Leading vocal coach Kim Chandler shows how you can avoid problems and reap the benefits from warming up your voice the right way.
As a vocal coach to professional singers and touring artists, I’m often surprised at the misunderstandings surrounding how to warm-up effectively. Here are the most common ones I encounter:
Mistake 1: No warm-up at all
Singing is an athletic activity. Not warming up at all can be a bit of a shock to the vocal cords (folds) and there is a risk of strain. I’m also convinced that more cavalier singers who go into a performance “cold” are not necessarily singing to their best capacity at the start of their performance.
A warm-up [of 30 minutes or more] is a work-out and not a warm-up
Mistake 2 Warming up for too long
The more conscientious singer can be prone to overly “warming-up” for 30 or more minutes before a performance. I would argue that a warm-up this long is a work-out and not a warm-up. This approach risks wasting too much energy that’s best saved for the performance itself. “Quality over Quantity” is key here.
Mistake 3 Warming up too softly
Let’s face it, vocal warm-ups can sound a little strange and even silly to people who haven’t heard them before. So as not to “annoy” others around them, shy singers can be prone to warming up too softly when the gig they are about to do requires high intensity singing. While it’s better than nothing at all, it’s still not ideal preparation.
Mistake 4: Going in too hard, too fast
Impatient singers, who just want to know where their voice is at straight away, can sing too high and too hard too quickly in their warm-up. This can be a bit of a shock to the folds. It’s almost like a gymnast getting out bed first thing in the morning and doing the splits! Treat your voice like a “lady”; get it into “the zone” in a kind, vocally-friendly, respectful way.
Singing classical-style exercises to prepare for non-classical music is like doing ballet warm-ups for breakdancing
Mistake 5: Using warm-ups in the wrong style
The vast majority of vocal exercises are classical. While they’re tried, tested & proven over centuries of usage, they’re not designed for singing pop music. So there’s little point singing classical-style exercises to prepare you for singing non-classical music. It would be the equivalent of doing ballet warm-ups for breakdancing! It’s best to warm-up in the musical style you’re about to sing.
What is the best warm-up?
A short, effective physical stretch followed by around a 5-minute vocal stretch that starts gently in a comfortable range & volume. Increase intensity & range as you feel the voice opening up and giving you permission to extend further & further. Personally, I recommend using sirens on various semi-occluded sounds, e.g. lip bubbles, tongue trills, to achieve this as they are not key nor pitch-specific and they don’t require any accompaniment so can be done anywhere, any time.
Kim Chandler is one of the UK’s top session singers and industry vocal coaches. She’s coached diverse charting artists such as Courtney Love, Paloma Faith, Jess Glynne, Birdy, Katy B, Laura Mvula, Betsy, Marlon Roudette, Josh Franceschi (You Me At Six), Oli Sykes (Bring Me The Horizon), Mikey Chapman (Mallory Knox) and more. Kim has worked on two series of “The Voice UK” and is a regular as a vocal coach at Abbey Road Studios. In the academic world she presents at workshops, master classes and national & international voice conferences. Her work can also be found in TC-Helicon’s The Ultimate Guide To Singing and Springer’s “Teaching Singing in the 21st Century”. See her Website.