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Singing Exercises: Importance of Vocal Warmups

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All of us would love to go on a long journey in that favourite car of ours. However, the journey comes to a sudden halt because the engine seized. Why did this happen?  Without oil and water, the engine suffered a wear and tear. This is a similar scenario with the human voice. Without proper vocal hygiene, the voice suffers a wear and tear after few years and the dream of a fruitful musical journey comes to an unexpected halt. Nobody likes to be in this situation. We can avoid such situations with a little care before starting the practice every day.

Vocal warmup exercises are simple voice exercises that help to warm up, stretch and relax the muscles of the vocal chords. Since singing is a physical process, it is an amalgamation of all parts of the body and for this to happen effectively, the body has to be in good shape to co-operate with the mind. Unnecessary strain on the vocal chords by pushing too much above the vocal range or singing in the incorrect shruti hampers the tonal quality which ultimately leads to the deterioration of the quality of voice.

We might notice some days we are able to sing comfortably, however some days we see that the voice wears out pretty soon and sounds cracked up or strained. This happens due to wrong singing techniques. Unfortunately, we do not pay so much attention to vocal hygiene which is the main cause of such a wear and tear.

Why to practice vocal warmups?

Now let’s go into more detail on each of the above points in the next section.

How do Vocal Warmup Exercises help maintain the tonal quality?

A lot goes into the making of a successful performance. Often, the background work is not paid much attention to, which includes years of hard work, right singing techniques, voice care. Years of such preparation is what reflected on stage. Doing some quick voice exercises before going on stage helps set the right mood to perform and gets one into the comfortable zone.

How do Vocal Warmup Exercises help bring out the best in a performer?

These exercises help us get set with the correct pitch, diction, vocal strength, breath control, emotional balance. All of us wish our performance touches the heart and soul of the listener as the voice is the window to our soul and we, as singers, are letting the audience to get a glimpse of our soul through our voice and let them experience the same emotions we go through. For blood to be circulated to all parts of the body that make up the voice box, loosen the vocal chords first by releasing tension around the vocal muscles.  This helps in singing for a longer duration without incurring damage to the voice.

How do Vocal Warmup Exercises help you recover from sleep?

Early morning practice sessions have their pros and cons. If one practises early in the morning, it is advisable to start with voice exercises as they help set the voice quality after being unused for a long duration when asleep. When the voice has not been used for a long duration, mucus builds up in the mouth and nasal cavity, and singing directly, especially the higher notes, without warm up, reduces the voice quality in such situations. The vocal exercises are tailor-made to strengthen the lungs and build up the stamina levels, so as to lubricate the throat and provide moisture.

How do Vocal Warmup Exercises enhance the singer in you?

Vocal warmup exercises prepare the throat muscles for the intense vibrations that will be produced while singing. Since vocal articulation is controlled by various muscles, tissues and different body parts like the teeth, lips, tongue, jaw, voice exercises relax the muscles of the jaw and the tip of the tongue and lips are well activated by the various exercises which help stretch the muscles and tissues required for articulation. Once the body is set, it boosts up the confidence of the singer and clears him of any pre-performance jitters.

Training the voice and body as a whole creates muscle memory. With the correct techniques, a good muscle memory can be built and the performance does not have to rely on the voice or pitch, but rely on the muscle memory developed. Such a training aids in better performance with grace and confidence.

What are good Vocal Warmups?

  1. Start gently by humming. Do a couple of lip trills. This way, it is possible to physically feel the resonance in the face, head, throat and chest.
  2. Warm up to increase the temperature and blood flow to the larynx and articulators maintaining suitable posture.
  3. Do a couple of diction exercises to activate the resonators in the lip, tongue and oral cavity.
  4. Choir warm-ups are exercises that harmonize the vocal coach singers and the co-singers. This can be done to fine tune the ear, irrespective of the size of the choir group.
  5. Practice proper breathing. Fill the chest with air from the bottom of the lungs. Reverse this process i.e. release the air from the lungs and empty it top down to exhale. This is called deep breathing.
  6. Release tension from the neck. The tension is shown on the neck when hitting higher swaras in the form of veins and ligaments protruding on the neck area. This can be observed when practiced in front of a mirror. At any point, to reduce the strain on the vocal chords, this tension has to be released first. Then the singing becomes soft and relaxed.
  7. Posture plays a very important role in bringing out the correct tonal quality. Always have a straight posture, i.e. sit firmly on the ground, shoulder-width apart with a straight spine. Never have a hunchback. When singing the lower octave swaras (mandarasthaayi swaras), do not raise the chin up and down. This is a natural tendency to raise the chin during higher octaves and lower the chin in the lower octaves.
  8. One effective warm-up exercise could be : Consider a complicated sangathi or prastara while rendering an alapana. This musical phrase can be broken down into parts and used as an exercise to get the vocal chords strengthened and activated.
  9. Try to maintain a constant pitch (shruti) during regular practice sessions. Do not keep changing the pitch as this ends up in straining the vocal muscles.
  10. Use some tongue twister exercises like “me, may, ma, mooh, moh” etc. This relaxes the jaw and activates the lip and tongue.

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