In the spirit of the Summer Olympics, here’s a metaphor: Athletes would never dream of competing without warming up first, so why is it that singers so often skip this vital step? Sure, we may not risk seriously injuring our bodies if we don’t warm up, but we can seriously injure our vocal cords!
One of the most frequent complaints I get from singers, besides pangs of laziness, is that they just don’t know where to start with vocal warm-ups. Here are three quick and easy warm-ups to try out when you don’t have time for a full warm-up sequence.
This exercise is great for connecting the different areas of your voice and smoothing over the break.
On an “ooh” syllable, start with the lowest note in your range and gradually slide that ooh all the way up to the highest note you can reach comfortably. Then, bring the “ooh” back down to the low note. The “siren” should feel easy and relaxed — don’t push too hard to sing loudly or extend your range. As you practice, work on holding the high and low notes for shorter durations, so that one round leads fluidly into the next.
Why? The siren is a great way to warm up your entire range and smooth over your breaks without putting too much pressure on your voice.
Watch as vocal coach Valerie White Williams explains and demonstrates the siren vocal technique.
Put your lips together but keep them relaxed and loose. Now blow air through your closed lips. It should make a goofy motor-like sound. Try making this sound and sustaining it for a long time. From now on, I’ll refer to this sound as a “lip roll.”
Now do the lip roll again, but add a hum this time. Start by humming a single pitch underneath the lip roll, and then try repeating the siren exercise with a lip roll.
Why? The purpose of the lip roll is to train yourself to control your air flow. If you blow too little or too much air, the lip roll will collapse. It’s a great way to tell if you need to work on the consistency of your breath support.
Here is professional vocal coach, Eric Arceneaux on some handy tactics for practicing lip rolls in a variety of ways to help condition your vocals.
If you’re not familiar with the major scale, here are the basics:[Still don’t get it? Head over to our recent article, “Cracking the Code of Major Scales”.]
If you play an instrument, play along with yourself as you sing each and every note. Internalize the sound of each different scale. Look up some scales charts if you need help.
If you’re just starting out and don’t know where to start, go listen to “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music!
The reason we incorporate scales and melodies into our warm-up routine is so that we can improve our vocal dexterity and pitch accuracy. Even with an easy warm-up like a scale, you can speed up the warm-up to make it more difficult. Most melodies are built around a specific scale, so developing your understanding of how notes in a scale relate to each other will help you with just about anything you want to sing.
Once you’ve internalized the sound of the scale, try singing each note using a hard consonant like “d” or “t” and a vowel (da, doh, dee, doo, deh, etc.). Sing the entire scale on one consonant-vowel combo (“dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee”), before moving onto the next.
Why? The hard consonant is great for practicing pitch accuracy because it forces you to hit the pitch dead-on from the start. Some consonants like “r” or “m” make it easier to slide up to the pitch because you’re essentially humming a note underneath the consonant before you even get to the vowel. Try singing a scale, and mid-way through introduce a “da” and then a “ma.” You’ll notice the consonant “d” blocks off any previous sound you were making entirely, while “m” allows you to slide the pitch up as you hum the consonant.
Challenge: Try humming the scale on a lip roll. This might be difficult at first, because it’s hard to hear the pitch through the lip roll. But if you start slowly and listen carefully, you should get the hang of it. This is a great way to practice both breath control and pitch accuracy at the same time.
Once you’ve got a hang of these three warm-ups, you should be able to run through them all in less than two minutes, which is great for your pre-show time management! If you can get in the habit of consistently warming up before you sing, you’ll start to see huge improvements in your voice, with both your placement and pitch accuracy.