You might not always have time for a vocal warm-up before a performance, and if you’re playing a three-hour gig, a warm-up might be a good way to tire yourself out. Vocal coach Matt Ramsey explains how to organize your set list to help you warm up as a vocalist.
Let’s face it, as a vocalist, you don’t always time for a luxurious vocal warm-up before your gig or livestream — but you still want to sound your best.
Even though I’m a vocal coach and I’ll always tell you that a vocal warm-up is the most important thing you can do before a gig, I’ve worked with lots of singers who are in the position where they have to sing for two-, three-, or even four-hour sets. For these singers, warming up for 30 minutes to an hour before these long sets can be a really great way to tire out their voices and fatigue themselves on a long night of singing.
So, instead, they prefer to warm up into their set list.
Of course, you don’t want to jump into singing really difficult songs totally cold and starting from zero — that’s a recipe for vocal strain.
Build a set list as a vocal warm-up
For a helpful visual, think about the bell curve we learned all about in high school, being broken down into four parts. This is how I want you to start thinking about using your voice over the period of your set. The bell curve demonstrates how I think you should be thinking about using your voice in terms of range and also difficulty and energy over time.
Part 1: Chest voice
In the first part of your set, you want to start out really easy with songs that tend to stay in the lower end of your vocal range — something we call “chest voice” in the singing world.
In general, you want these songs to be quite easy for you to sing. Think maybe no more than a 4 or a 5 in terms of difficulty and energy that you’re expending.
But, keep in mind that everyone has their own number system, everyone has their own limits and their own difficulty levels that they’re dealing with — so trust yourself and don’t adjust to what you think other singers are capable of. You know your voice. Trust your instincts.
Part 2: the 80/20 rule
In the second part of your set, start working with songs that have either a few high notes or have a few sections that have a couple of high notes in them, but are mostly comfortable for your singing voice. Think of the 80/20 rule here, you want to keep 80 percent of it in your comfortable range and 20 percent outside of that comfortable range.
It’s OK to work with songs that have a few high notes in them, but remember, avoid songs that are just high notes.
Remember, you’re still warming up your voice here, so watch your effort and your volume here.
Part 3: Prime singing zone
In the third part of your set, your voice should be pretty warmed up. By now, you’ve supplied additional blood flow to the vocal cords and the vocal tissues, you’ve also thinned out any of the mucous secretions that have built up and that we’re all just walking around with all the time.
Both of these things will tend to make singing in the higher part of your voice its easiest, which means you are in the prime singing zone right now. So in this third part of your set, start start working in your most difficult and highest-energy songs, because this is the safest time to do it.
Part 4: Warm down
Now, after singing with so much energy, you’ll probably be feeling fatigued vocally, but your adrenaline will still be peaking. Most bands put their most exciting and most emotional songs last, and unfortunately, this is when most singers have their issues. This is the point where the singer has given everything they have vocally, their voice is totally gone, and now they’re having the crowd sing all of the choruses.
But, if you’ve been following my tips and my guide, you should actually be in a really good place, vocally.
So in the fourth and final part of your singing set, start playing your absolute best songs, but bring your effort level and the number of high notes you’re singing and the amount of time you’re spending in the more difficult parts of your voice back down to a 4 or a 5. In other words, bring it down to a place where most of it is comfortable for you.
Opt for songs that are the most emotionally exciting but not the most vocally draining. You want to find songs that are in the easy-to-middle range of difficulty.
Try this outline the next time you’re putting together your vocal set list and you will be amazed at how much easier it is to sing through your performance.
Watch more great videos on the Disc Makers YouTube channel.
Matt Ramsey founded Ramsey Voice Studio in Austin, TX in 2012. Matt is an Institute for Vocal Advancement-certified voice teacher, a songwriter, and a blogger. Matt has helped develop singers in nearly every genre of music, from rock to pop, jazz to musical theater, and offers lots of great videos on his Ramsey Voice Studio YouTube channel.
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