In simple terms. Your instrument, your voice is a physical muscle, you are like an athlete, you use muscles to make a sound. Your vocal cords are two white tendons brought together, then when air is passes through them they vibrate together to make a sound. They oscillate approximately 440 times per second, that’s 26,400 times per minute, and that’s only when speaking, If singing in your higher vocal range the vocal cords can oscillate more than 1000 times per second. That is an amazing 60,000 plus times a minute.
We at Vox Singing Academy gets so many people coming in with incorrect technique and damaged vocal cords, which purely and simply could have been avoided by correct warmups, scales and breathing techniques that can be taught in a very short amount of time! This is why it is very important to warm up and cool down before and after you sing, perform or do scales. Just like you would stretch ,limber and warm up before and after you play sport, and the same thing should be done with you as a singer.
Stand up when singing or doing your scales workout in a relaxed posture. If you are sitting please try to keep your upper torso relatively straight and relaxed.
Let’s start by taking a conversation sized breath into the V of the rib cage or what’s known as the diaphragm area. If you feel this area move out slightly that is fantastic, but if its not moving that’s fine as well. As we will be covering breathing techniques in depth in next months column. It will greatly help you out if you can look into a mirror when you’re doing your singing, scaling and breathing to see and monitor what you are doing.
Stay hydrated, drink room temperature water before, during and after scales and singing. Room temperature water will keep your vocal chords lubricated as we have already spoken about, they will be vibrating together at an extraordinary rate.
For beginners and intermediates i recommend warming your voice by gently humming with the lips closed. Personally in my classes I would do this with a major 5th scale and start at the lowest point of the students range and work my way all the way through to the very highest falsetto (false voice) until the voice naturally stops. If you do not have access to a piano, guitar, teacher or a program that can play this, I recommend that you hum at the lowest point of your voice and begin raising & sliding up slowly towards the top of your for vocal range then come back down your range again in a circular motion. This circular motion is also called in singing in terms “sirening”. Please keep the sound very light and pure. Do not force the sound down or onto the throat. As you go higher gradually tighten your stomach a little bit to support the sound and let the sound resonate (vibrate) to the back of the head or in between the ears as you are going higher.
Please do this for 2 to 5 min. After you do this you should feel that your voice is warmed up, invigorated and stretched out, as you would feel if you stretched are and limbered your body for playing sport. After this I would highly recommend doing some open mouth vowel scales, such as Art, See or Soul. Again on a major 5th or a triad down (5,3,1 scale). Do this until you feel YOUR voice is warmed up. After you feel your voice is warmed up, eased into a song.
For my Advanced/ professional students I recommend that you spend 5 minutes doing some mild stretching and limbering up of the body. As we are going to be using most of the muscles in the body when performing. The stretching will consist of some light stretching of every major muscle in the body, but let’s spend a little more time stretching the abdominal and core muscles and loosening up and stretching the neck and shoulder area.
Then I would start with the Ung warmup exercise for as long as is necessary and until your voice feels limbered, flexible and warmed up. The Ung exercise is the same as the humming exercise except we will block off the back of the uvula (throat) with the tongue to make a light Ung sound. This exercise resonates and circulates warm air around the most important parts of the vocal cords which are the true and false vocal cords.
Then you would continue to do some scales that are going to warm up the specific parts of the voice that I’m about to use in my performance. E.g. if you are going to use a lot of falsetto , do more falsetto exercises, if you’re mainly singing in your higher register, use some higher range scales like crying scales, if you are mainly singing down lower, do some lower range scales, if you’re screaming, do some screaming scales. Warmup what you were going to use.