Why are vocal warm-ups so important? Some people on the Internet may tell you that it’s not necessary to perform “silly” ” warm-ups. However, this is not entirely true. These people may suggest singing easy songs as warm-ups.
Perhaps this may be all you need when your intention is solely to warm up your voice before doing a performance. On the other hand, it is not advisable that you skip these “silly” warm-ups every day that you practice.
Practicing singing is not just about practicing the songs that you want to sing. Incidentally, warm-ups are not just for warming up the voice.
So what is the point of practicing vocal warm-ups?
Vocal Warm-ups are about Technique
Just like any runner or sports professional doesn’t only practice their sport, they also incorporate activities that train their muscles: they lift weights, cross train. They also practice technique- independent aspects of their sport like throwing, catching, batting, etc.
The same goes for singing.
It is necessary for you to learn your technique independent of repertoire. Then, you apply the technique that you have practiced to the songs that you’re singing.
You will find that it is much easier, once you already know a technique, to apply it to multiple songs, instead of having to try to figure out the technique with every new song that you try to learn.
Types of Vocal Warm-ups
In today’s screen-focused culture, more and more people are suffering from poor posture. To counter the amount of time we’ve spent bent in unnatural postures, you need to get into the habit of practicing good posture. It’s important for everyone, because it helps you avoid neck pain, back pain and joint stress. But it’s especially important for singers. Having proper posture helps you to maximize breath capacity and improve breath control which are the foundation for healthy singing.
Learn how to achieve Proper Singing Posture (and get a free cheat sheet) in my post How Proper Singing Posture Helps You Be a Better Singer.
2. Breathing Technique
You probably don’t give much thought to your breathing. I mean, you do it and 15-20 times a minute, so what’s the to think about, right?
When it comes to singing, though, it really does near thinking about. You see, the breath is where the power of your voice comes from. If you’re not paying attention to it, you’re not tapping into a huge potential to transform your singing voice.
Having good breathing technique helps you:
- Keep an even tone of voice
- Stay in tune
- Reduce vocal strain
- Control your dynamics with precision
Join my free breathing technique course to learn how to improve your breath capacity and breath support!
3. Phonation Warm-ups
The actual sound that your vocal folds produce is called phonation. High sounds, low sounds, all the sounds between- phonation is literally the vibrations that make them.
In order to produce that sound, your vocal folds have to come together. The air that you exhale makes them vibrate which produces a sound wave. That sound wave bounces around your pharynx (which is made up of your mouth, nasal passages, hard and soft pallets, tongue, larynx, trachea, and esophagus) and comes out as your voice.
I get into a great deal of detail about exactly how this happens in my article about singing high notes.
It’s important for you to be able to produce those sound waves with as little tension as possible. Performing gentle phonation exercises will prepare your voice to sing without tension. When you cannot do that, it reduces that length of time you can sing in one session, and can lessen the life of your voice.
4. Vocal Resonance Warm-ups
Vocal Resonance warm-ups exist to teach you how to “place your voice” for optimal tone production and sound quality. Most vocal warm-ups revolve around this aspect of singing. Resonance is the reason most people seek voice lessons in the first place- you want your voice to sound good.
So how do you produce resonant tone? Remember that bit about phonation creating sound that bounces around your skull and it comes out as your unique voice? You can manipulate that sound by changing the shape of your pharynx.
Exercises focused on vowel shapes, cutting off the nasopharynx, and opening your mouth vertically and not horizontally are all about changing the shape of your pharynx to affect your tone production.
Let’s do a little exercise. Close your moth and hum, and while you are humming pay attention to these things:
- Where do you feel the vibrations? Maybe your chest, your throat, your lips, your forehead?
- Can you purposely focus your vibrations elsewhere?
- Clench your teeth while you hum. How does the vibrations change?
- Open your teeth (keeping your lips closed) and relax your tongue. Notice how the vibrations are different.
In order to produce a consistent sound every time you sing, you need to do vocal resonance exercises to hone your tone quality.
I’ll be writing a post all about vocal resonance in the near future. Join my newsletter to get notified about it!
5. Expression Exercises
Think about the last time you were sad. I’m sure there’s a song you specifically listened to. But why? How did the artist do that?
Basic chordal structures of popular music are virtually the same (just listen to 4 Chords by Axis of Awesome if you don’t believe me.) There’s something else that makes you feel connected to a song.
Think about a song covered by different artists. One of my recent favorites is “The Sound of Silence.” While I love the original, the cover by Disturbed really hits me in the feels. Another one is “Zombie” by the Cranberries. Again, love the original, but the cover by Bad Wolves has a more profound effect emotionally to me. Why?
Expression is the thing that sets mediocre singers from the true artists. Each artist uses these fundamentals differently. An artist asks him/herself, “Can the listener feel my song?”
There are several expressive elements, but to name a few: dynamics, phrasing, tempo, articulation, and even orchestration (though a single voice cannot do this, a choir could) come to mind. When you listen to a piece of music that really speaks to you, chances are the artist is employing expressive qualities.
Of course, you could come up with these expressive qualities as you learn a song since it’s very much about how they connect you to a piece of music. That being said, the physical actions that you must perform to produce these expressions need to be built into your muscle memory just as all other physical skills.
I’ll be writing an article on Expression (with exercises!) soon. Join my newsletter to be notified about it!
Consistently Practicing Vocal Warm-ups Build Muscle Memory
Consider this: does a gymnast learn front hand springs or a football player learn how to catch a football by only practicing them a couple times? Do they improve without revisiting these skills repeatedly?
No. They practice these skill individually, systematically, and consistently.
After all, athletes need to these actions to be second nature to them so that they can focus on the coordination of all their skills. Likewise, singing is just as much of a physical pursuit, requiring the precise coordination of multiple muscles.
I mean, just look at all those tiny little muscles. And those are only the ones inside your trachea.
Remember that you have to coordinate all the muscles of the whole pharynx.You don’t want to leave it to chance that your muscles will just do it every time you sing a song. Building your the muscle memory of your voice gives you the ability to predict exactly how your voice will respond to a new piece of music. As a result, you’ll pick music that fits your voice using more than just trial and error, saving you time and frustration.
That doesn’t mean that you’ll never challenge yourself to a difficult piece- it means that you’ll know before going into it that it will require more patience. Furthermore, it will also help you be more successful when you challenge yourself.
Sometimes, You Just Need a Fast Warm-Up
Of course, sometimes you have no time because you’re running late to rehearsal (or, gasp! a performance) and you’re going to miss warm-ups. For you, my friend, there’s I have a solution that is fast and helps you work on important vocal skills. Using The Best Warm-ups for When You Have No Time, there’s no excuse to just sing any old song to warm up.
Vocal Exercises Train Specific Skills for the Whole Voice
Regularly practicing “silly” voice warm-ups will bring an awareness to your singing that you can only experience by doing the work.
Singing with awareness will also allow you to know sooner when you’re reaching your edge so you can call it quits before you start losing your voice. That knowledge protects your voice from injury.
Finally, practicing vocal warm-ups will also help you to improve your skills throughout your entire range. Most pieces of music that test any particular skill, will only do so in a small range of your voice. Vocal warm-ups that practice that same skill outside of repertoire will allow you to work on it throughout your whole voice. That gives you the edge to tackle ANY song within your tessitura that challenges the skill.
How’s that for efficiency?
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