If you’ve been here before you can skip these beginning paragraphs and jump to the warm-up. If it’s your first time, read on!
Every Wednesday I will share a vocal tip or warm-up. After 17 years of teaching people how to sing I have so many things to talk about and I can’t wait to share them with you every week!
As a voice teacher I am frequently approached and asked for a vocal warm-up for use in a choir or as a soloist. I LOVE warm-ups and think it’s really crucial to use them whenever you are going to sing. It’s an easy step to skip when you are practicing (because who doesn’t want to get to the fun stuff like songs?), but it can also be THE tool that takes you or your choir from average to AHHHMAZING! The trick is knowing which warm-ups you or your choir needs, when to use it and why it works.
That’s A LOT of variables! It’s also the main reason why I don’t like giving a warm-up on the fly. They are most effective when used under the correct circumstances. It’s really difficult for me to explain all these crucial elements in a short amount of time. Hence, the Vocal Wednesdays! Woo-hoo!
Great warm-ups are passed down from teachers to students or teacher to teacher. It’s a lot like story-telling in that way. Teaching voice is both an art and science. Having exercises is one thing, but knowing how to use them is a whole other matter. You will get the most out of your warm-ups if you understand what sorts of techniques or skills it teaches and then use them accordingly. My hope is that Vocal Wednesdays can help you not only find warm-ups you like, but that you learn what skill each warm-up can teach and then be able to use it at the appropriate time.
I have been focusing a lot on vocal warm-ups in the last month or so, but another aspect of warming up a voice is breathing! It’s such a crucial element to singing that I couldn’t go another week without sharing the exercise that has helped me and so many of the students and choir directors who have incorporated it into their warm ups . I nicknamed it “The 5-5-5”, but it is also called the Farinelli exercise. Farinelli was a celebrated opera singer who lived in the 18th century. As you can probably guess, he had incredible breath management.
Here is the basic pattern:
Breathe in for 5 counts – Suspend for 5 counts – Breathe out for 5 counts. Repeat for 6, 7, 8, etc. If you have a group of singers that aren’t challenged by 5, then start the count higher. It is important that when you end the count for exhale, you immediately being the next higher count for inhale.
A couple of things to note:
- Always breathe in and out through mouth, just as you would if you were singing. The breath should be SILENT.
- On the inhale: don’t pucker or sip just breathe in through your mouth. On exhale: no need to breathe out on an ‘s’ or some other consonant, just release the air. Simple, right?
- The ‘suspend’ segment is very important. You are ‘suspending’ the air from either going out or back in, BUT and this is huge!! DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH. When you hold your breath, you are closing the vocal cords and creating pressure underneath them. KEEP YOUR THROAT OPEN! You should be able, if you wanted, to breathe in or out easily, but you won’t. You will ‘suspend’ the breathing process, freeze frame if you will with an OPEN THROAT.
- Keep the rib cage and sternum lifted the whole time. You will be tempted to allow it to collapse on the exhale, fight that temptation and learn to strengthen those muscles!
WHEN CAN I USE THIS?
To see optimum results, use it every day or every rehearsal. If that’s not possible, use it as often as you can. The benefits are well worth the time because they are AHHHmazing!
WHAT SKILL DOES IT TEACH?
It teaches the “appoggio” technique of breathing. One of the most important technical skills a singer must learn is slowing the ascent of the diaphragm. By keeping the rib cage and sternum lifted you are engaging the muscles (external intercostals) that help control the ascent of the diaphragm (because the diaphragm is connected to the lowest rib attached to the sternum). I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the abdominal muscles, because they also play a small role in the slow ascent of the diaphragm. In my experience, I get more consistent and long-lasting results with minimal tension for the appoggio technique.
Please note: We cannot directly control the ascent of the diaphragm, it is an involuntary muscle. Because of that, we need to engage the muscles that are connected to the diaphragm to slow its ascent.
- a longer and more reliable source of air
- more stability in tone
- easier to manage large intervals or leaps in song
- ease in singing passages that require a lot of agility such as melismas
- better pianissimo singing
- use a metronome or second-hand clock to make sure you stay steady with your counting. It’s tempting to speed up!
- sometimes students feel tight or tense as they are learning this exercise. You can have them roll their shoulders and move their head side-to-side to release this tension WHILE they are doing the exercise. Hello multi-tasking!
- Some students who have poor lung capacity or have not eaten a meal may feel light-headed when first doing this exercise. It will subside as they get stronger….or eat. lol!
- Expect to feel some muscle soreness just as you would any new muscle group you exercise for the first time.
Did you try the 5-5-5? How did it go? Please share in the comments!