Why do we need to WARM UP?
“The warm up is an opportunity to coordinate your voice from your vocal load and behaviours of the day before. You'll be far less likely to crack and strain in live performance if there is balance in breath and larynx control.”
- Chris Johnson, Vocal Coach
Just as an athlete would need to get the body ready for strenuous activity, it is imperative that the singer does the same. You wouldn't run a marathon without preparation! The body undergoes the same pressures and stresses as a performer, whether it’s a one off gig in front of 50,000 people or 8 shows a week on a West End stage. So some sort of physical movement to get the blood flowing, and to the vocal chords especially, is key.
You feel so much better after a warmup too, so much more confident knowing your voice is ready and raring to go! If your larynx is a little high for example, your warm up exercises can get you in the right spot. No one wants to figure that out on a D5 in front of a live audience. It’s very rare that you can step out on stage and be absolutely perfect from the get go and just singing a song as a warm up is not advisable.
"Singers who believe they need no warm-up delude themselves" says Richard Miller, Vocal Pedagogy Pioneer and Voice Scientist. "They subject their listeners to what should have taken place in private. Not only that, using opening material for warm up can be perilous for vocal health. The intricate muscles of the larynx need time to stretch and in that initial singing period, the voice can be heavy with thickness and there can be bad oscillation of the vocal folds.” What he’s basically saying is you’re likely to ‘over-sing’… breath control is likely to be unbalanced so chord closure may be forced.
A short warm of 5-10 minutes is usually enough. Any longer than this and the voice can tire and fatigue quite easily. If your voice is still not ready, you’re better off doing a small number of 5/10 minute warm ups across the day, than pushing through for 45 minutes. It’s literally pointless… slow and steady wins the race!
Get the blood flowing with an initial physical warmup. Start off with:
- shoulder rolls
- rolling up and down through the spine
- turn the head from side to side/up and down
- get your face moving! Stretch your mouth and tongue (probably best done in privacy as you'll look completely bonkers).
- massaging in between the jaw, just in front of the ears
Now on to the vocal side of things and getting the chords agile and flexible!
Humming and light lip trills are ideal for getting the blood flowing to the chords. These kind of ‘occluded’ exercises keeps the pressure on the vocal folds low and restricts excessive air flow at this initial stage of warming up. Then, opening the vowel slightly on 'EE' or 'OOH' on scales or siren glides can further help to stretch the muscles. It's important to keep tabs on balance and ensuring there are no cracks or breaks, which may be due to excess breath or your larynx flying all over the place. Be persistent. Warm ups are a personal thing, so from this point forward you may want to try different vowels sustained over varied notes in your range which will be suited to the performance you might have later on. You can use crescendos/diminuendos and staccato/legato variants to hone your warm up towards a trouble spot that you may be experiencing on the day.
Unfortunately for the guys, you may often require a slightly longer warm up than the ladies! Your vocal folds are denser and larger. Get out of your chest/bottom voice more frequently during your warmup and your negotiation for higher pitches is much more manageable.
Strategies should be put in place to give us the best chance in life. If you want to be the best vocalist you can be then get into good singing habits. By training regularly through warmups and specific exercises, your voice will improve and you'll be on top of your game, and you will be ready for any kind of live performance.
Your best bet is to book in with a vocal coach regularly! *ahem.
They can assist and guide you through a short warm up which you can record and use every day. If there are any tricky points in your voice that you stumble across, a vocal coach can help you get over those hurdles with a few adjustments in vowel tuning and tongue placement.
And as your technique gets stronger, warmups become shorter! Even more reason to get cracking sooner.
What’s 15 minutes in 24 hours anyhow?
'Solutions For Singers' - Richard Miller (Oxford University Press, 2004)
'Ep1 - Warm Ups / Compression' - The Naked Vocalist Podcast (October 17th, 2013)