Warm Up for a bigger group of singers

Weekly Teaching Tip – July 29, 2013
Hello everybody! I have just finished teaching at a 10-day-long summer workshop, International Summer Jazz Academy in Krakow, Poland. I have been teaching there almost every year since 2003, and I am responsible for warm ups with elements of vocal technique and jazz improvisation.
I would like to share with you how I build a 20 minutes Warm Up session for a group of about 20 singers or more.
First of all, I structure it as a call-response session – I sing, they repeat. It is very useful for a teacher to practice the exercises first at home – the best option is to do it with a mirror – before  you decide to sing them in front of the group. They will repeat everything – even your mistakes!
I also find it very useful to memorise the names of my students as soon as possible. It creates immediately a family like atmosphere when I call them using their names.
I begin my warm up with simple stretching exercises, such as ‘try and touch the celling’ exercise, move your head to your right and to your left, move your shoulders back and forth, I also play groovy music – not too loud – and ask them to dance for a few minutes. We can also massage one-another’s necks and shouldes. I also ask them to gently massage their own face muscles – cheeks, jaw.
Then I play 1,5 octave scale and we do lip-roll. For all of those who cannot do that, I ask them to try “rrrr” tongue trill or ‘zzzz’. Then we do humming – not too light and not too heavy – and I make sure that they do not use their bellys too much.
Afterwards, I take a syllable such as ‘ku’ or ‘zum’ and I play first long scale, then an octave scale. We aim towards ‘mum’, ‘nou’ or ‘mum’.
I always make sure that they ‘get’ what I mean so I take two or three students and comment on how they do the exercise in front of the others. It seems to be very helpful for the others as well.
After humming, we take a friendly vowel, such as ‘u’ and sing a long scale. I try to go at least beyond the first bridge for men and beyond the second for women while plaing scales – I do not know the voices that well and my aim is just to gently warm them up.
Then, I take more jazzy progression such as II V progression, and using long tones and fun syllables, such as su-o, ma-i, ko-e, fe-a, I sing more melodious, song-like ideas. I also like be-bop lines, and I am very much inspired by Bob Stoloff’s “Scat!” book by chosing nice lines. However, I make sure they are simple. If I choose a more complicated one, I tell it to the students. We usually look deeper into the line and make a short analysys of what exactly we are singing and why it seems a little bit more difficult (such as Bob’s II V I extended arpeggio approach, for example). This is also a perfect moment to correct their vowels – and I am very picky on that one!
At the end of my warm up, I like to take a volunteer and work with them on just one phrase from a song they are currently working on (they are expected to sing solo one jazz tune with a rhythym section at the final concert), such as beginning line of a bridge on “God Bless The Child”. My goal is to make them understand why and how we modify the vowels.
I feel my singers learned a lot during last ten days. I let them not only warm up their vocal cords, their ears, but also learn crucial information on how to comfortably and successfully sing a song.
My very best from Poland to all of you! Have fun while teaching!!!!
Agata Pisko-Schaberl
Graz, Austria/ Krakow, Poland

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