You'd never consider trying to do a complicated gymnastics routine, run a marathon, or try and beat your record on the long jump without warming up, right? But many people sing without warming up their voices even when attempting a challenging song that's high or low in their range, projecting during a performance, trying or a difficult technique like a trill or a melisma. What many people don't realize is that singing is as physical an activity as sports.
When you sing, you want everything to be relaxed. Your jaw, neck, and tongue muscles need to be loose and ready for anything. When you do any strenuous activity without preparing your body first, your muscles tend to lock in place and you have to work harder, pushing extra air through, to get your sound out. This places tension on your vocal cords tension which can make them swell painfully. That's why your throat gets sore after singing loudly for a little while or cheering too loudly for your home team. You can easily blow out your voice just by performing a couple of songs at normal volume without warming up. Here are a few techniques you can use to get your voice in working order before you go onstage.
Step 1: Wake up the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the muscle beneath the lungs that causes them to fill. When you sing, your rib cage should be lifted, and when you take a breath, the ribs should not expand. The stomach should. That way you know you're using your diaphragm, and not the weaker muscles between your ribs, to inflate and deflate your lungs. To wake up your diaphragm muscles, first take a few deep breaths and fill your lungs with air, then let go. Remember, if you're doing this right, your stomach and not your chest and ribcage should be expanding. Take a breath and hold it. Then let it go in a series of staccato punches, using your abdominal muscles to push the air out. You should feel this exercise in your abs.
Step 2: Focus on the breath. Without breath, there would be no voice. Before trying to sing, start by taking a deep breath and letting all the air out of your lungs in a series of hisses. Start with a single long, low hiss, then alternate between the long hisses and a series of shorter, more staccato hisses for an extra warm up for your diaphragm muscles. Focus on keeping your face, neck, and tongue muscles nice and relaxed.
Step 3: Before you sing, hum. Once you've done some breath work, it's time to focus on your vocal cords. Hum without opening your mouth. Don't go louder than is comfortable, and don't reach for high or low pitches sing in a comfortable range and keep everything relaxed. Don't alter the muscles in your face or neck to strain for a pitch. Start with a zzz sound, then move on to an eee and then last, an ahhh. As you start feeling more comfortable, let your voice gradually get louder but don't strain or push. Avoid humming songs you know, as they may cause more tension than a simple series of pitches.
Step 4: Work the face and mouth muscles. This is the place for tongue twisters. Many vocal coaches will have you sing a tongue-torquing phrase while having you go up and down the scale. But start first in a range that's comfortable for you. When using these phrases, make sure you're enunciating clearly even overenunciating; the point is to give your face and tongue a workout and that you're supporting your singing with good breath control. Focusing on your consonants and vowels is another good idea. Remember, singing only takes place on a vowel; the consonant sound is pitchless. That means your vowels all have to be exquisitely shaped in your mouth to give the right sound, and your consonants should be crisp and brief. Here are a few phrases that will help you work your vowels, consonants, and facial muscles:
Mo Mo Mo Mo Mo
Ma Ma Ma Ma Ma
Me Me Me Me Me
Mu Mu Mu Mu Mu
She Loves to Sing
Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha
She Sells Sea Shells
Fluffy Floppy Bunny
Step 5: Do some scales. If you have a piano (or excellent pitch), try singing an arpeggio of three thirds, starting from middle C and going to the lowest part of your range, then your highest. Often your higher pitches take a bit longer to loosen up, which is why we suggest going low first. Remember, don't strainâ€"your singing should always be perfectly comfortable and never painful. If something hurts, you're either at the limit of your range or you're doing something wrong.
Singing is a joyous activity that everybody should do at some level. However, especially if you are singing at a professional or semi-professional level, you must warm up correctly to make sure you get the most out of your voice. With the right warm-up routine, your voice should be strong and healthy for years to come.
About the Author
Paul Smith is director of Pro Audio Store and Rose Morris Musical Instruments. For more info on music software and equipment visit http://www.proaudiostore.co.uk/ To access a wide range of pro audio software visit http://www.proaudiostore.co.uk/gateway.php?deptid=54