Vocal Warmup for Singers – watch over my shoulder

Performing a vocal warmup is an essential skill for singers in all genres and at all stages of their development. How do you warm up your voice for singing and what does a vocal warmup actually achieve?

Take a look over my shoulder as I perform a 10-minute vocal warmup. I explain exactly what I’m doing, what I’m hearing and where to focus when you warm up your singing voice. Also, I demonstrate the before and after results of the warmup routine on my speaking voice.

Step 1: Record a baseline

In the first step of this process, I recorded a short sample of my speaking voice on my device. I did this so I could compare a ‘before’ and ‘after’ sample of my voice. This is a great way to demonstrate what effect the warmup routine will have on my voice.

Step 2: Energise my body

I believe that all vocal sessions should begin with something physical. Goals for the physical part of your vocal warmup routine should be:

  • Quiet the mind
  • Become more focused and present
  • Release basic body tensions

By basic body tensions, I mean stress or tensions you might be holding in your body as a result of the way you’ve been using your body that day. If there are more complex tensions or injuries, then this needs assessment and treating by a bodywork professional – such as physiotherapist, myotherapist, personal trainer, or osteopath.

A body warmup for singing is not a fitness workout. Your goal is not to get yourself out of breath and sweating. Things that work well are: shaking the body, jumping, marching on the spot, stretching, rolling, tai chi, yoga, and pilates type activities. In this warmup, I used the YogaStudio app on my iPad to do a 10-minute easy yoga routine.

Step 3: Energise My Voice

In this phase of the warmup, you want to get your voice moving easily and freely. Focus on large movements (not small scales) and keep your volume at a mid-range.

The best type of vocal exercises for this kind of work are known as semi-occluded vocal sounds (SOVT). There are many variations. In a previous YouTube video, I discussed the most famous of the SOVT exercises, the lip bubble. In today’s warmup, I used a physical object to create the occlusion – a paper coffee cup.

Placing the coffee cup over my mouth, I say the neutral vowel UH (known as a schwa). I begin in my comfortable speaking range. Using some slides (portamento), I gently glide across my entire range – low to high and high to low. After some free-flowing patterns, my voice is ready to try some structured musical patterns. I use arpeggios that cover a wide range – in this case 1.5 octaves.

Step 4: Energise the articulators

In the next phase of the warmup, I focus on the speech organs or articulators. For singers, these are the lips, tongue and jaw. The articulators play an important role in forming beautiful vowels, clear consonants, and ensure that your words can be easily understood.

I used the syllables GLAH and YAH on fast moving arpeggios to focus on moving the tongue and jaw.  After some mono-syllabic patterns, you could try some tongue twisters or compound syllables. For this warmup, I  used “glockeda” which requires the tongue to rock backwards and forwards as well as the jaw to move.

Step 5: Energise the ear

In the last part of a vocal warmup, I give some attention to pitch and in-tune singing. For this kind of work, I suggest using tonic sol-fa syllables (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do) and to ensure you sing with as little “help” from the piano as possible.  An instrument should only be used for occasional note-checking.  Depending on your current skill base you can sing scales, intervals, triads or even sing some sight-reading passages.

In this warmup I sung a major scale, both the ascending and descending.

major scale with sol-fa syllables

For something more challenging, I also tried singing the scale in thirds

Putting the vocal warmup together

These five steps are enough for a basic warmup. However, if you have some more time, you could direct it into some concentrated work on the separate vocal qualities. In this warmup, I performed some glides and arpeggios patterns in head voice (on closed vowels), in chest voice (on open vowels) and then in mixed voice using pharyngeal vowels.  

Your goal should be to finish your vocal warmup with your voice in a condition that is conducive to singing the kind of music you want to work with. Since my goal was to sing some jazz after this warmup, the kind of sound I needed was an easy speech like quality, with a connection between my chest voice and middle (mixed) voice. For this I sang some arpeggios on a neutral syllable “nuh” beginning in my chest range and working up to the middle.   

Conclusion

So after this process, I’m curious to see what effects the warmup had on my speaking voice. I make another short audio recording of my voice speaking the sample text and compared this to the baseline recording I made at the start.  When I played the two recordings (before and after) alongside each other, I could hear a lot more richness and warmth in my vocal tone after warming up. The tone was more balanced due to a greater presence of the upper frequencies. The voice also felt a lot freer and my speech was easy. 

I hope this process of looking over my shoulder was helpful. It has probably also raised a lot of questions over my process and choice or terminology. 

If you would like a personalised warmup designed specifically for your voice, be sure to book your next consult here.

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