How to Warm Up Your Voice
Warming up for any instrument is extremely important. If you don’t warm up before you sing or play, you won’t play to the best of your ability. In singing, it is essential to be properly warmed up so that you are not only optimizing your sound, but also not hurting your voice. Singing without warming up can be detrimental to your vocal health, just like going on a long run without a stretching first can be detrimental to your legs! Above all, your voice is a muscle--if it isn’t being warmed up and used properly, you can strain it. If you hurt your voice especially while you are a young singer, you can hurt it permanently. Don’t take the risk! Warm up EVERY time you practice!
Here is how vocal pedagogy tells us is the best way to warm up to make sure our voice is ready to sing to the best of our ability, while keeping our voice healthy.
Body warm up. Our voices are affected by our entire body--try singing with your shoulders raised and tense. It makes it harder to breathe deeply and get a free, relaxed tone. Now try singing with your first completely clenched. That tension moves up to your arm, to your chest, to your throat. This is why stretching is so important! Make sure you are loose and relaxed everywhere in your body.
Try standing and bending down from the waist as though you were reaching for your toes, and slowly straighten up, starting from the bottom of your back slowly moving up to your neck.
If you have shoulder tension, try raising your shoulders up to your ears as high as they can possibly go, holding them up as high as you can for at least 15 seconds, and then completely releasing all the tension all at once and letting your shoulders fall down.
Find what parts of your body are the most tense when you sing, and stretch them before you start practicing/performing!
Breathing. Our breath is everything in singing! Make sure you breathe from your belly. It should come out when you breathe in, and in when you breathe out (opposite of what we normally think). Think of your lungs like a balloon--when they fill up, they get bigger, thus making your tummy come out. When you let the air out of your lungs, they deflate just like a balloon, so your belly will also deflate and come inward. Your shoulders and chest should not move when you breathe. If they do, that means you aren’t taking as big of breaths as possible! When you do breathing exercises, focus on taking deep, low breaths from your belly.
Try breathing in for four beats and breathing out on “sh” for 8, then 12, then 16 beats. Conserve your breath for as long as you can!
Another great exercise is practicing what I like to call the “plop.” Put one hand on your lower belly, and one on your shoulder. Try taking as deep of a breath as you possibly can, feeling how your tummy “plops” out, and your shoulder does not move. You need to “plop” in your music when there is a long phrase that you can’t breathe in, but only 1 beat to breathe before it!
Humming/lip trills. We always want to start with something that is very light on our voice to slowly start to open up to full on singing. Humming or doing lip trills is a great way to ease into singing, since they do not strain your vocal folds. Make sure everything is in a comfortable, middle range.
Try humming or doing lip trills just sliding around in your middle range really lightly. Then, move into easy, simple 5 note scales or simple arpeggios.
You don’t need to spend too much time on this step, unless you feel especially groggy or feel a lot of tension in your voice.
Simple patterns. This is where we finally start to really sing, though we are still focusing on making our voice very light and not adding any pressure/tension.
Try doing the same simple scales or arpeggios you did while humming/lip trilling but this time, on an “ee” or “ah” vowel. “Ee” is especially good for if you want to make sure your voice is very focused or resonant, and “ah” is good to practice dropping your jaw and creating space in your mouth.
Expanding range. This is where we really get into using our full voice. The goal is to slowly move into our highest and lowest registers after spending time in our middle range during the previous step. Trying to hit really high or really low notes can be very hard if your voice isn’t properly warmed up, so make sure your voice feels awake and not strained before moving on to this step.
Whenever I start moving into my extended registers, I like to do lots and lots of sirens. They sound odd, but are so great for warming up! On an “ee” (remember, this vowel is great to create resonance in your voice), “woo,” or even a lip trill, slide your voice from the middle of your range to the highest part of your range, sounding like a siren. Then, do the same thing starting from the middle range and going as low as you can. After that, start in the middle and go as high as you can go, sliding all the way down to as low as you can go. It’s a great way to connect all your registers without any tension! Your voice WILL crack while moving through different parts of your voice--that is OKAY! It’s supposed to crack, let it happen. Just don’t push too much!
Try doing larger arpeggios that reach an octave moving up. This helps connect your lower/middle register to your higher register.
Try doing a descending 5 note scale on an “ee,” or “ee-ah,” and keep going lower. You need more and more energy the lower you get!
Technique Specific Exercises. This is where you get to apply the techniques your teacher has been teaching you to your warm ups. Sometimes we can skip this step, but it can be very helpful, especially if you have a particularly hard part in a song!
If you have been working on a song with lots of melismas (fast moving notes, or runs), try doing a five-note scale going up and down very fast, focusing on using your belly for support and not your throat.
If you have been working on a song with a lot of varying dynamics, try holding one note for 8 beats. Crescendo for 4 beats and decrescendo for the following 4 beats. You can extend it to 12 beats, then 16, then if you’re up for the challenge, 20 or 24 beats.
Ask your teacher what kind of other warm ups you can do that will help you with the songs you are learning!
Keep in mind that there is always a reason behind the exercises in our warm ups. There is a reason why your teacher may use one vowel as opposed to another, or why they start in a certain range as opposed to another. Always know WHY you are doing something, so that you can apply it to your practicing! If you are not sure about something, always ask your teacher.