Singing Exercises 2: Warming Up The Voice

After making sure we are breathing optimally in order to sing well, we need to make sure our vocal chords are working well, and that our voice is resonating across a comfortably wide range.

To begin with let’s quickly look at the basic mechanisms of singing, to give us an idea of why we might want to do these warm up exercises. Alexander Massey again:

So, after making sure we are breathing correctly for singing, from the diaphragm,  let’s start using the voice.

Standing up straight, stretch up high with your arms as you breathe in deeply, then open your mouth and yawn, gently using your voice, as your hands gently fall back to your sides,. Shake your hands when they get back to your sides to get rid of any tension.

Repeat this exercise, this time with a gently vocalised sigh, descending in pitch.

Repeat again, this time with an extended open “ah”,  /ɑː/ sound, (as in “far”).
Repeat using  open  “ee”,  /iː/, (as in “sheep”),
then “oor”, /ɔː/, (as in “door”),
then “o”,  /ɒ/, (as in “on”, except longer),
and finally “oo”,  /uː/, (as in shoot).

Next, standing tall, but without any sense of stiffness, making sure your knees aren’t locked, feet just a little wider apart than your shoulders, take a deep breath and make a siren sound, going from low to high, and back down again.

Let your voice fall as deep as it wants to go. I tend to start with an “ah” sound, and move to the “ooh” sound as I go up. Something like, “Waa-oooh”.

Repeat this exercise, increasing the number of sirens, up and down. This will encourage you to breathe deeply and correctly.

Finally, in this part, one siren, allowing yourself to aim at a higher pitch. How high can you go?

Next belly laugh. Take a deep breath, this goes without saying by now, and laugh like a Lord in the house of Lords, or Santa Claus, whatever works for you.  Then, repeat, with a more lady like laugh, using the higher part of your voice.  Make sure the laugh is coming from your belly, your diaphragm, with no constriction in the throat.

Having done all of this we have warmed up and relaxed, hopefully in a fun and relaxed manner, our breathing mechanisms, our voice box, (larynx and vocal chords), and the resonating areas in our mouth, face and arguably head. Now it’s time to “tune the voice”.

Singing Exercises: Breathing

Here is the first of a series of singing exercises.

To begin with, we need to breathe correctly. Below is a video that describes the diaphragmatic breathing that singers need to utilise.

An additional tip when practising the exercises described in the video is to put your thumbs just below where your ribs meet in the middle, and the rest of your hands on your abdomen, down to and just past your belly button. This hand position is just a little higher than that described in the video.

This way, you should feel with your thumbs as your diaphragm initially engages and contracts on the in-breath.  The abdomen should rise,  as the diaphragm engages and pulls downwards. The open rib cage should expand, but only slightly, as a result of the inhalation caused by the diaphragm, as well as sympathetic engagement of the muscles between the ribs, the intercostal muscles. But don’t try to breathe with your chest or shoulders.

Singers need to get a lot of air in quickly to support the voice.  If you have time, take a long, deep breath, but often we need to take a short, sharp, deep breath, through both mouth and nose. One way of thinking of this is to imagine you are about to dive into a swimming pool. Breathing is certainly the most physical part of singing.

Here is a good summary of how breathing impacts singing. -This guy, Alexander Massey, seems sound and knowledgeable, if exceedingly thorough; if you want to listen and watch to his entire YouTube series, (recommended) click here!

And here is the same guy with his explanation of what the diaphragm does:

And next, the importance of using the abdominal muscles to control the release of the diaphragm; to “support” the breath and the voice on the exhalation.

Finally,  practise, first lying down, and then standing with good posture, taking a deep breath, and then exhaling making a “sss” sound and count or time yourself to see how long you can sustain and support the breath.

Try this taking a long, deep breath, and then,  try again, this time taking a short, sharp but again deep breath, to replicate what you need to do when breathing between phrases when singing.

As an alternative to “sss” you can sing using the “So Me La So Me”, or better, “Sol Me Sol Me Sol Me La Sol Me” pattern, at a comfortable pitch.