively through its different actions. The more arpeggios are practised, the better the distinction between notes will become, and tuning will be more accurate when jumping between the notes.
Differing Consonant Sounds (Tracks 18-21)
The use of the lips properly begins when we add the consonants. By using fast moving phrases full of consonants, the mouth and lips are being introduced to moving quickly and clearly through the phrases. As with any tongue twister, the more you practise it, the clearer it will become. Using sounds like ‘c’ or ‘t’ as a springboard for the diaphragm helps to give the start of a sound a stronger entry (track 21). Being able to do these exercises without tripping over the sounds wakes up the muscles in your mouth and will ultimately improve your diction.
Putting it all together (Tracks 23-27)
These final few exercises build on the strength of the voice over the register break, whilst also focussing on diction, diaphragm usage and breathing. When we sing we need to be thinking about more than one thing at a time, and these exercises help to put all of the pieces together. If used correctly, they will help to strengthen your voice, and to increase your range. The final thing that is integral to singing is listening. Track 27 invites the student to hear what is happening and to improvise- a skill that is often lost by singers who take a more paper oriented approach to learning. By exploring and being creative with the voice, you can often find little stylistic marks within your voice that makes you as a singer unique.
Exploring your voices’ boundaries and learning what your instrument does can be liberating for any singer. If used correctly, these warm up exercises can be used to improve and strengthen your voice, ultimately helping you to achieve your potential as a singer. In order to do this, you need to put in time and effort, but once the hours are logged you will begin to notice an increase in your range, diaphragm exercises will become easier as the muscle becomes stronger, and the sound you produce will be clearer and stronger.
Cat White teaches vocals for Musicademy. From choral beginnings she gained a vocal scholarship with the Berkshire Young Musicians Trust at 15. She has worked as a soloist performing most extensively in classical, musical theatre, and contemporary music. She has worked with choirs, jazz and swing bands, chamber groups and contemporary bands. Cat also works as a youth worker, and having recently graduated from London School of Theology is now working on an MA.