I'm currently writing a mini series of blog posts focussing on vocal health for singers out there that wish to avoid damaging their voice. As I mentioned last week, our talents and bodies are irreplaceable unlike other instruments so I started with the basics of a healthy lifestyle in Vocal Health 101.
This week I'll be writing about warming-up your body and voice before practice and performances and more specifically at breathing and a few vocal techniques to get you started.
I know from experience that it can feel silly to warm up when you're the only vocalist. Also, while you warm up there may be a note here or there that's not perfect but it doesn't matter how stupid you feel, you should always warm up! Take five minutes to find a bathroom, sit in the car or take a stroll if you really want to be alone.
Don't forget to bring your ear protection and a microphone to every practice session, your ears are precious too.
Imagine an upside-down "Y" down your back and you want to open the Y further without tearing it apart. Keep your shoulders down and chest bone fused to your spine (a dance teacher explained this to me once and it is the easiest way for me to explain how to breathe). It almost feels as if you are pushing out sideways against your arms all the way down to the bottom of the lungs. Inhale for 4 counts and exhale for 4 counts. Repeat this 3 times waiting 2 counts between each set. This is a basic exercise to use every day.
The more you practice controlled breathing the more control you will have over your voice. Another exercise is to exhale with consistent flow slowly for as long as you can hold it steady. Use your hand to measure your breath. Repeat this 10 times.
Some face warming up is a good idea. Pull a huge smile, stretch and relax your face in various ways. A liproll on a "b" sound will loosen the vocal chords. How to do a Lip Roll
Rolling your shoulders is a great way to stay relaxed and natural in your neck, which is very important. Keep your movements fluid and avoid slouching or tucking in your chin for lower pitches and stretching up for higher notes. This will put unnecessary strain on your voice.
An extra tip for you when you are using your voice for warming up or practice is to use a full length mirror. This is to make sure you aren't straining or making any strange movements. It can also be a fun experiment to play around, singing in different poses during practice so you don't feel so self-conscious on stage.
Take your breathing exercise and add a note to it. Hold it steady and consistent volume. Repeat this 5 times.
Remember that "b" sound? Try using it with a scale exercise up and down to the octave. Start on a middle C and major scale to the next C...and moving up first by one tone each repetition and then down until you've covered your range.
A fun exercise to try is repeating this with a minor scale for the next round.
Repeat the exercise again using the "ng" sound and then again with vowels. These are your most important sounds to sing as they are open sounds. Ah Eh ih Aw and Oo. If you happen to struggle with a vowel in a part of your range, don't panic but keep working on it so that in future you'll develop a clear sound for all the vowels in your whole range. An added extra to help with lower notes is the "Urh" sound.
One last one for this extra long post is a mixture of breathing and vocal use. Singing "yah-yah" or "Yeh-yeh" and so on using your scale keeping it short and but not breathy is a fun way to change it up.
A full body warm-up should take about 15 minutes to complete. 15 minutes so you can sing a little more relaxed and pain free.