Many singers feel tempted to start practicing without warming up. Especially if you’re running late to a rehearsal or have to sing at an early morning church service, it feels like you can just warm-up as you go.
On the other extreme, some singers warm-up for an hour before an audition and end up tiring out their voice before they even walk into the room.
Like many things in life, it’s best to find a middle ground. Whether you’re about to walk into a lesson, an audition, or just practicing at home, these five warm-ups that can help you identify the problem area of the day and quickly get your voice moving.
1. Lip or Tongue Trills
Even if I can’t do any other warm-up, I make sure to do a lip or tongue trill. This one is great because it’s more of a diagnostic tool than anything else. A lip trill is exactly like blowing a raspberry, but you want to add pitch. You can also stick your tongue out and vibrate that instead of your lips.
Start at the lower part of your voice and trill an octave, ascending until you reach your highest note.
While trilling, focus on your breath and your support. You also want to check in and see if there are any places in your voice where you feel a skip, or you feel like you’re pushing.
The great thing about lip or tongue trill is you don’t need a piano, and you can do them anywhere. I’ve been known to lip trill in the bathroom or even on the metro. For early morning rehearsals or auditions, you can also lip trill without disturbing your neighbors.
2. Breathing Exercises
Singing is all about moving your air. If I’m holding my air instead of using it, I find a quick breathing exercise helps kick everything into the right place.
Either standing up or lying in Alexander Constructive Rest, take a deep breath, expanding your belly. While breathing in, tap a finger four times, hold the breath for four taps, exhale for four, and wait to breathe again for four.
You can increase the taps slowly to 16 each, each time increasing your awareness of your breath and what it feels like to hold air versus using air.
If you can’t hum it, you can’t sing it. Humming is an excellent way to explore your voice’s status and learn difficult passages without fully singing.
Humming also removes any tension you might be adding into your jaw or tongue. Once you move onto vowels, you can always start a scale with a hum, which will immediately put your voice in the right place.
4. Scales on Vowels
The next step in your warm-up should be vowels. I recommend descending five-note scales using the five Italian vowels – A-E-I-O-U. If you’re focusing on German or French rep, you could also add some scales using ü.
As you ascend a half-step for each scale, remember to focus on moving your air and keeping your jaw loose. If you find yourself tensing up or using a glottal, start with a hum and open to the Ah.
5. Consonant Warmups
Lastly, you want your consonants to be quick and light. Practice some tongue twisters, but focus on only using the tip of your tongue to form the consonants.
Now you’re ready to start your practice or lesson. Warm-ups can be tedious, but they are necessary to keep your instrument primed and healthy.