Updated: Apr 21, 2022
"The greatest musical instrument given to a human being is the voice".
Why warm up?
Would you run a 100m sprint without first limbering up and stretching the muscles? Of course not. Yet we often launch into singing or a day of speaking without warming up our voice. Warming up for 15-20 minutes is important before any sustained singing or speaking activity. An effective warm-up prepares our voice for the challenges ahead, whether it's an important speech, the start of your teaching day, a choir rehearsal, or a solo performance. The goal of the warm-up is to prepare for the range (highs to lows), the dynamics (soft to loud) and get the vocal folds working optimally. Personally, I sing a lot better when I do a good warm-up beforehand.
The first thing - stretch, energize and release tension!
Our instrument (our voice) is contained within our body. Unlike a violin, we can't hold it, touch it or see it. Our instrument is completely surrounded by muscles, tendons and ligaments, not to mention the human with all our emotions. The most important part of a vocal warm-up is tension release. Tight muscles, particularly in the neck, shoulders and jaw, are the enemy of effective voice use. If you're already into yoga, pilates or the Alexander Technique, you are in good shape, but for everyone else, let's firstly STRETCH!
Stand and reach with one arm for something high above your head. Keep the air flowing in and out of your lungs (often we hold our breath when stretching).
Swap arms. Now raise both arms in the air, lock them above your head and do a gentle lean to one side. Feel a gentle stretch on the opposite side? Repeat on the other side. Arms down slowly as you exhale. Chin toward sternum and do a roll down. Let your head and neck completely relax. Breathe. Roll up slowly to a sustained 'sssss'. Standing now, slowly look all the way up to the ceiling, down to the floor and to the left and right. Roll your shoulders slowly forward then back 4 times each way. Massage your neck. Release any tension. Imagine you have water on your hands and you are flicking it off, get that shaking happening in your hands, then involve your whole arms, chest, tummy, back, buttocks and legs. Have fun 'shaking'!
The second thing - getting the natural breath going / unvoiced sounds
Grab a ball or an exercise band if you have one of these. Move the ball around or pull slowly on the exercise band (one end under your foot) as you exhale to 'ssssss' then
'sh...........' change it up, do different things as long as you are moving! Sit and lean forward slightly. Looking towards the floor, imaging a group of noisy ants. You need to 'sh.......!!' them. Do this 5 times in a row. No worries if you don't have a ball or exercise band, just MOVE as you breathe.
The third thing - voiced sounds that are natural, instinctive and organic
The human voice is most optimally produced when initiated by natural, organic, and instinctive motivations. The aim is to switch off our 'thinking' brain and make sounds that are instinctive because these are the freest and easy to do. Think of the last time you were watching your team score a goal and you did an instinctive "Woo-hoo!" That's what we mean by instinctive. A vocalized yawn is also instinctive. Do this now. Yawn with a full-body stretch and let your natural 'yawn sounds' come out with it. If you're a singer or a speaker, do these types of natural vocalisations first before singing scales. Then you don't have to 'think' about your warm-up so much as to enjoy the experience of it! Nothing is forced. The sounds you make should feel easy and NOT be uncomfortable or painful. In fact, you should feel 'nothing' at all in the region of your voice box (larynx).
Imagine you are a tiny puppy. Make whimpering sounds.
Then hum your own made-up tune - go high, go low, just have fun. Check your lips are lightly together and your face is animated.
Now do a 'v' sound on any pitch moving around higher and lower. Find the optimal way to produce a sound with a 'v'. Not too much pressure.
Change to 'z' so you sound like a bumblebee. Have fun going all around your vocal range.
Do a sob-like sound, eg "Oh No!" Keep it easy and natural and a little exaggerated. Incorporate a physical gesture to help the sound be instinctive. Repeat 3 times
Pretend you are a nosy neighbour - you WAVE as you "yoo - hoo!" Repeat 3 times
Lastly, "Holy Moly!" in a lower voice. Place a hand on your sternum and enjoy feeling the sound wave vibrations there!
The fourth thing - open voiced sounds
Say in a very exaggerated and SLOW way "Meeeeooooowww" like a cat, but in slow motion. Have fun using ALL your range high and low. Repeat 5 times. Mix it up. Make each one different. Explore and have fun. Let your body get involved too!
Make a tiny ghost-like sound "woooooooooo!" in your higher ghost-like voice. Do physical actions to go with it and have fun! Now in your natural speaking range, say "Zebra" but with an 'ee' sound, so "Zeebra". Think of that word as being right in front of your face, just out of your mouth.
Now "Woozee!" Say "Woozee " 3 times in a row in succession, take from that ghost-like pitch you were just in, to lower - thinking "forward" as you descend into "Zeebra". Here we are doing the sounds within words, and working through our vocal registers without being too left-brained about it.
Sirens - these warm up the whole voice. The idea is to go from the lowest possible sound you can make to the highest, finding ease as you travel through your range (not pressure, tension, or force). Stand with good alignment. Take one arm down and across your body and up and over in a big arc, and back down again. Like you are drawing a huge circle in front of you on a wall. Now do the arm movement again with the sound of "hoo" as you ascend make sure you let the sound change into whatever is easiest to produce. So at the highest point, the 'hoo' may sound more like 'huh' or 'hah' and that's just fine. Your head should stay level as you do your siren. Check that your chin doesn't go up with your sound! Repeat the whole thing with the other arm. Find the ease. As your travel high in your siren, find RELEASE. It's tempting to add tension as we go higher. Do the opposite.
The fifth thing - consonant energy
Consonants add clarity and vitality to a phrase of music or text. Aim for that energy within the legato flow. Go for clarity while keeping the flow of the vocal line. When we land too heavily on consonants (especially the opening consonants of words or when they are on downbeats) it tends to chop up our vocal line. Use a light touch on the opening consonants, especially when they are 'b' or 'd', and check in with your self that you are definitely articulating the last consonants before a breath. Notice the pulse points within each phrase.
'Fiddlee' sing this word "fidelee" 5 times in a row joined together so no gaps, in your comfortable pitch range. Let the tongue produce the "iddle" sounds easily and lightly as your jaw hangs relaxed.
"A proper cup of coffee in a copper coffee cup" and "Maybe my mummy may move to miami and maybe my mummy may not". Aim for legato phrases with clear use of consonants.
Lastly choose a line or two from a song or text, and speak it as if you are singing it. Find the high's and lows. For singers, follow this with singing a song starting on a humm, then an 'ng', then 'oo', then finally the words.