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Why, as vocalist's, should we warm up?

Updated: Apr 1, 2022

For my first post, I wanted to take take a minute to talk about warmups. Any time I get a chance to speak to being a vocalist, you can expect my "Warmup Soapbox" to make an appearance.

Our vocal apparatus is like any other muscle. In fact, in my opinion it's more nuanced than most of the muscles in our body due to the fact that we're working with such a small and intricate system. I mean, I'm not even talking yet about what houses that system and all of those muscles. There are approximately 68 muscles in the face and neck alone. Did you catch that? SIXTY-EIGHT! With that being said, I think it's important for me to emphasize, when I talk about a vocal warmup, I am including a physical warmup for the muscles that house and are connected to our larynx, tongue, and vocal folds.

Below are two similar diagrams of our vocal anatomy. I think it's helpful to get a literal picture of what is working inside of us to produce sound, let alone "beautiful" sounds.

Just like you would (or should) stretch before you exercise (run, life, bike, etc), it's so important to stretch before singing. Our entire body is the instrument and if for no other reason than that, it deserves to be treated with respect & appreciation.

I love a good quick full-body stretch before singing, but I'm just going to highlight stretches related to the images above. Everything, and I mean everything, in our body is connected to something (duh!). For example, if you are noticing that it's hard to fully open your mouth, it's usually indicative that not only are your 'jaw/jaw muscles' tight, but there is probably tension somewhere in your neck and shoulders that could go as far as your pectoralis major muscle (commonly referred to as 'pecs'). Taking time to stretch, stretching your tongue, doing shoulder rolls, chest openers, neck rolls. pec+mandible stretches, side-body opening stretches for the ribs and diaphragm, and going as far down to loosen up the hips/hip flexers can be a game changer.

To sing with tension is to limit yourself and your body. It's also a good way to injure yourself. An athlete doesn't approach a marathon or triathlon cold. They have prepped and practiced, and warm-up their body before that buzzer goes off. Part of that preparation is training their body to loosen up and come into alignment. We should approach singing the same way!

Once we've physically loosened those muscles, then second half of our warm-ups can really begin. Remember, your vocal apparatus is a small, intricate network. The vocal folds (aka vocal cords), larynx, soft palate, everything, will appreciate you taking the time to activate them. Never start too low or too high when you're beginning your warmup. Find your middle range and ease into it; this includes avoid starting with fast runs! Start with a nice five note scale and from there throw in an exercise that addresses breath control. Add some lip trips or lip buzzing to release tension in the tongue and vocal folds, keeping your range moderate with these exercises. If you've a song with runs or melismas, towards the middle or end of your warm up, get a vocal exercise in there that addresses that. Need to work on range transfers? Throw a warmup in that covers those as well - personally I love "Hey yah's" for this. [If you're one of my students you know exactly which warmups I'm talking about up here.]

The important thing is to approach your practice and performance intelligently. That means, make sure you warm both your body and your voice up; it also means be sure to cool down at then end. A few light physical stretches to work out any areas that you may feel tension in post-performance/practice, and some gentle hums/runs down, some sighs, maybe some brief straw work to vocally relax and release your physical instrument from duty.

Feel free to reach out if you're looking for more in-depth information, warmups, stretches, and cool downs!

Here are some reading resources I love & have been recommended to me by other voice instructors, that speak to some of what I mentioned in here:

"A Systematic Approach to Voice: The Art of Studio Application" by: Kari Ragan

"The Singing Voice: An Owner's Manual" by: Pat. H. Wilson

"The Vocal Athlete, 2nd Edition" by Wendy D. Leborgne & Marci Rosenberg

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