Warming up Your Voice
Taking time to engage, prepare and ‘switch on’ your voice is vital. Warming up your voice properly helps your voice during lessons, practices and performances. It can even increase your vocal stamina and energy, and it reminds you to sing with solid technique. But what exactly does properly warming up your voice look like? What exercises should you do? How long should it take? What will work best for your voice? After reading this article, you should be able to answer all these questions, and be able to tailor a warm-up session suited to you!
The time you should spend warming up your voice depends primarily on your age. For younger singers, a short time period is optimal, as over-warming up can sometimes have negative impacts. For children aged under 10, about 5 minutes is totally acceptable. If you are between 10 and 16, extending that time slowly to 10 minutes will help, especially as both male and female voices change during this adolescent period. Beyond 17, warm-ups may vary slightly depending on the singer and context, but generally the standard time for warming up your voice should be 15 minutes. This even applies to professionals. Again, over-singing in a warm-up and tiring your voice before a lesson or performance is something to avoid.
Where Do I Start?
Great! Now you know exactly how long to warm-up! But you still aren’t quite sure about how to warm up. Where do you start? There are so many warm-ups, it can be confronting and confusing to choose what to use. So here is a list of the warm-ups I think work best, depending on your voice type!
Kids Under 10
For kids under 10, exercises that are light and easy work best. Work within a comfortable range. Start with a few key technical exercises involving breathing, posture and expression. Going up and down five notes on a ‘ba’, ‘doo’ or ‘nya’ is simple yet effective. The nonsensical syllables, whilst often entertaining for the child, are a subconscious exercise in creation of vowel shapes and evenness of tone. Furthermore, changing from a minor to a major pattern can educate the child on mood, and hence phrasing. With younger children especially, asking them to imitate a gorilla or a mouse is a fun and engaging way to expose them to dynamics and manipulating colour. Non-vocal warm-ups are integral, too: lightly shaking limbs and stretching the neck are great in unlocking unwanted tensions, and it raises energy levels!
For teenagers, the fun games tend to be less effective, but personally, using analogies and imagery is helpful to anyone, including myself! Try thinking that there is an apple, or a tennis ball between your back teeth, and sing a minor triad up and down on ‘vee’. This immediately opens the throat and with that comes a higher chance for a resonance to be produced. The preceding ‘v’ consonant can activate the breath and give the pitch energy and accuracy before the vowel.
You could also try, for example, singing on ‘nor’ moving from (intervallically) 5-3-4-2-1. Aiming for musical smoothness by ‘seeing’ the notes in front of you as one continuous line rather than as stepwise movement increases balance and evenness of breath. Singing an arpeggio all staccato is a great way to ensure that tension is minimal in the jaw and neck, and that the breath is doing the work to create the sound.
This age bracket requires slowly adding in a few more technical points to consider, and setting your warm-up goals a little higher! Stretching the neck is still brilliantly helpful for singers in this age group. Try adding in a few breath exercises such as letting out a steady stream of air on an ‘ssss’ or on a vocalised ‘thhhhhh’. This brings attention to the diaphragm which can be helpful, especially during the eventual transition of male voices, which relies heavily on appropriate breathing control to remain healthy through this time. Another consideration may be accessing your falsetto range; playing around with it can help it blend in with your changed voice when things settle.
For 17 year old singers, and beyond, the type of warm-up (again) stays relatively similar! Silly vowels and words, which may make you feel exactly that – silly – are actually still important to your vocal development! On top of this, try to healthily and safely extend your vocal range higher and lower while experimenting with a variety of tone colours. Concentrate on developing a deeper sense of expression, musicality and ‘acting’ while singing. Indeed, your warm-up may even change in structure, and evolve to include a short canon, or even one of your own pieces of repertoire, but singing it all on a particular vowel. At this stage, thinking about detail also becomes important. Key details such as vowel onsets, phrase shapes, knee tension and gestures are some things for you to consider as you warm-up.
My personal, all-time favourite warm-up exercise is the lip trill. Imagine you are trying to feed a baby their food, but they are stubbornly refusing. To entice them, you make the aeroplane sound with your lips, moving the spoon like an aircraft until it ‘lands’ in the baby’s mouth. That sound you make is called a lip trill: applying light contact the lips, a then exhaling and vocalising to make the lips freely move. This is a fantastic warm-up that I know all of my coaches use, as I do too! It’s a fantastic tool to create an engagement with your air supply, it’s great for enhancing energy and stability in the sound, and it can be used in all places of your range! Try it out, and see what you think!
Warm-up in Style
So now you know exactly how long to warm-up for, and what with! Some variations will occur in warming up your voice if you decide to focus on a particular style of singing. Pop singers may practice their belting range in a warm-up, and look at trying some riffs, runs, hits and embellishments to prepare them for a song. Opera singers will warm-up with a lot of stretching to loosen all tension, engaging their central breathing muscles, and singing a lot of open vowels to get a clear and anchored tone. Jazz singers may use a much lighter style in their warm-up, especially across their upper range, and could warm-up using a scatting technique. Country singers may want to try adding a little bit of extra brightness or twang to their overall sound.
There are a plethora of warm-ups out there. If the ideas and suggested warm-ups here don’t work for you, use these as a guide to finding warm-ups that do cater to your vocal needs and abilities. Or ask your coach at your next lesson! Always take time to warm-up healthily, and properly; your voice will thank you later!