Why do we need to warm up?
There are two important reasons why vocal warm ups should be part of your daily routine. First up, unsurprisingly, your vocal mechanism (that is your throat, mouth, respiratory system and supporting body parts) is mostly comprised of muscles, ligaments and tendons. In order to work at their best, as you would before working out at the gym, the whole mechanism needs to be warm. In practice, this means good blood flow, which helps everything to be limber, co-ordinated, impact resistant and supple.
However, don’t get too hung up on the gym analogy. Vocal scientist Dr Ingo Titze says that while warm ups are vital for good blood flow, it is a misconception that vocal warm ups are preparing you for the “big push”. He argues that the best vocal warm ups help to position the vocal mechanism into an optimal shape (i.e. muscular co-ordination) thereby allowing our voices to work at their most efficient.
So, to summarise; you should warm up to prevent damage to your vocal mechanism by increasing the blood flow to the area, and ensure that your vocal mechanism is co-ordinated properly and can therefore work at its most efficient.
What warm ups should I do?
A few physical exercises are a good place to start. Physical warm ups help to increase flexibility in our upper body; an area where tension may negatively influence your voice. Try doing these to start you off:
- Shoulder rolls
- Rolling up and down through the spine
- Move your head up and down/side to side (gently nodding or shaking your head)
- Move your face, e.g. open/close your mouth, wiggle your tongue.
- Massage your jaw, just in front of your ears
Once you’re finished jiggling about, here’s where the singing stuff starts:
- Start with some gentle humming, at the bottom end of your voice. You could home a simple melody (don’t go practising your Beyoncé just yet!), or hum a scale up and down.
- Lip trills (or tongue trills, but lip trills are best). You could do a siren glide, or a more structured scale like the 1.5 Octave.
- Voiced fricatives…not as weird as it sounds! Some siren glides on a ‘VV’, ‘ZZ’, ‘TH’, or ‘JJ’ are an excellent way to create a semi-occluded airflow.
What about The Straw?
This baby deserves its own paragraph! The Straw is arguable the King of semi-occluded vocal tract (SOVT) exercises, and it might even get its own blog post one day, but this will have to do for now.
Take a stirring or cocktail straw (not a regular drinking one – it’s too wide. That said, if you find the small straws too hard, it’s OK to start with a regular straw) and work your way through some siren glides. Do some accents, ascending in pitch each time. Finish off with a melody; you could do a whole song if you wanted!
After a 10-15 minute warm up, you should be ready to go! Be that a presentation at work, a vocal practice session, or a performance. Of course, if you want to be the best singer you can be, making vocal warm ups part of your daily routine will improve your voice and help you be on top of your game.