Effective choral singing requires certain skills, both for the voice and for the ear. Taking 10 minutes each day to do them can develop these skills faster than we might imagine. And we owe nothing less to our fellow singers, or our audience!
In this post, we’ll explore some voice-building warm-up exercises, which are designed to help us produce the biggest, warmest, most tension-free sound for the least amount of effort and wear on the voice. They function both as warm-up and as training for vocal development.
General Guidelines – When practicing alone, use any melodic pattern that’s comfortable in the voice, being sure to cover your range as thoroughly as possible, without ever straining.
If you’re leading the group in these drills, choose melodic patterns that accommodate everyone’s range needs – take the sopranos and tenors as high, and the basses and altos as low as necessary for a proper and thorough warm-up.
In either situation, be careful to produce every sound in a free and well-supported way, with support coming from just above the pelvic region – this allows for freedom from tension everywhere above.
Consistent discipline over the long haul is the only way to break the old bad habits and develop the new good ones.
You’ve Got to Break a Few – For warm-up purposes, it’s wise to go a step or two higher and lower than you’ll need to sing in performance, or just to stretch your voice. At these extremes of your range, you might crack. It’s okay! A cracked or broken tone, freely and properly produced, is vastly preferable to a “clean” tone achieved by false manipulation or force. But don’t beat a dead horse – if something doesn’t work, leave it and try again later, or try a different approach.
HUMMING – How to: Lips together, teeth apart, with the lower jaw hanging loosely down from loose lips. Purpose: Warm-up; vocal development. Helps us to feel where proper resonance happens. Don’t force the tone anywhere – let the sound find where it wants to go; it will seem to buzz across the face and into the front “brain”; if done properly as explained above, it also sets up and demonstrates the loosely gathered, narrowed mouth shape we want for all our vowels (see below).
HUMMING INTO VOWELS – The next step in our humming approach is to transfer our head resonance into open vowel sounds: MMMeee, MMMaaaayyy, MMMaaahhh, MMMohhh, MMMooohhh, again with the 5 vowels in any order you choose. Practice this also with N and NG initial consonants. (See VOWEL EXERCISES below.)
Got a Cold? The open vowels you arrive at from out of the hum should be produced with the feeling of having a stuffed nose. As you make each vowel, imagine you have a “code id-da-doze” (where those M, N and NG consonants are impossible!), while still allowing the resonance just where you felt it with the humming. You can test whether this is working properly – As you make the tone, use your fingers to stop and unstop the nose. If your tone doesn’t change, you’re probably doing it right. These open vowel tones are approaching the kind of warm, resonant tones that are the ideal of proper vocal production. Just remember to keep a narrow mouth and good support from below!
LONG HISS – How to: Take a full inward breath, and emit a long, gentle and steady unvoiced “sss” sound, supported with steady breath energy from the pelvic region. As usual, keep your tongue, lips, jaw, etc. as loose and free as possible. See how long you can sustain it without a breath. With practice, you’ll increase this duration. Purpose: Breath control and capacity. Makes us aware of the need for steady metering of breath energy, to produce well supported sound without tension.
LIP TRILL – Very challenging, but extremely valuable: Don’t be frustrated if you can’t do this one right away – but do take the time to master it!
How to: For this one, don’t think of humming, but rather of producing the tone strictly through the mouth. As you make the pitched sound through loosely closed lips, you allow the lips to “flap” loosely without any contortion, tightening or other manipulation. It’s about letting the lips do what they will do, propelled entirely and solely by breath support from below.
Purpose: Warm-up; vocal development. This exercise teaches three important concepts: 1) Loose lips, tongue and jaw; 2) proper connection with breath flow; 3) the general principal of singing – letting. Failure in any one of these three ideas will mean failure of the exercise. Good! Once you master it, you’ll have gained a lot. If you feel tired in your abdominal region and not anywhere above, you’re doing it right! Practice this one over the long haul.
VOWEL EXERCISES – Keep the vowels from spreading. In the humming exercise (see above), we begin to have an idea of the properly relaxed but narrow mouth shape necessary for all of our vowels. Another method for achieving this is to gently place the back of the fingers on either side of the mouth, and gently urge the hands inward towards each other. Don’t push so far as to produce a “fish mouth,” but just enough to narrow the mouth. Now, as you maintain this shape, sing your vowels.
How to: Pick a pitch in the middle of your range, and sing “ee eh aah oh ooh,” or the reverse, or use any order you wish. Keeping the same width for all vowels, practice producing each contrasting vowel sound. You’re reshaping your lips and tongue only as much as you need (especially on “oh” and “ooh”) to produce a pure vowel. Also practice other “in between” vowels, such as umlauts and short vowels, in this same way. Again, try and maintain as consistent and tension-free a mouth shape as possible across these various vowels.
Remember – By properly supporting the breath from below, you’re better able to let go of everything above. Join Email List