Because the anatomy of our voices is effectively invisible to us, it can be easy to dismiss as some mysterious thing that just sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Of course, the reality of keeping your singing voice in optimal shape is that caring for the vocal apparatus, and even training the tiny muscles associated with this use, is essential to vocal reliability and longevity.
Just like with exercising any other part of your body, spending a few minutes on simple activities to prime the muscles can greatly influence your success, satisfaction, and safety while singing. Did you know that ‘warming up’ is a literal process? The temperature of your voicebox will literally raise as you begin to gently encourage more blood flow to the area. This aids in limbering up for increased vocal flexibility and stamina before you tackle more intense types of singing. By easing your voice into the demands of your practice, you will help to avoid vocal injuries– which can occur in any voice, regardless of how careful you are, but are especially traumatic to singers and can be both difficult and costly to recover from. Save yourself any unnecessary risk but incorporating a short warm-up into every practice session.
Many beginning or amateur singers complain of uncertainty when setting out to warm up. If they shouldn’t dive into singing songs, where should they begin? Full-body stretches and deep breathing are a great place to start first; these allow your concentration to tune into your body and breath so you can be truly mindful about your singing. Then, to get the voice moving gradually, pick any scale that feels easy for you and be sure to carry it through your entire range. In general, you can’t go wrong with SOVT (semi-occluded vocal tract) exercises– including the ever popular lip trills, or straw singing. Some other common variations on this type of exercise include tongue trills, singing on a voice consonant (such as v, z, m, n, or even ng), or singing through pursed lips with your cheeks puffed up like a blowfish. These might sound ill-fitting for getting your body ready for the rigors of singing, but in truth, they actually help your vocal anatomy to get primed for the task ahead faster than regular singing! (SOVTs create back pressure which encourages vocal efficiency– but that’s for another post!)
After taking an SOVT exercise through your whole range, move on to a small ‘closed’ vowel such as ‘ee’ or ‘oo’. Sing these vowels on any scale that feels comfortable to you (even repeating the same scale you sang on your SOVT), being careful to stay relaxed and connected to your breath throughout your entire range. Watch out for any extra work to creep into your singing at the extreme ends of your range, both high and low. Your warmup is your chance to identify and release tensions before they get the chance to interrupt your songs!
Finish out your warm-up with more open vowels (like ‘ah’ or ‘oh’) and some patterns that use words to help wake up your articulators (lips, teeth, and tongue) for clear pronunciation.
As you’re singing, if you notice tension anywhere in your body, let your mental energy go to that spot and encourage release. For some tensions, a targeted approach may be necessary; these can include manual manipulation or exercises that disrupt the holding pattern. Speak with your teacher about any recurring tensions (especially in your tongue or jaw, which often feel like just a generally “tight” throat).
A mindful warmup routine is the best gift you can give yourself! If you follow through these steps consciously, you’ll likely find that some of your tight spots in songs feel less tight. Troubleshoot tricky spots by checking the line before any any micro-tensions that you ignored because they were subtle… these are the roots of full-blown problems!
For more on warming up or functional training of your singing voice, consider booking your complimentary Intro Lesson. We would love to help you get to work achieving your goals!