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Rock singers and musicians are part of a special non-conformist rebel clan. Sounding raw, powerful and natural is a valued and important attribute. Yet we are daunted by our own nemesis. Aggressive singing, competition with band volume and often insufficient monitor support puts our instrument – our voice – to the test.
Many years ago while still living and performing in Boston, these challenges motivated my extensive research to discover a way of helping myself and my fellow rockers develop and sustain our voices and style of singing. One of the discoveries I made: The foundation of vocal strength, flexibility, stamina and power lies in a correct vocal warm-up.
To understand why vocal warm-up is important, let’s take a look at certain realities of muscles. Small internal muscle movements create the sounds of your voice. In fact your vocal folds (often inaccurately called “vocal cords”) are muscles that lie horizontally inside the front of your throat, just behind your Adam’s apple.
If you decided to run a marathon without any preparatory conditioning, how long would you last? You might do all right for the first mile, but what about the second, fifth or tenth? You probably would not make it that far, but even if you did, your muscles would ache and you would be straining and panting for breath.
Singers do this with their voices all the time. Not properly prepared and developed, the muscles can’t perform the needed functions so the singer strains and pushes. A full-out vocal performance is the singer’s “marathon” for which preparation is simply practical. Songs are always much easier to perform and often more powerful when using a voice brought to life by exercises that stimulate its natural functionality. Once limbered, the muscles are awake and ready to perform the functions you need and that are within their native capability.
This warm up does as its name suggests: It wakes up the resonance of your voice. Resonance equals volume without force. This warm-up is also excellent for examining and developing the basic vowel sounds used in singing. Do this warm-up until you notice a difference in the relaxation of the muscles and the resonance of your voice within your mouth and throat.
1) Open your mouth and take a breath. The tip of your tongue should stay touching the back of your bottom teeth. Use a basic speaking volume and sustain a comfortable mid-range pitch, through an “NG” tongue position. To help you find it, say the word “Sing” and maintain the position of the “NG.” The back of your tongue will lightly close with your soft palate. Feel the sound vibration shimmer along the roof of your mouth.
2) Try to maintain the same resonance from consonant to vowel, using the list below. Smoothly go back and forth between the “NG” and the vowel several times on one breath. Repeat on a new breath, and then go on to the next vowel in the sequence.
The sequence goes as follows:
During the last two vowels, do not shape your lips for the sound. It can be achieved by thinking the vowel sound and letting it naturally resonate in your mouth.
Slowly sing the melody of your song with a smooth sustained “Ah” vowel – no lyrics. Work on connecting the “Ah” note to note. Maintain the same “Ah” pronunciation no matter the pitch. Do not exaggerate the “Ah” nor arbitrarily hold your tongue in some predetermined position. It must be relaxed and relate to your normal pronunciation of “Ah.” This may take some practice to sort out. Once you can sing the melody easily with a naturally pronounced “Ah” and no tongue tension, sing through the song again with an “Ee,” lips relaxed. Then repeat with lyrics. Notice any differences?
Vocal warm-ups should be done close to the time of performing or rehearsing. Your warm-up routine may need to vary on a day-to-day basis, according to the nature of the performance or rehearsal, time of day, condition of your body and the condition of your voice. With the right exercises and the correct approach, a 20-30 minute proper warm-up usually does the trick.
Warm-ups help you save, not wreck your voice, assisting in performance excellence and career longevity. With a proper vocal warm-up, you’ll be able to start your rehearsal or performance in high gear.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Jeannie Deva is a celebrity voice and performance coach. Her voice studios originally opened in Cambridge, MA in the mid ’70s where her innovative vocal method quickly spread within the contemporary music community. Her client list boasts of Grammy Award winners (such as Aimee Mann, Patty Griffin), members of luminary rock bands (J. Geils Band, Foghat), singers for Pink, Christina Aguilera and many more. She is endorsed and referred by engineers and producers of Aerosmith, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones.