This excerpt from our new guide, The Vocalist’s Guide to Recording, Rehearsing, and Performing, focuses on the importance of warming up before a vocal performance.
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If you sing without a vocal warm up, you can encounter all sorts of problems. Warming up before a vocal performance is very much about relaxing and preparing the required muscles and mechanisms for what they are about to do, and it is also about getting your mind and body into the flow of breathing correctly – which will ultimately help you sing better.
If you attempt to sing, particularly a higher note in your register, without any sort of preparation, your instinct might be to tighten up and force out the note, precisely the opposite of what you want to do. If you take the time to gradually wake up your diaphragm, tongue, and the muscles in your jaw and neck, and get your breathing rhythms and air support in place, you will sound and feel better during and after your vocal performance.
“Different singers have different thoughts about what they should do to warm up,” says Daniel Ebbers, Associate Professor of Voice at the Conservatory of Music of the University of the Pacific,” and it all goes back to knowledge of your own instrument. At the very least, you need to dip your toe in the water of what your voice is like that day. Scales are essential, because they teach you flexibility, breath control, breath management – all sorts of things that make your instrument function well. Just singing a scale isn’t what I mean, singing a scale in a certain way is really important, where you are completely aligned with your support system.”
What you’ll find every vocal coach mention is that good singing comes down to breath. Breathing is not just about holding notes longer – how you breathe affects the tone, the power, and the range of your voice.
“I talk a lot about resonance, certainly,” says Ebbers, “but almost always it comes down to the way you take your air in or the way your air is being expelled. Many students find it a revelation that how you sing is determined, in large part, by what you do in those moments before you sing. What you do when you’re not singing during a vocal performance is just as important as what you do while you’re singing. It’s setting up your body to be in a position of mechanical advantage, to make sure you’re not stressing your instrument unnecessarily, and using your body in the best way possible.
“If you’re not connected to your breath supply, if your voice is not riding on top of your breath, then your body is going to compensate and use something else to support your instrument, and probably use something that requires tension in an unnecessary spot that is ultimately unhealthy. It’s all about connecting to the breath supply.”