As a singer, you might think warm-ups are tedious or unnecessary. As a voice coach, you might treat warm-ups as just another exercise. Athletes are more likely we’d be taught both the “why” and the most effective “how” of warming up their bodies. But although we use our bodies for a specific purpose in a similar way, this seldom happens for us.
Warm-ups are a big deal. Understanding a bit of the science behind warming up will help you make choices that support your voice and your singing.
A little warm-up science
First, let's talk a little science. Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and the Journal of Sports Physiology reveals that effective physical warm-ups increase muscle temperature, enhancing elasticity. Warm-ups can improve muscle strength and increase blood flow to the tissue. That extra blood flow delivers extra oxygen and nutrients. What all this means for singers is enhanced vocal responsiveness, access to a broader vocal range, and better vocal stamina and endurance.
Your goal in warming up is literally to warm up the body. Efficient singing is a whole-body experience, and at its core are the respiratory and phonatory systems. These are the breathing and sound-making systems. When you sing, you’re activating these systems in a way that they're not typically activated in the course of a day.
A good warmup doesn’t tax or stress the muscles and connective tissue before they’re ready to do the harder stuff of singing. I’d like to encourage you to think about exercises as being distinct from warm-ups. When you're working on exercises, you're developing skills. When you're warming up, you should simply be warming up.
Key Warm-up Tips:
What does this gentle, nurturing warm-up look like? Here are some suggestions:
Stay within a very comfortable range: During warm-ups, focus on your comfortable modal register (M1), also referred to as chest voice or speaking voice. Really. A range of just a few pitches (less than a 5th) is fine right out of the gate.
Use semi-occluded vocal tract (SOVT) exercises: This is fancy talk for exercises that make it harder for air to escape your face. You can hum, blow pitches through a cocktail straw or a regular straw into a couple of inches of water, or use a "Z" or “V” sound.
Keep it easy: use a conversational volume, and a small, speech-centered range.
Context, context, context: Consider the context and needs of the individual you are working with. An older singer or someone who sings infrequently will probably require a bit more warm-up time than a teenager or someone who sings regularly.
The big takeaway
Warm-ups done with a positive mindset can feel nurturing. It’s a small time investment in the well-being and optimal performance of your voice. If you’re a coach you can help guide your clients to a mindset of self-care around warming up, rather than thinking of it as a tedious task.
Both singer and coach will notice the difference in ease, stamina, and range when a singer takes that extra few minutes to warm up effectively.
Meredith Colby, June 2023
Meredith Colby teaches privately online to professional & adult singers, and voice teachers and coaches from all over the world.
You can book individual sessions or classes from this site.
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