Our regular contributor, performing songwriter and singing coach, Lisa Redford, shares her favourite vocal warm-up techniques to get you going
Willie Nelson once said, “When you’re singing, you’re using extra muscles, and it requires a lot of exercise and breathing. You can’t do that if you’re a sissy. If I have any fitness advice for people, I’d tell them to sing more. It’s good therapy, too.” And he really has a point.
Singing is incredibly physical; it is essential to warm up to have greater control over your voice. Your vocal cords are made up of muscles just like any other part of the body and these need warming up to prevent strain and damage. You can do this with a combination of breathing exercises and warm-ups before every practice session.
So here I’ve compiled 10 of my favourite vocal warm up exercises to get budding singers started……
1. LIP TRILLS
The lip trill – also called lip roll or ‘bubble’ – is great for warming up your voice and diaphragm gently. It subjects the vocal cords to less tension, making it safer and easier to sing through your entire range without hurting your voice. To make the vibrating sound, bring your lips together, keeping them closed and relaxed, and blow air through them to create a raspberry sound. Add pitch and move slowly up and down your range on arpeggios – the first five notes of the major scale work well – ensuring your breath is relaxed throughout.
The siren is also effective at the start of a warm-up. Imagine the noise a fire engine makes as it passes by and imitate with your voice. Sing a long siren on “oh” or “oo”, beginning at the lowest comfortable place, and slide through every note until you reach the top of your range and then travel back down again. The aim is for a continuous slide with smooth transitions through each section of your register. This warm-up is great for connecting vocal registers and making sure the air moves correctly behind your vocal cords in a relaxed style. You can also try the siren in reverse; starting with your mouth open wide and going from high to low.
Humming is another excellent starting point for warming up your range gently without straining. Start at the bottom end of your voice – the chest voice – and hum arpeggios up and down on a five-note scale passage, going up a semitone each time. Avoid the extreme highs and low notes in your range and keep your breathing relaxed.
4. FIVE-NOTE SCALE PASSAGE
Using the same pattern as one above sing on vowels such as ‘oh’, ‘ah’ and ‘ee’. Vowel sounds help develop tone, pronunciation, power and articulation. Singing arpeggios are great for ear training, enabling you to focus on moving from one pitch to another.
Triads are also effective and particularly good for building breath control and opening up the chest. You can also sing this exercise with the sounds ‘oh’, ‘ah’ and ‘ee’. As you sing higher you will slowly introduce more of your head voice.
6. SLIDE TO A 5TH
I really like the slide to a 5th as it is relaxing for your voice, helping to relieve tension. Using the five-note scale, sing an aah sound and smoothly slide up to a fifth and back down again. This works on the transition between chest voice and head voice…