At Singa, we truly believe that singing belongs to everyone. Whether you're a trained vocalist or an occasional karaoke star, your voice deserves to be heard. And even more importantly, YOU deserve to enjoy using your voice and singing as much as you like. Every voice is unique, and there's no absolute rights or wrongs in using your voice - as long as it feels good to you!
However, warming up our voice before jumping to singing is a useful and healthy practice. We asked a vocal teacher Dea Juris to guide us through some useful vocal exercises to help with breathing, healthy vocal production and improving your agility, pitch and overall control of your voice. Try this vocal warm up for example in the morning or before starting your singing session!
When you're all warmed up and ready, search for your favourite song in Singa and get singing!
8-step vocal warm up for singing
My first “vocal exercise” of the day is often a simple breathing exercise. It helps me get centered and notice how my body is feeling that day. There’s no way around the importance of breath for vocalists, so I like to pay extra attention to it. Try taking a long, gentle breath in, perhaps placing one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your lower back, and breathe out on a hissed “ssss”. It helps to focus on your stomach, back and ribs expanding on the inhale. You may also feel your breath support starting to activate organically when breathing out. Repeat a few times.
Humming is a great way to start warming up the voice as it’s on the quieter side, and encourages the face, jaw and tongue to relax. It also helps activate your forward resonance sensation, and is an easy way to determine how your voice is feeling that day. Tired and raspy? Or maybe elastic, open and well-placed? I like to start with sliding on a major second interval in my mid-range. Pick a note that feels easy, somewhere close to your speaking voice, and descend chromatically. You can also do bigger slides, say a fifth, if that feels good. Focus on finding a little buzz on the lips and bringing your tone forward. Make the hum as effortless as you can, and avoid pursing lips together.
There’s no way around the importance of breath in singing.
3. Lip trills
Next, I might move on to lip trills (a kind of brbrbrbr sound) and rolled r’s. These help further warm up the diaphragm and muscles used for breathing when singing. They naturally activate your breath control and support, and release some pressure off the vocal folds. Try to relax your lips and, again, make the exercise effortless without pushing and straining your voice. I like doing full octave slides or arpeggios, either 1-3-5-8-5-3-1, or sliding up the octave and descending 8-5-3-1, but you can basically do anything that feels good! Sometimes I just do a bunch of sirens back and forth if I’m short on time.
4. Small runs with vowels
Moving on to some small runs or scales usually feels good at this point. You can try a simple 5-4-3-2-1 descending major or minor scale on a vowel, for example “oo” or “aa” or “ee”. Pay attention to having sufficient space in the mouth, and the tongue staying flat, wide and relaxed. Keep the tempo medium-fast (or even fast) to really work on agility and articulation.
5. Big yawns
Somewhere in the middle of my warm-up I do a couple of big yawns (or yawn-sighs). It might sound counter-intuitive to yawn during a vocal practice that’s supposed to energize you for the day, but yawning actually helps provide a gentle stretch to the soft palate and jaw, and relaxes your larynx and abdominal muscles. Pay attention to the space it creates in the back of your throat. After you’ve yawned naturally a few times, you can add a sustained tone, maybe “aaahhh”, at the peak of the yawn, and let it descend naturally. Pay attention to where your tongue is! Make sure the tip of the tongue is placed behind the lower back teeth. If sirens or slides feel good in this space, go for it!
6. Consonant-vowel runs
Next, I might go back to my 5-4-3-2-1 scale on a consonant-vowel combo, say, “mee”, “may'', “moo”. If you have some time, you could repeat the same little scale a few times. For example, “nee”, “nay”, “noh”, each starting on the same note and descending 5-4-3-2-1, and then moving chromatically up or down to repeat. Again, try this out on a medium-fast tempo for agility and articulation. You don’t have to stick to a descending scale, either, if, say, 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 feels good. Try out different consonants and pay attention to how the resonance in your face and head changes. For example, “m” helps to find a forward tone, and “n” might resonate more in your nasal passages and “mask” area.
I might go back to a scale on a consonant-vowel combo, say, “mee”, “may'', “moo”.
7. Staccato notes
Singing staccato notes is great for agility and breath control. I like doing a minor or major triad twice, 1-3-5-3-1-3-5-3-1, maybe with “hey, hey, hey, hey, hah, hah, hah, hah, hah”. Make sure you’re singing these notes lightly, and letting out only a bit of air at a time. If the triad feels like too much, you can try staying on one note, and moving up chromatically.
8. Long tones!
I used to hate these (still kinda do) but there’s no way around it: they’re a great exercise for clear tone, efficient use of breath, and strengthening the muscles used for breathing. Pick one note in your midrange and sustain a clear (not breathy) tone for as long as you can. Make sure you’re breathing when moving between notes, and try to make the tone as straight as you can (no vibrato). If you can only do a few of these at a time, don’t worry, you’re starting to build up strength.
Long notes are great exercise for clear tone, efficient use of breath, and strengthening the muscles used for breathing!
Then, jump into a song!
After these steps, it’s nice to jump into a song you like or are working on, and see how your voice is feeling. The voice is a funny little thing! There’s so much in our daily lives that affects how it feels: how much sleep and rest we’re getting, what we’re eating, whether we're drinking enough water, how much caffeine or alcohol we’re having, is it allergy season or is the heat in our apartment drying out our vocal folds, what’s our emotional and mental state? Paying attention to all this and more, in addition to doing warm-ups and exercises, is not only beneficial for singers but also for anyone that uses their voice a lot. Happy singing!
Vocal coach Dea Juris has graduated as a Master in Music from Aaron Copland School of Music, New York, and teaches singing and voice training in Helsinki for all ages and levels. Contact Dea via email or phone +358 407402345 for further info or to book a class.