Preparing to Prepare – warming up your voice

Annette Bullock singing
Annette Bullock singing at Songbirds in Harmony show

Preparing to Prepare – Warming up your voice!

Do you always do the same voice warm ups and voice preparations before a gig? Perhaps you just don’t warm up at all? Are you bored with your warm up routine and want some fresh ideas? Or is your warm up not actually helping? Then read on, Singer!

Why warm up at all?

Let’s get it straight. Warming up your voice is nothing to do with increasing your body temperature.

So why bother in the first place…

Well, if you have a live early morning performance, a one shot only gig, then slugging on stage with your husky morning voice is probably a bit of a gamble. Similarly, if you’re singing at an outdoor event in the cold, your articulators may feel a little sluggish. So getting your singing system into gear is really important so you can be sure your voice will perform exactly as you want it to in that very moment.

Perhaps the thought of a mammoth two hour full on gig sends you into a panic, and you might be tempted not to even bother spending any time doing boring scales and lip trills. Or does that “just go for it” attitude leave you feeling absolutely worn out after an hour into the gig? We’ve all sat wondering at half time if our voice is going to hold out for the next hour.

Its important to Prepare to be prepared for your specific performance.

So let’s think of the goal.

If you do have a two hour performance ahead of you, then it may be better to keep your voice warm up ( let’s call it your voice prep) to a minimum. After all, you don’t want to expend so much energy on a warm up and compromise the stamina required for your performance – you want to get to the end of the gig with a voice still feeling strong and energised.

So the duration of your voice prep is important. You need to work out how long it takes before you start to feel you’re reaching your limit, and plan your voice prep according to that in conjunction with the duration of the gig.

Similarly, if you have a very short gig, or perhaps only one song to perform, then you may wish to spend much longer on warming up. You want to be able to nail it in one take so you need to feel on top of your game for the one hit wonder. Don’t rely on “getting into it” as the song goes on because you just might not “get into it”. Again, the duration of the gig or performance is to be consider before you start doing any voice prep.

As an aside, being smart with your set list and song keys is definitely worth deliberating over. Personally, I advise to keep away from heavy vocal load at the start of a set. Choose the first few songs of each set carefully and even use them as part of your warm up. If possible, changing the key of songs by just a semitone (or two or three or more) can make all the difference too. Why push your voice to the limits every night when you could enjoy your performance as much as the audience and stay fresh for the next night. Plus, you’ll have much more confidence in your voice.

Oh yes, another aside – Don’t be under pressure to be perfect.

Singing live means we only have one chance to get it right. So it is definitely worth investing time preparing your mind, body and voice before the performance. Remember, your voice is your instrument that also expresses emotion. If you’re mind and body are not “in the zone” it WILL ultimately come out in your voice. That may mean going to bed early, and an earlier get up than you’d usually like. Don’t worry, I won’t preach to you about keeping hydrated and staying away from too much alcohol, keeping fit and healthy etc (but you really should).

Of course your audience will be expecting you always at your best. But, we are human, not robots! We must be prepared to be imperfect. We can’t always replicate the perfect vocals we hear on recordings. We can’t always recreate the amazing vocals from the night before. Our voice doesn’t always behave in the way we want. But being aware of how your voice is going to behave in that moment is super important and self awareness must always be part of your performance prep. When we know how we feel, and we know what can be expected of our voice, we can adapt and be flexible in an instant. Wouldn’t you agree that’s kind of exciting and dynamic, it gives us the opportunity to try out new things in our music.

Self Awareness Check…

Have a couple of songs that are your “self check songs”. Choose something that is really comfortable and effortless, something you are super familiar with. Think about a time when you performed it that was just spot on. What was it about your voice and performance on that occasion that made it so good? Have in your mind what you would love to sound like singing this song in an ideal situation. Next, sing some of it through, perhaps just a verse and chorus.. Rate yourself now, in that moment. How does it compare to that perfect time when you sang it before or to the ideal situation. What is making it feel different today? If you feel great and sound great, then your voice prep can be adjusted accordingly. If you’re not quite “in the zone”, then your voice prep can be adjusted.

If you’re not feeling it…

Try the songs again but do it different. For example, miss out the riff you usually do, or do a different riff. Try some glides and melismas instead of the usual ones. Try singing it in a softer voice perhaps? Perhaps more or less twang is needed. Try out some Body NRG’s (embodiment of emotions) and see what effects you can achieve. Be flexible. If your voice isn’t going to behave how you want, then be flexible enough to go with the flow. Be prepared to change things up that still give a great performance.

There are many factors that can and will affect our voice and performance on any occasion. It could be illness, lack of sleep, stress, general fatigue, anxiety. Identify your mindset so you can prepare yourself better.

These are some very simple starters…

Remember, the voice is part of your body and mind. It will work more effectively when you are in sync with yourself. Warming up your whole self and tuning in to the moment can be very beneficial. I personally like to start with a just few minutes of mindfulness, just being present with myself. I also like to do the Whispered Ah – an Alexander Technique exercise.

Become aware of how your body feels – is it tense? Where is is tense? If needed, spend some time freeing up the tension. Perhaps try some simple head and neck rolls, shoulder crunches, arm swings, rib stretches, hip rotations and tongue stretches, and the like. Laryngeal massage is super helpful too, especially for tension in and around the neck, jaw and shoulders. You can self massage, but do seek guidance first of all.

Being prepared is essential for a relaxed mind. It’s a no-brainer to be at the venue in plenty of time, double check you have everything you need before you leave for the venue. And of course, be super confident you know the songs you’re performing really well. Don’t leave anything to chance. I know that goes without saying, but I see so many singers stressed out because they haven’t really learnt their set until a few days before a gig.

Mind and body self check complete. What next?

Next, let’s move on to selecting the voice warm ups. But you regally should consider your singing style and choose your prep exercises accordingly. A classical singer may choose a very different set of warm ups to a screaming rock god. Similarly, a  contemporary jazz singer and musical theatre singer will prepare differently.

So if you need to stretch your vocal range up to super high falsetto and everything in between, two octave arpeggio lip bubbles might be good to include in your routine. If you know you’re going to be riffing at super fast speeds, fast multi-vowel five note scales may be a good choice. If your set includes lots of belt and scream, high energy exercises involving the whole body could be great.

Before you start work on the voice exercises, choose a warm up song, not one that is part of your set. Something that stays within comfortable pitch parameters. This could be your self check in song. Sing through just a verse and a chorus of it as if trying not to be heard, just keep it chill. Assess how your voice feels in that moment. Sing it again with just a little more energy, but don’t blow yourself out! Again, assess how your voice feels in that moment.

Doing this will give you an indication if you need to spend more or less time on your warm up (Of course, taking into consideration the duration of the gig too). You might notice, for example, you sound breathier than usual, or feel less flexible than usual. Choose an exercise to target what you feel needs attention, AND will also help your singing and performance style.

Once you have selected what you feel are going to be a useful set of exercises for your voice prep, you can do as much or as little of them as needed before each gig/performance. And remember, the duration of the prep is determined by how your voice is behaving in that moment, and the type and duration of the gig itself.

This is just a very very small selection of my personal favourite vocal prep exercises. For more warm ups and vocal prep information, please visit my downloads and videos.

Wake Up The Body:

Slow stretches and side bends, leg lifts, slow arm rotations, head rotations, shoulder shrugs.

For more energy, incorporate 10 jumping jacks between each of the movements above.

For even more energy, dance to your favourite song!

Feeling sluggish? Move The Articulators

(This one is courtesy of Carrie Garrett, Voice SLT  of  The Singers Clinic) Pretend to chew a magic toffee for about 20 seconds, that gets bigger and bigger the more you chew it until eventually it is so big it triggers a yawn! Follow this up by sticking out your tongue and writing your name with it!

“Clean” the teeth with the tongue, slowly, 10 x to the left and 10 x to the right.

Reach your nose with your tongue for 10 seconds.

Flop your tongue on your chin for 10 seconds.

Blow a very long raspberry!

Get Rid Of Jaw Tension- Laryngeal massage should be performed carefully and with initial guidance.

Musical Theatre Singers

In your best Wicked Witch voice, sing Nya Nya to the tune of happy birthday, in a menacing style.

Pop Diva

Make a Wah Wah guitar sound and arpeggio from your lowest pitch to your highest pitch, whilst acting like Shirley Bassey. Use those arms and fingers and facial expressions.

 Rock Gods and Goddesses

Stand in a wide stance, and as if electricity is running through your body, sing Yeah Yeah Yeah 2 octave arpeggios gaining in intensity each time through.

There are soooo many voice warm ups and voice preparations available, but finding something that you connect with, that is useful to you, your goal and singing style is really key. You can book an appointment for more information about voice warm ups.

Other articles you might like