Tips on warming up your voice for the job
Blog by Jane Parker under Live, Recording & Production
If you sing, whether as lead or backing vocalist, then you need to look after your vocal instrument, just as you look after the rest of your music related gear.
Your vocal instrument is made up of muscle, ligament, nerves, tendons, cartilage, joints and blood vessels. It is important to get it ready for singing because this job is quite different to the one of speaking.
When we sing the voice needs to:
• keep in tune
• sustain long notes
• sing over a wider range of pitches than speaking
• sing between registers (e.g. chest to head)
• move quickly between notes
• use different vocal qualities e.g. belt, breathy, speech, yodel, slides, creak, grunt etc
• produce vibrato (at times)
• jump narrow to wide intervals
• use quiet to loud dynamics
• express emotion
• sing for extended periods of time
• possibly sing several nights a week
Think about athletes. They have the natural ability to run, jump, hit or throw. But they always work with a coach and trainer in order to ensure they can maximise their full potential, maintain form and minimise risk of injury. Athletes always prepare for training and competition by warming up.
You need to approach singing in a similar way to an athlete approaching his/her sport. Start by engaging some warm up strategies to help your voice do the job that you want it to and to last the distance.
Is a piece of string? Some voices can warm up in a short space of time like 5-10 mins, others need longer like 20-40mins. There is no set rule here. You will need to figure out what works for you. Just don’t over do it as you may cause vocal fatigue - this is when the voice gets husky, loses strength, tone and range. You don’t want that just before the gig starts!
It’s always good to start with a few minutes of warm ups before getting into your daily vocal exercises and practice. I am hoping you do this, if not then I highly recommend you do. Find a reputable vocal coach to help you with this.
Warm ups need to happen before rehearsals as well as performances. Where possible warm up within 60-90 minutes of going on stage.
I also recommend you do similar exercises to ‘cool down’ after the gig. To get your voice back in balance.
Here are a few warm up suggestions to get you started.
Vocal fold stretches
1. Revs: On a low note in your range using a ‘m’ sound make revving noises - like you’re imitating a motorbike revving. Use your abdominal muscles to help you - in the same way they help you when you cough. Do this x3-4 breath lengths
2. Rising revs: Now on the same sound move the pitch up each rev, go up about 7 times then start again x3-4.
3. V glides: On a firm ‘v’ sound glide your voice slowly up from the lowest note to the highest note you can make. Do this 3-4 times.
4. Siren: On the sound ‘ng’ as in the word ‘sung’, glide from the bottom to the top of your range and back down in one breath. Make sure your jaw is down and relaxed and that the tongue isn’t too bunched up at the back of the mouth. You may notice little flips or cracks but sing through these. After a few weeks you may notice the range smooths out.
5. Lip Trill glides: Pop two fingers under the corner of your lips and push up a bit to release tension from the lips. Now blow a bubble. Then add sound, an EUX vowel works well here. Now glide up and down as far as you like. Start over a smaller range and increase each time till you’ve covered your range
6. Lip Trill scales: Now do the Lip Trill over a scale Octave Arpeggios (1,3,5,8, 5,3,1) are a good start, or Two Octave Tritones (1,3,5 then same up the octave). Then try other scales you know.
7. Lip Trill melody: Now Lip Trill the melody of a song from your set list
8. Alternative melody: You can also use a ‘m’, ‘v’ or ‘ng’ over a melody
There are many variations of vocal warm up sounds and scales you can try. Experiment to find what works for you. Check out YouTube for more examples and obviously any good vocal coach will be able to give you guidance.
iSing magazine has some amazing articles to help you understand your instrument better plus more vocal exercises ideas.
It may not seem very rock 'n' roll to do vocal exercises, but if you want to sing unhampered, maintain a long career, and avoid vocal injury then I urge you to start looking after your instrument. Unlike your gear, the vocal folds cannot be replaced.
This blog was contributed by Line Hilton, Vocal Coach/Performing Arts Medicine Specialist and Founder of iSing Magazine. Use code X62016 to get 3 free issues. Follow the instructions in this diagram to get your free issues from iTunes App store or Google Play Newstand.
Image credits: Bluetree Publishing & Luis Hernandez
vocal training, ising magazine, vocal coaching, vocal singing warm up exercises