Warm-up & Practice Tips
Does your voice get very fatigued at the end of a rehearsal? Perhaps you didn’t take the time to do a good warm-up beforehand. Just as athletes need to warm up their muscles before a race or a game, singers need to get their voices ready before a practice or performance.
A good warm-up routine has many benefits. It helps to prepare your body and mind for singing, and can prevent vocal strain and injury.
It may seem counterintuitive–more exercises to prevent overuse injury? Yes. Your vocal folds are controlled by tiny muscles, and warmed-up muscles are more flexible, easier to use, and less susceptible to injury.
The good news is, vocal warm-ups don’t have to be boring. Below are a few fun examples:
Warm-up #1: Relax
Start with the “rag doll” exercise. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Bend forward at the hips and allow your arms, head, and upper body to hang loosely. Shake your arms and head a bit, then let them dangle again. Next, stand erect and do a few neck rolls from one side, forward, to the other side, forward, and back. If you’re practicing with a group, give each other brief back rubs.
Warm-up #2: Stretch
Hold your arms straight out in front of your body and clasp your two hands together. Keeping your hands clasped, turn your palms outward and raise your arms overhead. Now slowly lean to one side, come back upright, then lean to the other side.
Follow that with an exercise to align your posture correctly. Stand with your feet flat on the floor, about hip-width apart, and your arms at your sides. Bring your arms rapidly upward and across your body in a circular motion until they are over your head. Rise onto your tiptoes and take in a deep breath as you move your arms up.
As you slowly exhale, bring your arms back down to your sides and come down from your toes to flat feet. Try to keep your chest up and shoulders back, as they were at the top of the stretch, after bringing your arms down.
Warm-up #3: Breathe
Take in a deep breath that expands your midsection. Exhale slowly with a hissing sound, maintaining the expansion as you breathe out. Do that several times.
Follow that with the Fontanelli exercise (named for the person who developed it). Breathe in and out to a steady count: inhale-2-3-4, exhale-2-3-4. Gradually increase the count. When you can comfortably do 7 or 8, add a hold phase: in-2-3-4, hold-2-3-4, out-2-3-4. Again, gradually increase the count.
Warm-up #4: Produce Good Tone
Do a few yawn-slides or vocal sirens. For the yawn-slide, inhale as if to yawn, then exhale on the syllable “hoo” or “hee”, starting at the top of your range and sliding rapidly to the bottom. For the siren, start at the bottom of your range and slide to the top, then back down, on a hum.
The next exercise uses a technique that goes by many names: buzz, bubble lips, lip roll, or lip trill. Exhale through puckered lips so that they vibrate. It should sound a bit like a motorboat or a “raspberry”.
Use the buzz to do a fifth-slide. Start on the fifth tone and slide down to the base (so-do): in C major again, it would be G, C. Repeat on the same tones with “zoo”, then move up a half-step and repeat, “wee” and “zoo” on Ab and Db. Continue moving up by half-steps.
Warm-up #5: Vocalize
There are many different vocalizing exercises. Here are a few of the most effective:
- Up & down arpeggios. This is a simple broken chord up and down: do-mi-so-do-so-mi do. Move upward by half-steps with each succeeding repeat, using the buzz or your favorite vowel sound or syllable.
- Upward arpeggio and downward octave with turn. This is a slightly more complex variation on the previous exercise. Sing the upward arpeggio (do-mi-so-do), then do a turn (ti-do-re), then the 8-tone descending octave scale from do to do. Use vowel sounds; do a few on “ee”, a few on “oo”, and a few on “ah”. Start each new arpeggio a half-step higher than the last one, as shown below.
- Ascending triplet scale. This exercise is complicated to explain, but easy if you read the notes below. Using the solfege syllables (do, re, mi, etc.), sing an eighth-note triplet upward starting on each syllable; when you get to the top of the scale, reverse and sing each triplet downward. Sing the exercise as rapidly as you can.
do re mi fa so la ti do ti la so fa mi re do
- Ascending and descending thirds. This is another exercise that’s easier to sing than to explain. Starting on the base note, go up a third, down a whole step, up another third, etc. until you reach the fifth tone, then reverse and go back down a third, up a half step, down a third, up a whole step, etc. Again, sing it as fast as you can.
- Rapid repeated up and down five note scale. This one is simple. Just go up and down a five tone scale: do-re-mi-fa-so-fa-mi-re-do and repeat.
This warm-up routine is much quicker to do than it is to explain. You should be able to complete it in about ten minutes. You’ll find it’s worth the time–you will sing better, more easily, and with less vocal fatigue. Include it as part of each practice session and before each performance.
Choosing what you’re going to sing can be very difficult. If you’re a member of a choir or in a musical play, the material will be assigned to you. But if you’re doing a solo recital, an audition for a role, or a one-person nightclub act, the choice is all yours.
Of course, you want to choose songs you can sing well, and that suit your voice. After all your hard work, you should have a good idea of your range and tessitura. If there’s a song you like but it’s in a key that’s too high or too low for you, consider having it transposed to a key within your range.
Remember, just because you enjoy listening to a particular song doesn’t mean it is suited to your voice.
You should have a variety of songs in your performance repertoire—ballads, dance tunes, slow, up tempo—to show the breadth of your skills. But keep in mind that it’s better to do less difficult pieces well than to do difficult pieces poorly.
The key to a successful performance is preparation. You prepare by working on your vocal technique, choosing songs that are well-suited for your voice, and learning them thoroughly. Choose flattering clothes to wear, and hone your instrumental skills if you play one.
Preparation also includes learning about the performance conditions at the venue. What kind of sound system do they have? How big will the audience be? Will there be other things going on in the room, or will everyone just be watching you? In many bars, for example, there may be darts or pool tables in use during performances.
Information is power. The more you know, the more confidently and competently you can perform.