Episode 44 – Vocal warm ups and strategies for a ‘slow to warm’ voice

Here we are with another episode, and this one is about vocal warm ups. More specifically, vocal warm ups and strategies for a deep and rough morning voice, or vocal warm ups for someone who’s voice takes a long time to get going.

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We’d like to introduce you to a lovely tune from Annie Afrilu on todays artists segment. It’s called ‘The In Crowd’. Check it out…

Todays show… vocal warm ups, and the morning voice.

What’s great about todays show is that it is a specifically requested subject from our survey (which you can take part in if you click here). You guys wanted to know more about how to get a slow voice going in the morning. So here we are:

Firstly, a bit of sympathy. As singers and vocal coaches we have, and still, experience a voice that can be slow to warm up. In Chris’s case, problems over the years with adenoid glands have probably contributed to the problem, which he feels has been positively affected by taking high dosages of fish oils. In any case, it can take quite a bit of figuring out and experimentation before you get an effective routine ground out. Let’s hope this podcast episode gives you some ideas to play with and find out why your voice drags its heels before it sounds reasonable.

 

Why would we need vocal warm ups in the morning?

It might seem obvious, but let’s say it; it’s muscle, and we’ve been laying there motionless all night. It’s going to stiffer than if we hadn’t been a log for 8 hours. If you have a poor quality mattress or pillows then your back, neck and shoulders could have been in undesirable positions in that time, which might leave you very inflexible. In this case, let’s prioritise getting blood flow and flexibility into the whole body through physical activity. Going to the gym is a perfect start, and can be considered a great vocal warm up for most people. Ourselves included.

After the general process of waking up and becoming more active, then we’re into using, stretching, and contracting the vocal muscles to get them warm, pliable and operating properly and efficiently. Lots of advice says this is where the warm up is done because they have more blood flow and flexibility, but lots of us DO NOT feel ready to go on stage at this point. Instead, we need to go through the process of finding our ‘spot’ before we feel ready. Getting in the zone, if you like. If you need to belt the heck out of something at 9am, you might need an undefined amount of time (five minutes? Ten minutes?) to experiment with you vocal warm ups until you find your proper place. Most of us aren’t automatically setup to be in the extreme positions needed for singing contemporary, or classical for that matter. We need some time to find it and be happy we know what we’re doing first. After that, we probably feel good to go.

 

What might be stopping you from warming up?

We’re going to start with the easy ones, ok?

1. You’re hungover – need we say more? You’re dehydrated, you had no sleep, and you were yelling in a bar with your mates for several hours. Your voice will likely be a little better than a turd.
Resolution: Deal with it, or better still don’t drink the night before a gig. Sometimes you might need to leave it two nights if you really suffer.

2. You smoke – believe it or, lots of singers don’t consider this when lamenting about their voice. The smoke is there because it’s incredibly hot at the end of the cigarette (or something else) you don’t suck on. This burns and inflames your vocal folds each time you inhale.
Resolution: GIVE UP!

We’re glad we got those out of the way. Now into the reasons that are actually singing related:

3. You haven’t sung for a few days – this is the classic ‘rusty’ feeling. Singing in general exercises many more functions in the larynx because we use very different levels of volume across much bigger pitch ranges. If you take three or four days off singing, the only vocal warm ups you’ll get is from talking, which is usually low volume and low pitch range. Not ideal. You could easily feel stiffer as a result.
Resolution: Try to do well thought out vocal exercises everyday if you can, especially if you’re a pro who needs to be ready to roll. If you can’t sit down and give yourself time to do your specific vocal warm ups, even several rough glides, sirens or straw exercises for five minutes, several times a day, will help to avoid getting stiff over your time off. It really, really helps.
Caveat warning here though. If your vocal technique is damaging your voice, you often need that next morning or afternoon to completely chill out and allow your voice to recover. Instead of doing vocal warm ups, try some gentle glides on a hum, an NG consonant, and a straw. Dr. Verdolini has shown in her research that these types of exercises help to reduce inflammation of the vocal folds.

4. You used your voice a lot this week – Vocal load is often closely linked to the length of time required to warm up. If you’re a singer, or even a call centre representative, you will have a higher vocal load than a self-employed actuary. Your voice use might not be damaging per se, but there will be the inevitable effects of fatigue that need massaging out. So, don’t be alarmed. If you wake up a bit croaky is doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve wrecked it. You might warm up to just the same standard in the end! We need to be cautious when things get harder and range lowers over a few days, in which case Dr Reena Gupta has got some advice for you in a previous podcast.
Resolution: If you can reduce your vocal load, because you talk way more than you need to, then do it. If you need to talk or sing a lot as part of your job then you’ll just need more time to warm up and to rid yourself of low level inflammation and the stresses and tensions associated with using your voice for long periods. We’ll say it a lot, but semi-occluded vocal tract exercises (SOVTs) cost your voice very little, so if you need extra time to warm up the woes these are highly recommended.

5. You skipped the warm down – And by warm down, we mean reset. Certain muscles, especially the larynx raisers and the pitch raisers, get a bit of use when we sing. We don’t want to keep those tensions to the following day which is why is pretty essential to have a reset procedure. You’ll know if those muscles are a little over active if you can’t down to the low notes in your voice. Or, you can get down there but it’s a darn site weaker than it was earlier that day morning. There isn’t necessarily an emergency if you lose some low notes. We can all experience it! We’re happy if everything returns to normal the next day, and the reset procedure helps that happen.
Resolution: Don’t skip a reset. Straight after the gig or teaching day, lightly siren from the comfortable top of your voice to the VERY BOTTOM on a closed, slightly yawny vowel like OO or EE. Take care to settle on the lowest note possible and stay there for a few seconds. Try and get down even further on the next few. Then after that try and spend thirty seconds or so finding your vocal fry.
All this should take the larynx low for a few minutes and hopefully relax it back from a high singing position. You could also use a straw, puffy cheek, or an NG consonant to do these exercises. It’s also recommended to know your voice and your specific range. That way you’ll know how far away you are from resetting. For example, every morning your voice goes down to D2 easily but by the end of the day you can only reach F2. This is a situation where you know you need a few more minutes to reconnect to the low notes.

6. You’re singing against your natural voice type – This is a big factor for a lot of contemporary artists because we are often singing in a style that pop music has favoured. High and strong, much like Bruno Mars or Ariana Grande. Although some singers are able to go there easily without much worry, the majority of voices don’t enjoy going to those notes without considerable training. This is because we’re not all tenors and sopranos. In classical we would usually sing repertoire suitable for our voice type, but ‘pop don’t care about that’.
If you happen to be a pop baritone with a desire to sing the high tenor material, it usually takes quite a bit of training to be able to that. You might actually be well trained but still slow to warm up into those big songs. In this case you may require a longer and more specific set of vocal warm ups to be able to get into the right ‘spot’. Purely because you’re singing unnaturally, for your physiology that is. It’s not always a problem though. After all, Michael Jackson was a prime example of someone who was able to achieve this. As is Axl Rose. It just means extra care needs to be taken to warm up and calibrate your voice for higher notes than usual.
Resolution: You need to time to warm up the muscles like everyone else, but you also need a bit extra to find your optimum vocal positioning for the higher repertoire. This will inevitably mean working with a coach to find your full laryngeal mobility, because high songs need a larynx that can freely raise with flexibility and low effort. This is a harder job than it sounds, which is why we recommend an experienced coach to help you with it. You’ll also also need time to stretch your across the whole range with long sirens and work on sustaining on those higher pitches a bit more with added vibrato, even if it’s just a falsetto or head voice sound. This can help to prime you for range and stretch out any excess weight in the chest voice setting. SOVTs are another great tool because of the time required to warm up. They also encourage a mixed voice setting as default, which usefully involves the vocal fold settings of falsetto and chest voice (The TA and the CT, for you geeks) across the entire contemporary range. With a cooperation between these two registers you’re more likely to extend upwards with less breaking and fewer instabilities.  With a higher larynx position and a mixed voice setting in place you may also need time to relax yourself and find the right amount of airflow needed in this new environment.

That’s it for the singing stuff, but what about health?

7. You could have medical problem – It could be anything, but common ones are reflux, post-nasal drip, stress and inflammation. These can be difficult to diagnose and often need a stroboscope exam with a laryngologist. General Practitioners often get it wrong and are too quick to recommend the standard medicines, which are often no good for the vocal folds themselves. A healthy diet that promotes an anti-inflammatory environment is a really great start. If there’s something still not going well then there could be allergies to a food or a substance, in which case you can have a test or go through an exclusion diet to figure out which it is.

hydration for vocal warm ups8. You might be dehydrated – Dry vocal folds don’t emit sound waves as easily as plump, wet ones. But why are you dry? Like Chris, you might sleep with your mouth open because your nose is inflamed. Maybe you exercised a lot today. You might not have drank enough the day before. Either way, a consistent approach to hydration is a necessity for a singer. We prefer two to two and half litres of water per day, not including coffee (wink face), but if you exercises lots then maybe you need more. Who knows. Start with two litres and see how you get on.
Topical hydration of the vocal folds is a god send if you need to sing right now but can’t wait for your digestive system. Steam is a common treatment for this, but isn’t as helpful if you’re going to sing straight away. Cold saline mist created by a nebuliser is something singers should consider for the best, quickest and most direct form of vocal fold hydration.

9. Who Knows? – Good luck with this one. If you’re having trouble warming up, then you could work your way through this list, one by one, and see if a change here and there positively affects your ability to warm up. If not, it could be something we haven’t listed. It could also just be the way it is, and you unfortunately have to accept that you take ages to warm up. Sad face.

What other things can I do to enhance my vocal warm ups?

The morning routine is something that we feel helps us to get ready to sing. A warm house and environment will certainly help, as will a humid one. Good heating and a humidifier can be the difference there. Having breakfast, a hot drink and a workout are other things that set us up well for a vocally demanding day.

  1. Sleep is a big factor. It’s the bodys recovery mechanism and we feel awesome when we’ve had a decent night. Whatever we can do to faciitate sleep will help us in singing, and in life.
  2. Meditation is also a great option for optimum mental health and focus. If we’re focussed on our voice and our goals then we’ll achieve more with our singing and enhance our warm up. You’ll also feel more settled in general, which helps offset the demotivating effect of frustration that can be felt if your voice isn’t instantly there each morning.
  3. According to our friends Dr, Verdolini and Dr Titze (Vocology), our vocal fold muscle is pretty much ready with blood flow and warmth after five to ten minutes of regular volume chatter. So, don’t be unsociable! Makes sure you talk to someone before you start warming up and stretching your voice.
  4. If your voice is deep in the morning naturally, embrace it by working on the lowest notes you have for a few minutes before you go high. Much like the reset routine above. Again, this helps satisfy the muscles that lower pitch as well as those that lower the larynx.
  5. Use straws and SOVTs to begin your vocal warm ups as you’ll probably be a bit off with your delivery at an early hour. They really help to clean up your mistakes as you warm up and re-coordinate your voice.
    A more optimum use for straw vocal warm ups is do them for short periods, but regularly. You’ll possibly get to where you need to be quicker and with less fatigue. Try doing the straw for five minutes, rest for twenty minutes and do another five minutes. Try and get a total of three or four mini straw workouts in by 10am and see how you feel after that. Are you more ready to get out there or find your spot?
  6. With the help of a vocal coach, bring in your vocal warm ups that help you find your tone and your spot. Steve loves the words OH or WAY on a descending scale as a tool. Chris prefers a very bright EE vowel on short sirens to find a higher larynx position, also combined with vibrato. WE CANNOT TELL YOU WHAT YOURS ARE, just to be clear. These vocal warm ups are all about where you’re at and how you behave as a singer, so call that coach and get some help. If you try and work with someone else’s routine, or some you saw online, you could be spending a lot of time doing nothing for your voice. Invest and get something bespoke.

 

Overwhelmed?

So there you have it. It is a lot of detail, but like we say in the podcast, try one thing week and add to it. Start with the mini straw vocal warm ups one week, then bring something else in with that for the following week and monitor the change.  You’ll soon figure out which vocal warm ups work for YOU!

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The Naked Vocalist website guru. Years of experience in fixing websites, uploading stuff and belting out high C's. All whilst swinging from a tree.