[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Sırma Munyar.]
Singing is an intuitive activity for most artists. Every vocalist starts out as self-taught, because their vocal cords are built-in, waiting for an excuse to vibrate. And thus begin bad habits and techniques which most singers spend years to correct.
A lot of that correction process takes place during vocal warm ups, but if you force your voice to project in a way it’s not equipped to do so, you might end up doing more harm than good. Attempting to belt out a high pitch out of the blue, or focusing on vocal range expansion exercises right off the bat, are some of the most common beginner mistakes.
Instead, you should pay attention to the order in which you practice vocalese exercises. Think about it this way: if you were an athlete warming up to train, wouldn’t it make sense to ease your body into it?
If your voice gets tired after a warm up routine, or you feel a strain in your neck, you might be missing a step somewhere.
- Don’t forget to warm up your body before warming up your voice.
Try a 10-minute yoga routine with a focus on the neck, shoulder and back next time you’re getting ready to warm up your voice. Your vocal delivery may be hindered by how tense your body feels.
- Do pay attention to the time of the day you choose to warm up your voice.
Vocal cords are usually at their most vulnerable state early in the morning and late at night. If your body is tired, so will be your vocal cords. Makes sense, right?
Of course, if you have an early recording session or a late performance, you’ve got to work with what you have. But on any given day, if you practice late morning or in the afternoon, you’ll find your voice to be more cooperative.
- Do make sure that you practice with a good posture.
The goal here is not to stand up or sit down with a posture that feels rigid. You should aim for a neutral spine while keeping your shoulders relaxed.
Many singers tend to move their necks forward and heads up or down, but this not something you should obsess over while you’re recording or performing on stage. Keep your neck straight while you practice, and you’ll find that in time, you naturally move with ease without even thinking about it.
- Do start your vocal warm up with lip trills.
While doing lip trill exercises, you should gently press your index fingers near the corners of your mouth every now and then to check if you can feel the vibrations from the way your lips move. This is a great way to make sure that your vocal placement is good.
Whether you’re a beginner or professional, you can’t go wrong with lip trills. Sure, there’s still a possibility to push your voice backward instead of forward even with lip trill exercises. But by design, they make your voice less prone to injuries, which makes them ideal for starting to warm up.
- Do start by practicing the register you feel most comfortable in instead of reaching for the lowest or the highest octave of your range right away.
Pay attention to the pitches that feel the most comfortable to you. C3 to A3? F2 to C3? Even if you don’t play the piano and have no formal training whatsoever, you can still use the piano roll in your DAW or various mobile apps to guide you through determining the limits of your vocal range.
- Do take note of the vowels you feel most comfortable with.
For instance, after lip trill exercises, I usually move to vowels like “ooh” and “wee” to practice scales. For you, “ahh”or “ohh” might feel more comfortable instead. What’s most important is that you should be gentle, and ease your voice into more challenging exercises as you go.
- Don’t neglect breathing exercises.
If you’ve had any formal training, you already know this: expanding your diaphragm is good, raising your shoulders is bad.
To make sure you know how to breathe correctly to improve your singing skills, stand in front of a full length mirror and place your hands at the bottom of your ribcage on both sides to locate your diaphragm muscles. While you’re breathing in through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, your goal should be to expand your diaphragm, while keeping your shoulders down.
If you’re new to diaphragmatic breathing, try lying down on a flat surface instead of standing up straight. You’ll feel your diaphragm muscles expand more naturally that way. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to breathe correctly even while you’re sitting down.
Strengthening your diaphragm is just as important as strengthening your vocal cords!
- Do have your go-to 10-minute, 20-minute and 30-minute warm up routines.
If you’re getting ready to sing, a 20-minute warm up routine should be sufficient.
You can always practice vocalese exercises for up to an hour to strengthen your cords and expand your range on less busy days.
But if you’re short on time, knowing exactly what you can do within 10 or 15 minutes to get your voice in shape is better than not doing anything at all.
- Do rest your voice.
Vocal rest should not be something you do as a last resort when you have nodules on your cords. Remember: even speaking can be quite tiring.
If you put your cords through an especially strenuous and long warm up routine, give it a rest for an hour or two.
- Don’t whisper.
So many singers make the mistake of whispering during their vocal rest days, thinking that if their cords are not vibrating, whispering should still count as resting.
Whispering, especially loud whispering, leads to tense muscles in the front of the neck. When you strain your neck, it becomes more difficult to sing with a healthy technique, because your voice box lacks the support from the surrounding muscles it usually relies on.
- Do cool off by ending your warm up routine with a vocal massage.
Even if you’re an experienced vocalist with great posture, you can’t fully avoid the occasional neck pain. Sometimes you sleep at an awkward angle, or sit in front of a desk a little too long, and doing stretches can be helpful but often not enough to combat the issue.
Vocal massage, which is also known as laryngeal massage, is a great way to loosen the tense muscles around the jaw line as well as front and sides of your neck. Once again, being gentle is key here.
- Do pay attention to what you eat and drink.
Dehydration is the enemy of healthy singing. Your vocal cords need to be lubricated in order to vibrate well. Drinking too much coffee, smoking and consuming alcohol all lead to dehydration.
You should also pay attention to foods that tend to thicken your mucus. All dairy products, candy, chocolate and pretty much any kind of food that contains sugar might cause a build up of phlegm in the back of your throat.
If you end up needing a quick solution though, you can always try drinking warm ginger tea with fresh lemon juice before and after your warm up routine.