I can remember seeing an interview with two singers as a child. One was a pop singer and the other was Sarah Brightman, a singer famous for her marriage to Andrew Lloyd Weber as well as for singing in his Phantom of the Opera as the soprano lead. It was a breakfast show. When asked to sing, it struck me that the pop singer was happy to perform live at a moment’s notice. Sarah, however, said she couldn’t possibly sing without warming up and so early in the day.
At the time, (I was probably about eight), I thought she was pretentious. Now I know exactly where she is coming from. I would never perform, or even practice, without warming up. This includes physical stretching as well as gentle exercises to warm up the vocal apparatus.
So what is the best way to warm up?
It is important to remember that whilst singing, the body and face need to be relaxed. This means that gentle stretching and facial massage help to prepare for good singing. Deep breaths whilst stretching also remind the singer of good technique, as correct breathing, deep into the lungs, is essential for a singer.
Tension is the enemy
Each individual can develop and hold tension in different parts of their body. Typical places are the neck, jaw, forehead and tongue root. It is important to gently lengthen and stretch the neck muscles, to deliberately relax the forehead, to loosen the jaw though massage or through making floppy ‘yayaya’ sounds. Releasing tongue root tension can be achieved through talking with a protruding tongue, or through blowing raspberries, possibly whilst humming ascending and descending notes.
Yawning is brilliant for reminding singers to lift the roof of the mouth, creating a space in which sound can resonate.
The vocal folds are to be treated with care.
It is a good idea to warm them gently. Recently, professional singers have been more and more aware of using a technique known as semi occluded vocal tract, or SOTV. This simply means that there is a narrowing of the air passage created somewhere between the back of the mouth and the lips. The air flow from lungs to lips is in equilibrium and very little air needs to rush through the vocal folds, so that they are relatively still during the warm up exercises. .
SOTV can be achieved in a number of ways. One is by using the tongue to block the air, singing on a ‘ngggg’ sound being popular. The lips can also be used, forming a soft ‘vvvvv’ or a small round ‘oooooo’. There has been a recent trend for using a straw in SOTV. This is particularly helpful as it frees the singer from any sense of having to worry about the sound, allowing vocal technique to be observed. Using a thin straw blocks the air effectively. It’s also fun to do. I currently use a straw for warming up every day, and return to using the straw for tackling lengthy passages or those in a high tessitura. The straw is effective, and can be used with very little external sounds, making it ideal for those situations where a warm up needs to be conducted quietly!
Find out more about SOVT and the incredible benefits for yourself using this link:
You will enjoy singing so much more when you warm up well!