Weekly Teaching Tip – July 4, 2011
One of the key ingredients to singing well and keeping your voice in shape is a good warmup. In my opinion, there are 4 steps or parts of a good warmup. You should always make sure that these 4 steps are gone through before singing if you want to perform at your optimum ability. A runner or a dancer would never think that they could perform at peak capacity without some stretching and a warm up, but many people think they can just go out and sing at any time with no thought of warming up the voice. Singing is a physical activity. Singers should consider themselves “athletes” and make sure that they train and work out to make sure that their body is working at optimum performance levels.
The 4 steps are these: 1-Loosen up and stretch the vocal folds (gently at first with the vocal folds touching very lightly or maybe not at all using bubble lips and “hooty” sounds if necessary). 2-Bring the vocal folds together lightly (using squeaky mms, key, koo and other “light” sounds) 3-Press into the vocal folds to build strength and make sure they will hold (using no, mum, nay, nagh, etc) 4-Sustain and work on control and fine tuning.
It is important that a singer NOT move on to the the next step until they feel comfortable with the preceding step. Some days a singer will be able to move through these steps quite quickly, other days it may take considerable time and patience. Some days a dancer feels very loose and stretched out and they will feel they can go right out and do the jump splits right off (although they should be careful that they really are ready and they don’t pull or strain a muscle in doing so.) Other days the dancer will feel stiff, tight and sore and they will have to be much more gentle and patient before trying out anything extreme. The same is true of singers. Some days the singer will feel loose and great and will be able to move through the steps very quickly. Other days they will feel tight or sore or puffy and will have to move through the steps gently before being ready to perform well. Some days the singer may not even be able to move through all of the steps and will have to come back later and do more, perhaps even over a few days before they are really ready to sing (although this is rare and usually only in times of sickness or early vocal development.)
In order to sing well the vocal folds need to be loosened, stretched and thinned and a thin coating of mucosa must be present on the vocal folds. By vocalizing, the vocal folds get in the proper condition and the warm up tells the brain to “send some moisture” to the vocal folds. Adequate hydration is very important for singers as the body must have an adequate supply of water to send to the vocal folds when needed. The warm up triggers the brain to send the moisture. It takes from 5 to 20 minutes sometimes for the vocal folds to be properly moisturized, stretched, thinned and ready for the demands singing requires.
The voice is very susceptible to stress, pollen, air pollution, lack of sleep, dryness and many other things. Pretty much the only “defense mechanism” of the vocal folds is to swell. If the vocal folds are puffy, swollen or stiff you don’t want to force them to work just as a dancer or runner wouldn’t want to force their tight or sore muscles to stretch. Except in extreme conditions when the vocal folds are so swollen that they cannot produce sound at all, singers struggling with illness, allergies and many other problems can still vocalize. When done properly this can even speed up the process of vocal recovery. Singers need to be sensitive to their voices and make sure that they move through all of the steps each time they sing for best performance and to keep their voice in top shape before singing.