Welcome To Your Warm-Up Exercises!
Don't Let Your Singing Gift Go Rusty!
It's been tough not being able to meet for our choir rehearsals, but we have had some great times catching up with each other on ZOOM - although quite a few have been a little worried about using Z! We will be back as soon as the restrictions are lifted a little more. So NOW IS THE TIME to KEEP SINGING, so that when we get back together, your voice is still in good shape!
First things first! Warm Ups (taken from my book)
Step One: Relaxation Exercises
1. Belly Breathing
Take long, slow, deep breaths and gently disengage any distracting thoughts that might invade your mind. You need to be in a relaxed posture. In the context of choir, stand with feet slightly apart, and body straight with arms hanging loosely at your sides. Close your eyes to get a better focus.
2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
Use this technique with the breathing exercise above. Starting with your head and neck muscles, focus your mind on each muscle group, working your way down through your body and mentally releasing tension and anxiety you might feel there. Physically relax each muscle group as you go through the exercise. This take some practice, but you will reap the benefits. There is a connection between body, mind and spirit and this exercise begins to make that connection.
3. Using Your Imagination.
Imagination is a powerful tool in your arsenal of relaxation techniques. All the best song writers create imaginary images using words. Our emotions respond easily to visual images and this can be used positively to help you relax. In this exercise, you might like to have some pictures in front of you. It’s better if you can use photos or printed images rather than looking at a screen which has a stimulating rather than relaxing effect! There are hundreds of magazines with inspiring pictures that can be used in this exercise. I would recommend using something like National Geographic. There are many photographic books available showing pictures of the world take from the air. These can be very useful for our exercise. Take some time out focussing on different aspects of a picture and let your imagination take you into new creative spaces. If you want to explore this from a spiritual point of you, checkout “Ignatian Exercises” online.
Techniques using mindfulness are becoming very popular these days especially with those who lead stressful lives. Sitting comfortably, focus on your breathing and let your mind bring into focus the present moment. Consciously withdraw from past or future concerns. I won’t go into more detail here as there are loads of helpful guidelines online if you want to pursue this technique. I would say however that mindfulness is not a new concept, it’s been practiced for hundreds of years.
5. Repetitive prayer.
For this technique, you silently repeat a short prayer or phrase from a prayer while practicing your breathing exercise.
I find that most people I meet recognise that there is a spiritual dimension to life even though they might not articulate this from a Christian or religious perspective.
One thing I do when I can’t sleep is recite Psalm 23 from the Bible. Learning words like this off by heart can be an amazing way of calming the mind and building pictures for your imagination to take you into a restful place.
Step Two: Posture
The secret of producing a good vocal sound starts with posture. If we are not standing correctly, we can easily restrict the sound of our voices. We need to stand with our feet slightly apart to distribute the balance of our body and make sure that our body is nice and straight – no bendy bits! Arms down by our sides and in a relaxed position. The same as if we were starting one of our relaxation exercises above. A good body posture enhances our breathing and enables a good flow of air required when singing. Remember, no shoulder movements when breathing in. Rather, tummy expanding.
Practice breathing from your diaphragm or tummy – this means that your lower abdomen should expand when you inhale.
If you try the same style of breathing, while adopting a more slouched posture you will immediately notice the difference – it’s not good.
You can improve your singing posture by standing straight against a wall. Facing away from the wall, make your heels, calves, shoulders and head touch the wall simultaneously. Hold this position for a few minutes.
Step Three: Breathing Techniques
I often use the following breathing exercises near the beginning of a rehearsal. (You can also use the relaxation exercises above). If you are not breathing correctly when you sing, you will have a tired voice very quickly.
Standing in the right posture, close your eyes and at the count of three, breathe out gently, then breathe in and hold your breath for 3 seconds. Then breathe out slowly.
Same exercise again, but this time hold your breath for 10 seconds.
One way of strengthening the diaphragm, which is a thin skeletal muscle sitting just below the rib cage. Its job is to push air out and pull air into your lungs. Use the breathing exercise above, but when you come to the long breath out, use a “ts” sound to restrict the outflow of air. Tongue on the roof of your mouth, and press hard as you do it. You’ll feel your diaphragm protesting! That’s good.
To locate your diaphragm: hold a finger of your left hand out in front of you like a candle. At the count of 3, blow the candle out with a short, sharp If you are doing this correctly, you will feel your diaphragm jump! You’ve found it!
Breathe deeply from your lower lungs - imagine a rubber ring around your waist (your diaphragm). As you breathe, try to push the ring outwards – breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
This time breathe in for the count of 4 and then breathe out, making a hissing noise, as if your tyre is going flat, to the count of 4. Continue the exercise, this time:
In for 6 and out for 10.
Then in for 2 and out for 12.
Then in for 4 and out for 16.
Then in for 2 and out for 16.
Step Four: Physical Warm-Up
This is rather like a gentle aerobic exercise. I like to stand with my arms stretched high, then, in a “climbing the ladder” movement, stretch as high as you can. Then working down the body:
Shoulder rolls – left and right – backwards and forwards
Waist twister – take it gently, twisting to the left and then the right
If you are able, bring your knees up to your waist – one at a time of course! Hold a posture on one leg for a moment.
Bend knees and wiggle feet
If you can gently touch your toes, that’s fine too.
I sometimes combine a physical warm-up with a vocal warm-up by getting the choir to sing:
“My Bonnie lies over the ocean,
My Bonnie lies over the sea,
My Bonnie lies over the ocean,
So bring back my Bonnie to me.
Bring back, bring back
Oh bring back my Bonnie to me, to me
Bring back, bring back,
Oh bring back my Bonnie to me”
I’ve highlighted every occurrence of the letter “b” because every time you sing the letter, you either stand up or sit down. This is not an exercise for people with a bad back!
Step Five: Vocal Warm-Up
Vocal warm ups and exercises are key when you’re learning how to sing! Just like athletes stretch out their body and muscles before a big game, vocalists must warm up their singing voice before a performance or rehearsal.
We maintain a healthy voice when we practice vocal warm-ups.
12 Vocal Warm-Ups
Sing through an octave using numbers, like this:
We do this exercise in our choirs and then try doing the same exercise, but missing out a number or two! Try it. It’s great for locating the note in your head without singing it.
We all know “Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do” from the The Sound of Music. Starting on middle “C”, sing through the scale and then go back to the beginning, raising the first note to “D” – etc.
You get a funny tickling sensation when doing this exercise!
You simply vibrate your lips together using various notes.
Remaining on one note (monotone), sing “mah-may-me-mo-moo” slowly, really pronouncing the Ms.
Using the words “I love to sing” start on the root note of an octave, and then sing the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 8th note.
Many harmonies are built around the 1st, 3rd and 5th note of an octave.
Split the choir into three groups and bring in the three groups by singing the 1st, then the 3rd, then the 5th note to the respective group. Get them to hold the note and then crescendo them and hold until you bring them off. The choir is harmonising. I have found this to be a great exercise right at the beginning of a choir being formed, because it shows very quickly how we can learn harmonies and sing like a real choir, using the “Sing & Repeat” method.
Try using this exercise using diminuendo – it’s much harder to hold a note quietly, and teaches voice control.
Think of the sound of a fire engine passing by, and imitate it with your voice. Start at the lowest note in your range, and slide through every note to the top of your range. If you can sing the low notes and high notes, then you know you are in good vocal shape!
Use imaginery chewing gum! Chew it vigorously, sliding your tongue round your mouth. Then take hold of a piece and pull it out of your mouth as if you were stretching it. Use a “weeeeeeeeeeeeee” siren sound as you do it! All good fun.
Using the sounds, “mini-me”, go up and down the scales:
UP: Mini-me, mini-me, mini-me, me
Mini-me, mini-me, mini-me, me
DOWN: Mini-me, mini-me, mini-me, me
Mini-me, mini-me, mini-me, me
Once again an exercise with scales but this time using vowel sounds but making sure your lips exaggerate the shape of the sound:
A E I O U
“NG” As In “Sung”
Using the “ng” sound, use various notes to make the sound. Extend the note up 8 notes and then back down again.
I sometimes inject some enthusiasm into the exercise by asking the choir to imagine they have just won £50 on the National Lottery – how would they make the noise then! What if they won £1,000,000, how would they do it then! Or if their favourite film or singing star walked into the room, how with they do it then!
Head Shoulders Knees And Toes
This is a good exercise if you want to combine a body work-out with a vocal one! It’s a well-known song – if you don’t know it, take a look online.