Whether you rap, sing, belt, scream, croon or perform spoken word, you will get more from your voice if you warm up first. Actually, there’s no avoiding it. Those who feel it’s unnecessary, or silly, are simply warming up as they sing rather than before. There is a huge difference, however, when you gradually work the body up to performance level. Your pitch, range, power, expression, and most important, your longevity will greatly improve.
Any increase in any muscle activity raises the body’s core temperature. Shocking the body into action from a cold start triggers protective muscles to brace against the prospect of injury. Neck, jaw and tongue muscles lock in place requiring a vocalist to exert extra air pressure to sing. The tension creates friction that causes the vocal folds to over heat and swell. Translation: Punching out the first few songs of the set will make you blow out quicker and stay blown for most of the next day. Temporary vocal fatigue might not seem to be much of an issue when you’re gigging once a week. But what happens when your music “hits”?
Consider the schedule Emerson Hart, singer for Tonic, back when his album “Lemon Parade” was released. Management kept the band working five nights a week, with plenty of thirteen-dates-in-a-row stints. Often, Emerson’s day began at 7:00 AM with an unplugged song for a morning-drive show. Then, it was off to various promotions and afternoon interviews, finishing with a 90 minute set at midnight. When Emerson called me, he was satisfied with his vocal abilities but nervous about surviving his success. I devised a warm-up plan to prepare him for the daily routine.
What you sing to warm-up is not as important as how. I recommend the simplest sounds. Your attention should be on physical freedoms rather than quality of sound. Release your breath with several long, low volume hisses. Then, loosen your face and neck while humming with a wandering, siren-like, motion. Don’t allow your face to change to reach for pitches. Alternate the hums with an extended zzz sound and gradually change this to an EE vowel and then an AH. Keep your melodies sweeping. I don’t recommend singing songs quietly because there are usually tensions programmed into them. As you loosen up, turn up your volume — but not before. As you get louder, stay with an EE or AH. The point is to wait until the body gives you permission to increase the load. The length of a warm-up should be in reverse proportion to the need. Long gig — short warm up, but if you’re doing a single song on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, you should warm up and then sing for an hour for that, trusted, middle-of-the-set feeling.
The hardest part about warming up is making the time and finding a place. I used to be embarrassed to make the funny sounds required in front of others hanging in the back room — if there was one. Now I choose the dirty looks over the frustration of having a set end just as my voice is waking up. Be inventive; head out to the car or van in the warm months or, in winter, hang in the bathroom or stand in the middle of the crowd if there’s a band before yours. No one will hear a thing — I do it all the time. If you’re running late, warm up while driving to the gig or rehearsal. The best routine is to warm up slowly all day. Every chance you get, lightly vocalize on hums and zzz sounds. Just remember, for any style singing, starting with a loose, flexible instrument will allow access to your full potential. Where you take your voice from there, is up to you.