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.
A few weeks ago, I shared one of my buildable warm-ups. It was so fun putting that post together for you that I couldn’t wait to share another one! I was recently asked by a choir director for a warm-up that helps sopranos access their high notes. This is my GO-TO warm-up for high notes for both myself and the sopranos and mezzos I teach.
In case you didn’t catch my last buildable warm-up; you should know that buildable warm-ups start with a basic exercise and then you can BUILD more notes on or around it. Or you can switch up the pattern to learn new skills such as singing repeated notes, scales, chord, or whatever your heart desires! Isn’t that fun? Students really enjoy learning a “new version” of the basic. It’s a great way to create new exercises without having to start from scratch. I hope you enjoy these exercises as much as I do!
IPA: [ha ha ha ha] Sung in a staccato manner (light and short tones). For future reference, I will always put IPA in brackets [ ]. I will also include a pronunciation guide of what it sounds like to me in non-word syllables.
- Basic: 1358531
- Basic+3rd: 1358 10 8531
- Basic+3rd repeated: 1358 108108108 531
- Basic+3rd repeated w/scale: 1358 108108108 54321
- Basic+Dominant 7th: 1358 101211975421
- Double Octaves: 1358358531531
WHAT KEY DO YOU START THIS WARM-UP? D Major for all exercises except the double octaves which I start in C Major or even B Major depending on the student. It gets high fast!
1. This is the basic warm-up you can build add to or modify to create more challenging or just different note patterns.
2. This is the “basic + 3rd” in that it adds an extra interval at the top.
3. This is the “Basic+3rd repeated”.
4. This is the “Basic+3rd repeated with scale”.
5. This is the “Basic +Dominant 7th”. Take your time teaching this one.
6. This is the “Double Octave”.
WHEN CAN I USE THIS? The basic exercise is appropriate for all ages. When deciding whether to move on to the other exercises demonstrated keep in mind the skill level of your student(s). Exercises 5 and 6 are the most difficult and have the widest range.
WHAT SKILL DOES IT TEACH? I use this exercise to train sopranos and mezzo-sopranos to access their head voice. It is the easiest way to sing high because it is sung so lightly on the staccato. When you sing staccato you are singing with minimal muscle from the vocal cords.
- Insist upon a true staccato, light and short.
- Have your student put their hand on their belly. There should be movement there–like a Santa-laugh. You want the belly to do the staccato, NOT the throat or you will get tired quickly.
- The [h] is primarily for beginner to intermediate singers to help encourage the Santa-type-action mentioned above. As your student grows in technical ability, that [h] can become less and less. I typically start asking my students for a “baby h” to facilitate this gradual progression away from a full [h].
- If your singer is having trouble getting clarity on the top pitch, have her switch to the [ae] vowel as in “cat”. If after several tries you are still not getting the result, ask her to stick her tongue out (like a frog) for the top note (or two). As odd as this seems, this tiny change in vowel will bring clarity to the tone. When she first tries it you may not get an immediate result. At first it feels unnatural to bring the tongue forward. Have her keep trying and I promise you once she gets it the clarity of tone will be worth the initial weirdness/silliness of it all.
- For maximum benefits of accessing head voice, follow up with a legato exercise of the same pattern. ALWAYS do the staccato first, then the legato. Following up with the legato exercise trains the voice to sing with more sound (aka muscle, but never use that word or you will get an undesirable result) and more energy or breath.
Did you try these exercises? How did it go? Did you build on this warm-up? Please share in the comments!