In my last article “Bare Essentials” I discussed many issues that a singer can’t do without; among the list was Vocal Warm-ups. Actually I’d put it at the top of the list! Why? Well a vocal warm-up has so many pay-offs for the singer that it’s hard to ignore as a ‘must do’ discipline.
Now before we tackle the ‘whys’ and the ‘hows’ let’s get something straight – Warm-ups are a professional discipline. Many singers feel intimidated by their instrumental peers when conducting a warm-up. I know that when I do my warm-ups it draws snide remarks (often in jest) which can leave me feeling a little bit nerdy. I have even had colleagues remark, “Who do you think you are? Pavarotti.” This friendly banter can intimidate the less secure vocalist into a ‘why bother’ approach. Unfortunately, when a singer doesn’t warm-up everyone suffers.
The singer suffers because their voice will have reduced agility, stamina and health; and the band suffers because their singer will simply not perform at their optimum. The fact remains that your audience orientates to the singer. Simply stated – if your singer gives a lack-lustre performance then your audience might think the whole band is off its game. So what should a warm-up look like? Firstly, it doesn’t need to be fancy. Over the years there have been many cool exercises ‘do the rounds’ but just remember that the more complex the scale/exercise the more challenging it is to do well. Always apply the KISS theory – Keep It Simple Stupid! A good warm-up will take approximately 15-20 minutes starting with an easy scale covering a perfect 5th.
Choose a vowel such as Ah or Ee and work the voice over an octave. As the voice starts to condition (you should actually sense a warmth in the neck area around your larynx) move beyond an octave. You can use an arpeggio (root, 3rd, 5th, 8ve ↗↘) to do this; and just to mix it up a bit alternate the vowels between Ah and Ee. After about 10 minutes of this kind of work (and there are countless scales/exercises that fit the bill) introduce some sirens using an NG [Sing].
Try to work the siren through your complete vocal range travelling through your register transitions (for some singers these little passages might present as gaps where the voice cuts out altogether). After about 15 minutes (and only after the voice has been stretched and conditioned for use) sing through one of your easier songs. Try to pick one that does not have overly challenging or extreme notes. If you don’t have an easy piece in your rep list – sing the National anthem! All of this, including the National anthem should have been done in a relatively quiet space.
Important point: singing through songs during sound check does not constitute as a warm-up! If you want the sound check to be representative of your performance level output (and I can assure you that this is what your sound engineer is after) then step onto stage for the sound check with a fully warmed voice. Incidentally, this will also go some way to helping you achieve better foldback levels during the gig! Finally, and you’re not going to like this very much, NEVER warm-up in the car! Bummer. Why not? Well two reasons actually.
Firstly you are not in a good position for singing when seated in a car. Your sitting position reduces your physical ability to access your entire instrument’s muscular support and the result of this is reduced breath management which may cause increased vocal labour.
Secondly, and most importantly, the aural environment of your car is relatively loud. In order for you to hear yourself over the audible levels of the car you need to sing 20dB louder. My van, while idling and with the radio turned off, registers 57dB which means I need to be singing at least 77dB to hear myself. Sustaining this level is counter to the ideals of a good warm-up which necessitates a slow, even and gradual stretching of the muscles.
Singing above 75dB won’t assist those ideals! Warm-ups aren’t simply a bare essential – they’re an absolute must! A good warm-up will stretch the muscles and direct blood flow to the larynx. When done consistently throughout a vocalist’s career warm-ups lead to prolonged stamina and go a long way towards insuring against vocal damage. Do you regularly warm-up?
Does your band’s singer regularly warm-up? Make it a priority...the bands reputation may well rest on it!
A link to the original article (and many more that delve deeper into the world of vocal care) can be found here, courtesy of Dr.Dan: http://www.djarts.com.au/articles/vocal-warm-ups/