At the end of the day, singing is a physical process. It requires precision movements from your entire body. Because of this, singers need to take just as much care of their voices before they sing as when they’re singing.
Have you ever been to the gym and had a great workout but felt really sore the following day? Or perhaps you’ve been on a run with a friend and gone to bed that night with a clicking knee?
Stretching can prevent the athlete or the gym-goer from unnecessary damage and pain. Stretching your voice is just as critical. Here are some of the best reasons why you should take the time to condition your voice with regular warmups.
Warmups bring you right up to your best voice.
You may have noticed that some days you can sing all night without a problem. Other days, you might wear out by the second or third song. You may even have noticed that some days you can hit that high note, but other days it’s a stretch to come near it. You may find that you’re able to sing lower notes in your range at the end of the day than you can in the morning.
All of this can be worked through ahead of time by warming up your voice prior to a recording session or performance. And if you record at home, it’s much easier to notice how your vocal strength improves day by day by listening back to the recordings you make.
By gradually putting your voice through its paces, you’re able to loosen it up and get your blood circulating through all the different parts that make up your voice box. This gives you access to all the different abilities you have as a vocalist. By warming up, you don’t have to wait around for a “good voice day” to happen.
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Warmups grow your skills as a singer.
Think of warming up as exercising for your voice. What happens to your voice when you warm up is actually similar to what happens to athletes’ muscles when they stretch and exercise.
Here’s a simplified explanation. Warmups prepare you for the intense vibrations that come along with singing. Controlled, steady vocal exercises will increase acid in the muscles surrounding your vocal folds, which helps those muscles do their jobs more effectively.
One of these jobs includes interacting with a tendon in your throat. When that tendon is properly engaged, it’ll stretch, giving you more flexibility and control over your voice.
When you properly and regularly exercise your voice, you build upon your abilities and become a much more effective singer.
Warmups help you sing healthily without damaging your voice.
Remember all that stuff above about the muscle and tendon? If there’s a high or loud note you can’t sing right away, forcing yourself to do it can strain your voice. You could literally pull a muscle or give yourself tendonitis. Ouch! Not worth it.
Have you ever tried to push through a long set on a “bad voice day” and felt tired and sore at the end of the night? Perhaps your speaking voice was mostly gone?
Vocal warmups before a show prepare your voice for the strenuous activity that is singing. It may seem counterintuitive. “How does singing before I sing make me less tired from singing?!” This is because warmups are a controlled, steady way of singing that doesn’t stress your voice out.
Warmups prepare your voice for the vocal event that is singing. When you sing something challenging in a performance without adequately warming up, you run the risk of damaging your voice and really hurting yourself.
When should you warm up?
Ideally, you should warm up every day. And if you’re not already, you should start slow. Do some simple exercises for 20 minutes every morning. Don’t try to belt out that high C just yet — you’ll need to work yourself up to that.
Remember, warmups help grow and unlock the skills that you already have. If you don’t have a regular warmup routine, it’s wise to consult a voice teacher and build one together so that you approach the exercises correctly.
These exercises should also be done the day of any strenuous vocal activity. If you have a show in the evening, warm up in the morning, then again an hour or so before the show. If you’re a public speaker, you’ll want to warm up ahead of your presentation as well.
Choose your favorite warmups and then make sure you’re practicing correctly.
A small disclaimer: I am not a voice teacher. I’ve had many years of training as a classical singer, in theater and in pop, from many different instructors. This is what I’ve learned from many people much smarter than me in my 15 years of professional singing.
If you’re familiar with vocal warmups, this will serve as a great reminder of what you already know. If you’ve never warmed up a day in your life, I highly recommend getting in touch with a teacher to properly lead you through your exercises, or at the very least, check out Katie Lott’s article on three simple warmups you can start working on right away! Once you’ve got a routine of warmups to go through, here are a few tips to make sure you’re getting the most out of your practice time:
Relaaaax. Inhale, exhale. Good, healthful singing starts from a relaxed body. Do what you need to do to loosen yourself up — within reason, of course!
Some singers like to start their day with a hot shower and a lukewarm mug of licorice root tea. (On that note, here’s a handy list of all the things singers should and shouldn’t eat before a performance.) Feel all your tension melting away and your muscles becoming looser.
Practice proper breathing.
Proper breathing for singing is the way we breathe when we lay down. You want to imagine your chest is filling with air from the bottom of your lungs, up. Imagine a glass filling with water; the water fills the bottom first, then rises to the top.
To exhale, reverse it — empty your lungs from the top down. It will feel a bit unnatural at first, but you’ll become accustomed to breathing this way. This is how you breathe deeply.
Release tension in your neck.
The quickest way to damage your voice is to sing with tension. When you’re singing any note, you want to make sure your neck looks soft and relaxed. Sing in front of a mirror and watch your neck. Does it tense up? Can you see veins and ligaments protruding out at certain notes? Be mindful of where you’re feeling tension.
Your neck should look the same when you’re singing as it does when you’re not singing. This is true for softly sung songs as well as big belters. Although, if you’re screaming to heavy metal every night, I’m not sure there’s much you can do about those veins.
Stand up straight.
There’s a correct way to stand when singing. Straight! Don’t allow your shoulders to hunch. Plant your feet firmly on the ground, shoulder-width apart.
Now, imagine there’s a string that winds all along your spine and comes out the top of your head. Imagine yourself pulling that string and straightening out your spine, your neck, and lastly, your head. Your chin should not dip or rise, but be level with the floor. You’re ready to sing!
Pace yourself, and enjoy your newly warmed-up voice.
Vocal warmups should be challenging the same way that going to the gym is challenging. You should leave feeling better than when you came. One crucial difference, though, is that vocal warmups should not leave you feeling sore. A good exercise will have you feeling ready to sing anything!