While singing may
seem heavenly, vocal production itself is a down-to-earth physical
experience, requiring athletic discipline as well as artistry. As any
athlete knows, an effective warm up is essential for optimal performance.
singers warm up?
No one would expect a gymnast to stand up and perform back-flips
after a full meal, but singers who are dinner guests are frequently
asked to perform "on-the-spot entertainment," after dessert
and coffee. The wise singer will politely decline, rather than reveal
his raw vocal product, which is further hindered by a bloated
stomach! Warming up allows the singer to "get-in-touch"
with herself or himself, both physically and psychologically, and to
experience that kinesthetic self-awareness which is the foundation of
a secure vocal technique.
to warm-up . . .
Ideally, the warm-up procedure should be unhurried -- a leisurely
self-exploration that allows adequate time for gradual loosening and
coordination of countless muscles, large and small, which contribute
to vocal production. Warming-up should be an enjoyable experience,
comparable to a luxurious massage. All too often, unfortunately, the
singer is warming up while rushing to a rehearsal, or frantically
trying to learn his music at the last minute. The pressure of
"too little time" results in physical as well as mental
tension, and warming-up is difficult, usually ineffective, or even counter-productive.
procedure . . .
Singers develop distinctive warm-up regimens appropriate to their
personal needs; these may vary considerably with changes in physical,
mental, and emotional well being. Nevertheless, consistency in the
overall approach is most beneficial. Many singers begin by warming-up
the entire body with gentle physical exercise (e.g., stretching,
yoga, Tai Chi). This helps to alleviate the muscular tension that
interferes with vocal production, as well as to stimulate the deep
breathing which is necessary for good support of the voice. The
muscles of articulation, which include the jaw, tongue, lips, and
soft palate can be loosened with appropriate exercises, which also
can help to activate the singer's expiratory air-flow. Before
beginning to explore the day's potential for vocal resonance, the
singer should be relaxed, yet vital. If the singer is fatigued, or
not feeling well, it will be necessary to "energize"
himself, so that he can provide adequate breath support for singing.
It is wise to begin vocalizing in the most comfortable mid-range of
the voice, and gradually work out to the higher and lower extremes of
pitch. High notes (faster vocal cord vibration) may require
substantial air-flow and increased pharyngeal space. Low notes, which
use a "heavier" mode of vocal cord vibration (thicker
vibrating mass), also require appropriate support. Recent
biomechanical studies at The
Center for Voice Disorders
have shown that singing at the extremes of pitch -- both the highest
and lowest notes of the vocal range -- can strain the laryngeal
muscles, and can result in undesirable (and potentially harmful)
patterns of muscle tension. Therefore, it is good common sense to
avoid the "outer extremes" of the voice until one is well
warmed-up. In the mid range, the singer may safely begin the daily
search adjustments in the size and shape of the pharynx. Considering
the countless possible configurations of the vocal tract, the process
of developing a resonant tone is an on-going one, even for seasoned
professionals. Most of a singer's warm-up is devoted to the objective
of obtaining a beautiful vocal timbre through the use of an enormous
variety of vocal calisthenics.
singer is likely to test his vocal register transitions during the
warm-up. Exercises that "blend" the "chest"
("heavy" laryngeal adjustment) and "head"
("light" laryngeal adjustment) registers eventually produce
a smooth passaggio,
resulting in an "even scale" from the "bottom"
to the "top" of the vocal range.
The long-distance runner will spend a good amount of time stretching
and massaging muscles after a marathon, and likewise, the singer who
has extended himself should "warm-down" his voice, with
exercises that "soothe" the vocal cords (vocalizing on
"oo," for example). If the singer has been using a
"belting" voice, it is especially helpful to sing in the
"head" register (or falsetto), which stretches the vocal
cords and alleviates laryngeal tension caused by the "heavy
adjustment," or thick vibrating mass. Re-loosening the
articulatory muscles, even without phonation, is therapeutic.
Massaging the jaw -- the masseter
("chewing") muscles -- as well as other muscles of the neck
and shoulders, particularly the trapezius
(which arise from the back of the head and vertebrae in the neck and
chest, and extend to the collarbones and shoulder blades) provides
welcome relief to the singer.
Radomski, MM, is an accomplished soprano soloist and Associate
Professor of Voice and Theatrical Singing at Wake Forest University.