The modern singer is a vocal athlete. Dancers and elite sports professionals know the importance of preparing the body correctly for performance. Vocalists need to be the same way! Just like the skeletal muscles should be systematically stretched before demanding usage, so should the muscles of the larynx that are involved in phonation. The principle of veisel dilation is the same- blood needs to nourish the muscles with oxygen to increase flexibility and decrease the chance of injury. DON’T SKIMP ON YOUR VOCAL WARMUP!!!!
A singer should NEVER go into a lengthy rehearsal, recording session, or performance without a thorough warmup. It should last somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes to make sure that all the musculature is properly coordinated, with the head and chest registers easily connected and the full range engaged. Physical stretches are also helpful as are stretches for the tongue.
I begin the vocal warmup with glissandi, or slides, either on a hum, ‘oo’, lip trill, or tongue trill. Either starting lightly in head voice and descending or sliding up easily from chest voice work well. The first scales will be on sounds that serve to stretch out the voice- lip trills, tongue trill, and the ‘ng’ sound. I use the octave and a half pattern and then into the mixed octave scale. These exercise sounds allow for a very effective warmup over a wide range without undue pressure and unwanted muscular interference. And they can be revisited throughout the day to keep the voice fresh.
Now we move on to the dumb or crying sounds. These exercise syllables will help you balance good cord closure with efficient air flow- not too much, not too little. Use syllables such as ‘mum’, ‘goog’, ‘bub’, or ‘wun’ with a slightly exaggerated goofy sound. This will keep the swallowing muscles from pulling the larynx up and constricting the throat. Then change the sound from the dumber approach to more of a whimper or cry, bringing the larynx to a more natural, neutral position. This is not supposed to be a pretty sound. Its job is to deactivate those overactive swallowing muscles that interfere with easy tone production.
Then, the ugly but invaluable pharyngeal sounds are employed. They were referred to as ‘the witch’s voice’ in times past and that’s exactly how you should sound!! No sounding pretty here!! With a bratty, witchy tone, we will use the syllables ‘nay’ and ‘naa’. These sounds will allow again greater air flow and a produce a tone that is deceptively powerful but actually quite easy to make- no strain needed. The exercise allows a very easy, effiecient connection of the chest and head registers, creating the much needed middle voice or ‘the mix’ that is so important for most modern vocal styles. Remember, the goal is not prettiness. The ugliness in the exercises is helping to build a solid technique, so enjoy the chance to sound like a looney as you build a killer voice!!
Once you have gotten through this portion of the warmup, you may move onto exercises that work on agility, sustains, and dynamics, but only after the voice feels loose and the cord closure is well coordinated with the breath.
This is a map of the basics of the daily warmup. It will vary according to many factors, such as energy level, time of day, amount of sleep, the size of the voice, and many others. But this is a general approach that we will use as the core of regimen. It is very imporant to find a knowledgeable voice teacher to help you develop the proper routine for your voice and its unique demands.
Remember, you are a vocal athlete and you must train with that idea in mind.