The importance of vocal warm ups tends to be assumed and glossed over, as though we all know why these exercises are so critical to any singer or actor’s routine. This article breaks down the non-technical reasons for warming up, while the technical details can be found in a second article, “The Technical Benefits of Vocal Warm Ups.” Between these two blog posts, you’ll gain a broader understanding of why you’re warming up, why instructors and directors enforce it, and what you can expect to gain from the process.
To get in the mindset: More than anything, warming up physically and vocally simply sets the tone that you going into a focused performance or rehearsal, more so than the importance of producing certain notes or sounds. Warming up is a 5-10 minute transition time between leaving work, chatting with friends, and answering emails, into a time that your mind will fully concentrate on being present, taking notes from directors, reading music and lyrics accurately, and calling on emotional memory. All of these tasks take an enormous amount of presence and energy, and warming up sets the tone for this mental focus to gear up.
Outer edges of range: In the two-thirds of the middle of your vocal range, most people are sufficiently warmed up simply from speaking all day that they don’t need to warm up those notes. However, if you’re working on a choral piece, an opera piece, or something unique that demands I use the one-third that is the very bottom or very top of your range, you will benefit from singing through that region of your voice for a few minutes. Then, when the opportunity comes to hit those notes for an audience or a rehearsal team, it is much less likely that you'll crack or demonstrate less than ideal tone.
Removing phlegm during illness or ice cream overload days: When you have a respiratory cold or have over-indulged in dairy products within an hour of performance time, phlegm is a force to be reckoned with. Phlegm build up on your vocal cords can seriously affect a performance by causing cracking, air leakage, inconsistencies in tone color, and inability to project. Contrary to popular belief, coughing and clearing your throat are less effective at removing phlegm and more damaging to the vocal cords than simply humming or singing. By humming, you are vibrating your vocal cords, which makes the phlegm fly off naturally, without the violence of slapping the cords together, which happens when you cough. Be patient with it; hum for several minutes and you'll feel that phlegm starting to remove itself.
Calming nerves: Similar to the above point on getting in the mindset, if you suffer from performance anxiety or even from normal butterflies, warming up is a great way to get your mind off the nerves and on to something focused and productive. Warming up requires a thoughtful plan, a decision on how and what you're going to warm up, and those thought processes will take your attention away from distractions of the future or fears of failure. For additional resources related to performance preparation and performance anxiety, grab a copy of our eBook, Overcoming Performance Anxiety for Musical Theatre Performers.
In general, like most things performance related, warming up is largely a personal matter. When you are intimately familiar with your instrument you'll know what kind of warm up you need, whether it's a meticulous, technical warm up, or a more emotional-based, broad-stroke warm up. If you are the type that benefits from a technical warm up, there are many other benefits: improved diction, agility, pitch accuracy, flexibility of the vocal muscles, and strengthening register transitions.
Read on – our next post describes the technical benefits of warming up in detail.
For additional resources and more of a full body warm up approach, see our Physical and Vocal Warm Up post.
Interested in improving your own breathing for performance? Try a vocal coaching session over skype (or in person in the San Diego area) to get one on one evaluation and solutions.
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