A good friend of mine and amazing guitar player and instructor, Khris Miller and I were swapping lessons. Vocal lessons for guitar lessons. We do it often. It's extremely fun because we both are at a point where we understand the concept of mastering an instrument, while learning a new one. Khris asked me, "What exercises should I do to warm up? Are vocal exercises good to warm up with?"
Gooooooood question. The answer might seem easy to some. But when I thought about it, I realized, it's actually a bit complicated. Of course vocal exercises can be warm ups. But which ones? And how so? That's what makes the answer to this question kind of fun.
- Warming up should be simple as warming up. The purpose of warming up is to loosen the body to prevent injury when doing physically demanding activity. Warming up takes time. Some days it takes longer than others. Sometimes the amount of sleep you had makes a difference, sometimes it depends what you just ate, if you're hungover, ect ... As we age, warming up seems to take longer and longer. I've warmed up many many students over the years, as well as myself. When I first started coaching, I was impatient, I wanted to have my voice ready to go quickly as possible. I wanted my students to warm up quickly as possible. After growing up a bit, just a little bit, I've learned the hard way, warming up takes time. A lot of time. And it should be relaxing. To me, there really is no set exercise for warming up. There are countless exercises that can be used. Even running through a tune can be a warm up. Like everything else in vocals, it's all about the approach. Whatever you choose to warm up with, it should be easy. It should be something that doesn't frustrate you. If you have lots of groggily sounds, tons of flipping going on, hard to connect or no head voice, GREAT! You're probably warming up correctly! If you try and sound your best for your warm ups, chances are you're pushing it and trying way too hard. You're defeating the purpose of warming up. It's like waking up, stretching 10 seconds and running the 100 meter dash as full speed. You're gonna have a bad time. You will feel it later. And it won't feel good.
- Approach your vocal warm up with sigh. Get the air moving, drop your jaw, flip all over the place, slowly get your head voice working. Don't push for high notes, let them come gradually. Take a tune you're very familiar with, run it monotone, softly, focus on the diphthongs and consonants, work the jaw, make sure the airflow is coming steadily through the mouth and not the nose.
- Do not rush. Rushing is bad. Those high notes can wait. Before you mix in to those Mariah Carey or Steve Perry notes at full volume, do them in a light hard to connect head voice. Ease into them softly with a steady air flow. It's ok. No one cares if it's not the final product. Only you. When the head voice coordination starts kicking in, the mucus is out of the way, your lungs are in singing mode, and the blood flow in your throat is going strong, THEN start building those higher AND lower notes. Your vocal cords will thank you for being patient later in the day and the rest of your life.
- Wee's, Way's, and Whoa's are my absolute favorite to warm up on. I start on an A4 (A above middle C) in light breathy head voice (falsetto) and work my way down the octave to A3 (A below middle C). It doesn't always start out easy. But I don't force it. If my head voice takes a few minutes or more to start coordinating I don't fret. I know with a bit of patience and relaxation and consistency, I'll have my head voice and mix voice rocking soon. Head voice before a high mix voice. Always.
Sliding! Another favorite or mine. Starting around a C3, sometimes lower or higher, depends on the time of day, (early mornings means lower, later in the day usually means higher) I'll slide up a perfect 5th. Any syllable can work. I enjoy starting with an "A" sound. I focus on getting the full diphthong going. Eh - Ee = Ā. I vocalize a triplet on the root note, and then sing it one more time, hold it, and then SLOOOOWLY slide up a fifth without altering my vowel, maintaining air flow and volume, and holding off on the "ee" sound, the second half of the diphthong until I let off the 5th. It can be difficult to hear and do right at first. And that's ok. I find the process of sliding through every pitch in the middle of a fifth without building tension and volume on the ascent is a great way to really get the voice ready to sing as well as get the control going.
Just about every other vocal exercise. Almost every vocal exercise can work for a warm up. Really. But it's how you approach them. A lot of exercises focus on strength, agility, tone, and range. It's good to know the purpose of each exercise and what part it works. If an exercise focuses on low end of the tone, don't go 100% if you use it for a warm up. You're not going to achieve the low end you want for your vocal tone during a warm up. If an exercise focuses on increasing your high range (which a lot do when done correctly even if you're not singing high notes), don't focus on reaching the highest note you can hit while warming up. Focus on getting every syllable out and your air flow doing the exercise. Get that head voice working. Even on an exercise you use in a big full mix. Once again, your vocal cords will thank you.
Listen to yourself!
- Sometimes it's good to remember your voice can be a solo instrument (good future blog post). Listen to your voice. Don't just run scales off a MP3 piano track and expect to be warmed up. It's easy to get caught up matching pitch with the piano through the speakers instead of really listening to what's going right and wrong with your voice. Take the other instruments away when warming up sometimes. You'll be surprised at what you hear. The voice doesn't necessarily need exact pitches to warm up.
So keep it simple. Really simple. Keep it slow. Really slow. Treat your vocal cords with respect as you would the rest of your body. Once you're warmed up, you're good the rest of the day. Unless you take a nap. Don't even get my started on warming up after a nap. Ugh.
- Air Flow
- Head Voice
- Let it flip!
- Open your mouth
- Any exercise or tune can work as a warm up if you follow rules 1-6.