There's no doubt a vocal warm up is a necessary way to prepare for a rehearsal or performance and to prevent injury to yourself. A short 5/10 minute selection of exercises is plenty to get you ready for action and even better if you pick the stuff that’s gonna get you in the right spot quickest. If you can get the warm up in quite a while before you actually need to use your voice, you've got plenty of time to sort any problems if they arise. That'll help avoid those last minute freak-outs!
The voice is different every day. No two days are the same as there are so many external factors which contribute to its state (weather/health/hydration/stress). It's very rare you can get on stage and feel absolutely perfect every performance, but including a warm up increases those chances so much more.
But what are the most efficient exercises to use and why do we do them? Having a clearer understanding of what's going on throughout each exercise will ensure you get the best for your voice and prepare you for the vocal marathon ahead.
As many of you will know, I'm pretty insistent on a daily stretch to keep the voice in tip-top shape. A regular work out will ensure the vocal cords are flexible and strong, whilst encouraging a vocal that is free yet controlled. Without getting over the passaggio (bridge/flip/crack/hell), you'll never be able to explore the full capabilities of your instrument.
Many of you will use the recordings from your sessions to warm up, but listed below are several exercises that you may wish to use in addition to your daily workout!:
- Straw glides. The back pressure created when phonating though a small cocktail straw helps to maintain better cord closure, so is excellent at ridding the voice of any breathiness. It can also help in stabilising the larynx, regulate breath control and stretch the vocal cords in a very safe way. Look out for an in depth breakdown of exercises and in an up and coming blog post!
- NG's. This sound is created by saying the word 'hung'. When you voice the 'ng', you'll feel your tongue and soft palette meet at the back of your mouth. Like the straw, this is an occluded exercise, so once again it's great at creating that back pressure of air to the vocal cords. It's also brilliant for helping to bridge the passaggio so use it on sirens from the very bottom of your range to the top (as far as feels comfortable) and back down again. I also like to use this on a 5 tone scale descending to the very lowest part of the range to warm up your low notes.
- Lip trills. Blowing air through closed, relaxed lips and voicing an 'uh' vowel will help to maintain that cord closure better. I like to use this one on a 1.5 or 2 octave scale to achieve the maximum stretch in the vocal cords. Placing the fingers into the fleshy part of the cheeks and raising them up can alleviate extra tension and help keep the lips vibrating freely.
- Tongue buzz (a personal fave). Similar effect as a lip trill, only the tongue is out of the mouth and you're blowing a raspberry. It can get rather spitty so step away from your teacher to maintain a pleasant working relationship! When the tongue is further forward it's out of the way. Therefore, the larynx can reach optimum height at the top of your range. It allows for a bit of extra stretch, even if it's just a semitone or two... every little helps! Keeping the tongue relaxed will train the tongue not to react to a change of pitch and is awesome for helping get rid of tongue tension.
- An 'A' Vowel. This is an excellent exercise for those of you that are breathy in the chest region of the range. When keeping the mouth wide and the tongue resting forward, make a repeated staccato "A" sound (as in cat). Keep the scale short (1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1) and use as little volume as possible, whilst keeping the sound clear and non-breathy. This will help to get the vocal cords working on their own instead of using excessive breath and/or muscle tension to bring them together.
- Sustains. Sustaining a note with vibrato can help to balance the tension in the vocal cords and will get you ready for those lengthy notes in your material. Use an 'N' at the start to create a mini back pressure with the airflow such as 'Nay'. Hit a sustain before coming down an arpeggio scale at all pitches. Vary the vowels like ‘Nay’, ‘No’ or ‘Nee’ and you will get to know which vowels work best for you making your repertoire easier.
- Vowel changes. Resonance varies HUGELY on different vowel shapes, which can be very off putting. So, you'll want to ensure that your voices stability is consistent as you change between them on melodies and lyrics. Following on from the exercise above, sustain your favourite vowel for two beats, then switch to another. For example: Nay > No. Hey, why not go crazy and add a third. Be sure to keep your balance and composure as you change between the vowels, and challenge yourself in the trickier parts of your voice too.
There are many ways in which you can trial these exercises, so it's really about experimenting and see what works best for you. You can find voice training apps such as VocalizeU's "SingPro" app that will guide you through common scale patterns. Or if you know your voice well enough, you can just bash the notes on a piano app and sing from there.
After introducing new warm ups to your routine, try out one of the trickier songs in your rep to see if it's had a positive influence!
If after reading this, you've realised it's still a minefield with too much to comprehend, just get in touch for a session! I'll be more than happy to help you work out what's best for you and guide you through a tailor-made warm up sesh. Just head to https://natalieandreouvoice.10to8.com to find a suitable slot.