While singing may seem heavenly, vocal production itself is a down-to-earth physical experience, requiring athletic discipline as well as artistry. As any athlete knows, an effective warm-up is essential for optimal performance.
Why should singers and professional voice users warm-up?
No one would expect a gymnast to stand up and perform back-flips after a full meal, but singers who are dinner guests are frequently asked to perform “on-the-spot entertainment,” after dessert and coffee. The wise singer will politely decline, rather than reveal his raw vocal product, which is further hindered by a bloated stomach! Warming up allows the singer to “get-in-touch” with herself or himself, both physically and psychologically, and to experience that kinesthetic self-awareness which is the foundation of a secure vocal technique.
Allowing Time To Warm-Up
Ideally, the warm-up procedure should be unhurried – a leisurely self-exploration that allows adequate time for gradual loosening and coordination of countless muscles, large and small, which contribute to vocal production. Warming-up should be an enjoyable experience, comparable to a luxurious massage. All too often, unfortunately, the singer is warming-up while rushing to a rehearsal, or frantically trying to learn his music at the last minute. The pressure of “too little time” results in physical as well as mental tension, and warming-up is difficult, usually ineffective, or even counter-productive.
The Warm-Up Procedure
Singers develop distinctive warm-up regimens appropriate to their persona needs; these may vary considerably with changes in physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Nevertheless, consistency in the overall approach is most beneficial. Many singers begin by warming-up the entire body with gentle physical exercise (i.e., stretching, yoga, Tai Chi, etc.). This helps to alleviate the muscular tension that interferes wit vocal production, as well as to stimulate the deep breathing which is necessary for good support of the voice. The muscles of articulation, which include the jaw, tongue, lips, and soft palate, can be loosened with appropriate exercises, which also can help to activate the singer’s airflow. Before beginning to explore the day’s potential for vocal fatigued, or not feeling well, it will be necessary to “energize” oneself, and gradually work out to the higher and lower extremes of pitch. High notes may require substantial airflow and increased pharyngeal space. Low notes, which give one a “heavier” mode of vocal cord vibration also require appropriate support. Recent biomechanical studies have shown that singing extremes of pitch – both the highest and lowest notes of the vocal range – can strain the laryngeal muscles, and can result in undesirable (and potentially harmful) patterns of muscle tension. Therefore, it is good common sense to avoid the “outer extremes” of the voice until it is well warmed-up.
Finally, the singer is likely to test his vocal register transitions during the warm-up. Exercises that “blend” the “chest” and “head” registers eventually produce a smooth passaggio, resulting in an “even scale” from the “bottom” to the “top” of the vocal range.
The long-distance runner will spend a good amount of time stretching and massaging muscles after a marathon, and likewise, the singer who has extended himself should “warm-down” his voice, with exercises that “soothe” the vocal cords (e.g., vocalizing on “oo”). If the singer has been using a “belting” voice, it is especially helpful to sing in the “head” register, which stretches the vocal cords and alleviates laryngeal tension caused by the “heavy adjustment” or thick vibrating mass. Re-loosening the articulatory muscles, even without phonation is therapeutic. Having muscles of the jaw, neck and shoulders massaged following a performance provides welcome relief to the singer.
(Radomski, T., Assistant Professor of Voice and Theatrical Singing at Wake Forest University)