The Importance of Cooling Down the Voice

If you’re not warming up, you’re probably not cooling down

You’ve just finished your gig and you feel awesome.  Your voice has lasted (for the most part) and now you want to nonchalantly pretend to pack your gear down whilst looking out into the crowd in hope that somebody wants to come up and congratulate you on, or at the very least talk to you about your performance.  If they don’t come to you, you’ll probably mosey on over to the bar, (slowly, to give people a chance to congratulate you) and get yourself a pint and talk to your mates (or anybody who has actually come over to congratulate you).  

Funnily enough, this is where you’re going to do the most damage to your voice.  

By now the sound engineer has turned the loud music back on and you find yourself talking, loudly, drinking, laughing, flirting…..etc. for a couple of hours.  You have a couple more pints, go out for a kebab or a pizza and manage to crawl into your bed at 2-3am and wonder why when you wake up the next morning (afternoon) you have no voice.  

Not good. 

You probably have some vocal fold oedema (posh swelling) and maybe some acid-reflux irritation and really dry cords because you’re dehydrated.  And then if you’re on tour (God forbid because that means you’ve had no sleep on a bus with the air-con on all night) then you’ve got to do the whole thing again that evening.  

So how to break the cycle – or at least disrupt if for a while?

The answer is quite simply to cool down.

You can do exactly the same exercises that you do to warm up.  Again, my favourite is the straw by far.  Cooling down is really going to help you to preserve your voice.  Instead of rushing off the stage to meet your adoring public, take time to pack down your gear, all the while humming through your range  (nobody will hear you do this) and using the creaky hum and the “ng” sound as well.  If there is a back stage (if not, go outside) and use the straw to get through your range a couple of times.  

Avoid having vacuous conversations with people in the bar.  Avoid having to raise your voice over loud music.  I know that it’s beneficial to schmooze after a gig but sometimes you can really wreck your voice in that environment.  Remember this is your job and sometimes you can’t mix business with pleasure.  If people want to know more about you, then make sure that you have business cards etc. etc. that you can hand out, or arrange to meet or phone them.  This may not seem like a load of fun to be honest, but if you gig on a regular basis sometimes this will be necessary to avoid harming your voice.  If you can’t get out of the bar and you have to speak to people, please, please make sure that you cool down immediately after your gig to avoid any damage to your voice. 

The Importance of Warming Up the Voice

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.