I know right, yawn. And I do know what it’s like. You get to the venue and all of your plans go out of the window because you’re so focussed on the running order, making sure you can hear yourself on stage (never happens) or just generally fretting about whether anybody will show up, or if they do show up, will they stay to listen to you; that warming up seems to be the last thing on your mind.
It’s also not very rock and roll.
However there’s also nothing very rock and roll about completely messing up your voice. I guess that most athletes wouldn’t even consider competing without warming up. There can be a common misconception that warming up the voice is unnecessary, but please let me assure you that regardless of the genre, be it popular or classical, professional singers will warm up their voices before they go on stage. Especially touring artists. So much money is tied up in touring these days, that if you ruin your voice and cancel a gig then that could cost ten of thousands – not to mention a load of grief from disappointed fans. So what are the benefits to warming up our voices?
- Warming up will help to relax the muscles of your larynx and eliminate tension
- Warming up will gently stretch the muscles and ligaments of the vocal cords/folds ready for singing
- Warming up will increase the blood flow to the vocal cords/folds enabling them to become more supple and flexible
- Warming up will help you to smooth through your vocal bridges
- Warming up will help you to reach the extremes of your range
- Warming up will help to prevent injury
- Warming up will reinforce good technique
- Warming up will help you to focus
There are a couple of common misconceptions when it comes to warming up the voice.
- Warming up the voice doesn’t necessarily have to be an overtly physical exercise! In groups like choirs etc. it is not unusual to see people jumping up and down, which may be generally good for the body but I doubt the vocal cords/folds will benefit specifically.
- Warm-ups are not vocal exercises. Vocal warm-ups should be gentle and slow and gradually become increasingly louder until reaching normal speaking pitch. They should not be vocally taxing.
- Warm-ups are a waste of time. Seriously. Not warming up is a false economy, plus you could get a really good vocal warm-up together that you can do whilst you’re doing other things like driving to the venue for example, or setting up your gear. You will get so much more out of a rehearsal or performance if you warm-up first.
Here's how I would recommend warming up the voice.
Gently, slowly and progressively.
- Start an hour before you know you have to sing simply by gently humming 5 tone major scales throughout your range. Or hum anything, “Happy Birthday” for example (not the Stevie Wonder version).
- Next do the same thing but on a really creaky hum, almost like vocal fry
- Next you can glide all the way through your range from the bottom to the very top on an “ng” sound (as in the word “siNG”). Again doesn’t have to be loud or aggressive. Nice and easy is the way to do it.
- Lip trills, or “bubbles” are a really great way to warm up the voice. These are really useful on scales and arpeggios (if you know any) or just for gliding from the bottom to the top of your range.
- Another great one for the whole range is pitching a note high up in your head voice and yawning it all the down to a creaky vocal fry on a really low “non-note” at the voice bottom of your range. Really relaxing and good for the vocal cords/folds.
- My all time favourite however is the straw. For this you need a really thin straw, the kind you get to stir your drink with. Vocalise through the straw much in the same way that you do with bubbles. Using a straw has a really nice cushioning effect on the vocal folds/cords and it also helps to stretch and thin them out. This is a particularly useful exercise if you feel a bit husky or tired.
None of the above needs to be particularly loud. BUT it is important that you exercise the WHOLE of your range, especially if you’re planning on singing above your bridge. There’s no use just exercising your voice in your low range, you need to do it in the high range as well.
So the moral of the story is to warm up. Look after your voice. You only get one and it’s not hard for any of the above to over time become an excellent habit.