Vocal Warm Ups
Singing puts some serious demands on your body, and bad technique or overuse of your instrument may strain your muscles and vocal cords. Just like in sports, you need to prepare your muscles and legaments for the performance – even if singing doesn’t look that strenuous, it doesn’t mean it isn’t! Just imagine how a thing as small as the vocal folds can create such big sounds that can fill entire theatres! That’s why vocal warm-ups are important for a good performance and to avoid injuries over the long term.
Vocal warm ups are exercises that singers go through before performing or practicing . They usually focus on warming up the vocal cords and the muscles required to sing and should take from 5 minutes to 20 minutes, depending on the time of the day (did you just wake up? Did you speak a lot?) and the needs of the singer.
If your vocal folds and/or muscles are not ready to produce challenging sounds, you might not perform at your best, or worse, you could even injure your vocal cords over the long term.
One great way to find the perfect vocal warm-up routine is to work with a vocal coach who knows exactly what your voice needs to stay healthy and sound its best. It’s important that warm ups are done mindfully, knowing exactly what to do and what to avoid.
Warm ups should be done using SOVT sounds. SOVT stands for Semi Occluded Vocal Tract, and it indicates sounds in which our voice instrument is partially closed. Think of sounds like “v”, “z” or a lip trill, or any sound that needs obstruction of the airway to be produced.
When the vocal tract is partially closed, the air pressure pushed out by the lungs reflects at the lips, tongue, epiglottis, teeth, etc… back to the vocal folds to help the folds vibrate with more ease and less effort. This build up of oral pressure accumulating above the vocal cords re-balances the air pressure below the vocal cords, so that they can more more easily, without unnecessary tensions.
SOME SOVT Exercises
Yes, for this one you’ll need a straw, a glass and some water.
When choosing your straw, make sure you are considerate towards the environment and get reusable one, possibly metallic!
When you have your straw, here’s what to do:
– start blowing little bubbles in the water (don’t put too much water or you’ll get a nice little shower included in the exercise). Make sure the straw only goes 1 or 2 centimetres below the surface (the deeper, the more resistance you’ll get, the bigger the bubbles, the wetter the shower)
– start humming through the straw making sure that the bubbles stay small.
– make sure the air is not coming out of your nose / lips. It should only come out of the straw (i.e. the water)
– Try this on different scales or sirens (you can use some of the scales below).
This one is a bit closer to actual singing or speaking and most people will find it easier than the other ones. Just sing the letter ‘z’ (as in zoo), ‘v’ (as in very) or ‘th’ (as in thick). Different people prefer different letters, but make sure you try them all!
3. Puffer Fish
This is straw exercises, without the straw. It’s the same approach as the straw but you will only use the lips for resistance. Make a puffer fish face (fill your cheeks with air and make your lips tight). Now blow through your lips, keeping your cheeks big.
4. Lip Trill
Relax your lips, blow and let them flap against each other. If it doesn’t come easy, you can start by trying to “blow a raspberry” with your tongue and then try to mimic that sound with your lips only.
If this is still not easy (it may take some time to learn), try placing your fingers on your cheeks to avoid the cheeks getting bigger. This reduces some of the lip resistance and can make the exercise easier to perform.
5. Tongue trill
Not all English native speakers find this easy! Think of a Spanish or Italian “r” and have a go at it! It has similar benefits to the lip trill, so if you can’t do this one just stick to the other!
6. Nasal consonants
Sing a nasal consonant like “n” (as in name), “m” (as in mum”) or “ng” (as in sing). These sounds will force you to let the air out of your nose, which is a narrower way out compared to the mouth.
They are the least occluded, which makes them closer to actual singing and can be used in many different ways to work on actual songs, in addition to being great warm ups.
There are many scales and arpeggios you can use for your warm ups. Try different combinations of notes, starting in a comfortable part of your range and ascending one semitone at a time.
You can also use sirens (yes, trying to sound like a fire alarm) or octave leaps.
I have recorded some scales for you that you can follow along for your warm ups and exercises.
Use these recordings to warm up before our lessons or your singing practice. Usually warm ups take 5 to 10 minutes. If you’ve just woken up or feel particularly clunky, you can warm up for up to 20 minutes. Make sure you don’t tire yourself too much, or else you won’t have enough energy and stamina when the time to exercise or sing comes!
Remember that all warm ups should be done quietly and without “pushing” or feeling any pressure. Feel free to switch to head voice when you start feeling any sort of pressure.