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You probably know that vocal warm ups can help strengthen your voice, expand your range, and help you sing for longer sets.
But why should anyone be concerned about warming up in a healthy way? Aren’t they called warm ups because they’re, well, easy? Well let’s break that down.
Vocal warm ups are like gym sessions.
Warm ups, and any singing, have the potential to actually be quite damaging for new singers who have had little or no introduction to singing healthfully. Just like other physical exercises, vocal warm ups are meant to stretch your voice and get the blood flowing, and after that, push your limits and expand what you’re capable of.
It’s a lot like going to the gym: First, you spend some time stretching your muscles, maybe some light cardio to get your blood moving. Then, it’s on to the hard stuff like weight training or machines.
One main difference between a vocal warm up session and a gym session: You shouldn’t ever feel sore after vocal warm ups! So you don’t want to go hard too early on.
Especially if you’ve never had a voice teacher to introduce you to healthful singing. Warm ups done with tension on your vocal cords over time can lead to damage of your voice. And you need your gorgeous voice to stay healthy and intact so you can keep singing for years to come.
So go easy with your warm ups if you’ve never had training before. Don’t try to hit the highest or most impressive notes just yet, and when you can, book a lesson with a teacher who can show you how to healthfully warm up.
Luckily, there are some awesome low-pressure vocal warm ups you can do anytime, even if you’ve never had a voice lesson. In this article, we’ll talk about how to approach the warm up, signs of potentially damaging singing, and specific exercises you can do today to warm up for your next session.
But before we get into it, for all you singer-songwriter-producers out there, Soundfly just launched a brand new course with Kimbra, in which she herself demystifies her variety of vocal techniques and the creative inspirations behind her most beloved songs. Go check out this awe-inspiring new course, Kimbra: Vocal Creativity, Arranging, and Production, exclusively on Soundfly.
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Simple Warning Signs for Pressured Singing
Poor placement and excessive pressure or tension on your voice can feel like you’re trying really hard to hit a note. What feels like intense effort (and can be mistaken for growth) may actually be a sign that you’re injuring yourself.
To stay aware of pressured singing, keep these things in mind:
- When singing, watch for tensing up of neck and shoulders. If you see neck muscles or veins protruding from your neck or shoulder area, ease off. This is a sign of pressure on your voice that can lead to damage.
- Warm ups don’t need to sound “conventionally good.” When warming up, we’re not performing, so you don’t have to worry about making it sound good. In fact, with warm ups, a lot of the noises and faces you’ll be making are pretty silly! So you can feel free to remove the pressure of performance from your warm up session.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “5 Vocal Techniques Kimbra Uses That All Singers Can Learn From.”
Pre-Warm Up: Gettin’ the Blood Flowing
Let’s send some good blood flow to your face and vocal cords to help you get into your voice.
Grab a glass of warm or room temp water.
This will help open up blood vessels in your mouth and throat. Steer clear of ice water — cold water constricts blood vessels, making it more difficult for your vocal cords and surrounding muscles to do their work. Go for the iceless, warm, or room temp water.
Or, make a mug of Throat Coat tea.
Ah, one of the oldest remedies for vocalists, Throat Coat! Slippery elm root coats your vocal cords, lubricating them before singing. It’s decaffeinated, (caffeine is notorious for drying out voices) which keeps you nice and hydrated. And the warm temp helps with blood flow. A triple threat! Skip the sweetener and milk, which can congeal and stick to your vocal cords.
Spend a moment breathing from your stomach.
Learning to breathe properly is foundational for singers. Deep, full breaths help us to hold notes longer, give them more power, and even supports our voices when doing quieter, or more nuanced singing. If you’re not already familiar with breathing, here’s a quick intro:
Breathe in deep and allow that breath to expand your stomach. Your stomach should literally expand outward. If your chest rises significantly, then you’re breathing into your chest, which is a shallower breath. As you exhale, expel air from the top down, so first from your chest, then from your stomach.
Breathing from your stomach will feel awkward at first, but trust me, you get so much more breath when you breathe deep into your tummy! Spend a moment before your warm up taking a few of these deep, centering breaths.
Do a body scan and picture each part of your body as open and relaxed.
Imagine openness and steadiness all the way up. Start at your toes and feet, set sturdily on the ground, shoulder-width apart. Straighten your spine. Relaxed, and straight. Visualize your lungs, airway, chest, neck, and all the passageways your voice travels through as open and unhindered. relax your jaw, and finish the scan up through the crown of your head.
This will help you stand in a way that supports your body as you begin the physical act of singing. And it will help you to relax and loosen up any residual tension.
The Warm Ups
Warm Up 1: Make funny faces. Stretch that face!
Channel your inner Jim Carey in The Mask and gently start moving around your mouth, cheeks, and jaw. Make funny faces. Stretch your mouth muscles, gently open and close your jaw. Wiggle your tongue and make exaggerated “la la la” and “wa wa wa” sounds. You want to get some blood flowing into these muscles and get them nice and warmed up for singing!
It will be weird. Lean into it and let it be fun.
Warm Up 2: Lip trills.
Press air through your lips by making the “brrr” sound. Your lips will vibrate at a rapid rate. Try this a few times. Then, move to your piano or keyboard and do gentle scales through your trilled lips. This exercise is great because if naturally allows you to have great placement (aka: less pressure, good tone, and comfortable execution).
This is good for all parts of your range, and especially helpful for smoothing out breaks and getting up into your hear voice.
Warm Up 3: Humming.
Humming is another way to encourage good placement of the voice that doesn’t add tension. Vocal warm up humming is slightly different from humming for fun: when you’re warming up with hums, you want to feel your lips vibrate and tickle. This is another one that will feel strange at first.
You’ll want to stop intermittently because the tickle is real, y’all. But it’s gotta tickle to do it right. Great for warming up the lower register of your voice, start in the middle of your range — below your mix — and work your way down.
Try these gentle vocal warm ups the next time you have a recording session or a show. They’re a wonderful way to get into the headspace of singing, and to warm up your cords in a healthful way.
Nothing beats having a real vocal teacher guide you, so book a lesson (or many!) when you can and have fun unlocking everything that vocal warm ups can do for your voice.
Don’t stop here!
Continue learning with hundreds of lessons on songwriting, mixing, DIY home recording and production, composing, beat making, and so much more, with Soundfly’s artist-led courses, like: Jlin: Rhythm, Variation, & Vulnerability, RJD2: From Samples to Songs and Kimbra: Vocal Creativity, Arranging, & Production.
Sarah Spencer is an award winning singer/songwriter and blogger based in Nashville, TN. When she’s not writing music, she’s writing about music at SongFancy.com. She’s the host of the fast-growing 5 in 5 Song Challenge. Most recently, she’s built a songwriting community called Song Club full of resources for busy songwriters to find inspiration, share their songs, and connect with other songwriters around the world.